Tampa is a car-centred city and having a vehicle offers new arrivals greater freedom to explore the surrounds independently. While Tampa does have a public transport system, it's mostly focused on the downtown core of the city.
Public transport in Tampa
New arrivals in Tampa might find the nature of the city’s public transport network to be somewhat disappointing, especially if they are accustomed to more sophisticated systems such as those found in cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco and Chicago.
Public transport in Tampa is mainly useful when it comes to commuting within the city centre. There are some suburbs that have adequate public transport links, but on the whole, those living on the outskirts of the city would benefit from owning a car.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transport Authority (HART) provides a fairly extensive network of bus routes for Tampa. There is a combination of local routes that have a number of stops within a small area and commuter express lines that cover larger areas from the suburbs into downtown Tampa.
Although transfers between the two types of routes are not permitted, fares in Tampa are reasonable. There are also a number of discounts available for students, senior citizens and those with disabilities.
The frequency of services varies from one route to the next and also depend on the time of day, so it's best to consult a schedule and plan journeys accordingly.
The TECO Line Streetcar runs from Whiting and Franklin Streets in downtown Tampa to Centennial Park in Ybor City with 11 stops along this single route. The streetcar is mainly useful for tourists and convention-goers as the route runs past local shopping areas, entertainment districts and attractions including the Convention Centre, the Tampa Bay Time Forum and the Florida Aquarium.
Streetcars are quite a novel way to get around, so even if new arrivals don’t necessarily use them as a regular mode of transportation for commuting, they do provide a fun way to see some of the city’s main historic and cultural attractions.
Taxis in Tampa
Taxis are quite readily available in downtown Tampa and they're easy enough to hail outside any major attraction or along a busy shopping street. That said, for those travelling from or around the suburbs, it's best to book a taxi ahead of time.
While taxi fares in Tampa are reasonable, they might not be a financially viable mode for longer journeys, but it’s always useful to have a reputable taxi company’s number on hand. Well-established taxi companies include the United Cab Company, Tampa Taxi and Yellow Cab of Tampa.
Popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are pretty well established in Tampa. Fares are similar to taxi prices, but ride-hailing tends to be more reliable and efficient. Users simply need to download the relevant app onto their smartphone and register using a bank card.
Cycling in Tampa
Over the last decade or so, Tampa has become a more cycle-friendly city. There are now over 100 miles of cycle lanes and trails in and around the city. City authorities have also installed hundreds of bike racks and shower/locker facilities scattered throughout the downtown area. Buses in Tampa also have a limited number of spots for the storage of bikes.
Coast Bikeshare Program is a great alternative for those that don’t own a bicycle of their own. With about 300 bikes scattered across 30 hubs around the city, it's easy for commuters to borrow bikes using an efficient mobile app. Depending on usage, riders can opt to save by investing in a daily, monthly or annual membership.
Walking in Tampa
On the whole, Tampa isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly city. That said, if new arrivals do want to get around without a personal vehicle or just enjoy getting some fresh air, there are certain neighbourhoods that are better explored on foot. Downtown Tampa, Ybor City, the Channel District and Seminole Heights are all great places for a leisurely stroll.
Driving in Tampa
Newcomers to Tampa will find that having a car will make their life infinitely easier. Beyond the downtown area and selected routes that connect the city centre to the suburbs, public transport in Tampa is a little limited for most of the city’s residents.
While the standard of road networks in Tampa are fairly good, as the city’s population grows, traffic continues to worsen. It is particularly heavy on I-275, I-4 and SR60 during morning and late afternoon on weekday's.
Holders of a foreign driver's licence can use it for up to 30 days after they become a Florida resident, at which point they'll need to obtain a local licence to keep driving.