Of all the 300 cities featured in Carornocar, Tampa really does stand out as the one place where a rental car really is completely and utterly essential – more so even than cities like Phoenix.
Now there are plenty of American cities which sprawl across large areas, but which have at least made some attempt at installing a light rail system (Houston, Dallas and Denver for example), and there are even sprawling American cities in the (geographical) south which actually have heavy rail mass transit systems, but where a hire car still makes more sense, including Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Then. There. Is. Tampa!
Tampa really does stand out on its own as somewhere that it feels like an act of self punishment to come here and not have access to a car in some form.
Yet we also think that Tampa is a great place for a visitor to drive, notwithstanding the more than occasional spot of congestion, which can always be found in any city that builds itself around the car and makes little effort to provide any alternatives. As a driver in Tampa, you will find that you aren’t just rewarded with multilane highways, but that the city and the neighbouring area also has a huge network of fantastic bridges, which can turn any drive from drudgery to delight, especially if you are travelling outside the peak periods.
Now we shouldn’t dismiss Tampa entirely by saying that there is no public transport here, as that is not the case. There is simply no substantial rail-based public transport, other than a token trolley (the TECO line) in the downtown area, and a daily train service running between Miami and Washington DC, that takes a dogleg route to call in at Tampa.
Of course, there are still all of the usual buses, including bus connections between Tampa International Airport and not just downtown Tampa, but also St Petersburg and Clearwater. Naturally, there are also scheduled coach services running from Tampa to Orlando and also down to Miami, but none of these public transport options are anything like as flexible as driving. If you want to look up any sample trips, just try making it between Tampa and St Petersburg without a change of bus! Yes, you cando it, but you are relying on a pre-booked Greyhound, instead of a turn up and go urban or regional bus. Any journey between the two centres is going to take 90 minutes to two hours by bus, compared to just under an hour in a rental car, in light to mid-level traffic.
This is why Tampa is the only destination to score a full 10.0 on our index of car hire necessity. We don’t think that such a score is a remotely good thing, because it means that there is little choice for visitors, or for anyone else either. You don’t just need a car to come here, you need a car to get around on every small journey, and you’ll need a car just to get across the road from the grocery store parking lot to the drive-in restaurant on the other side.
The city is also a complete nightmare to walk around, unless you are keeping yourself just to the more historic downtown areas.
Things really don’t get any better once you head towards the huge white sandy beaches that bring people to the Tampa Bay area in the first place. One strip mall will lead to another, but if you want to go between them using your own two feet, you will find little shade from the sun, and none at all from the wide lanes of traffic.
- No reason to visit Tampa without a car, if you have the choice of getting one.
- You can visit the Tampa Bay area by coach from various points in Orlando, either by scheduled coach, or by a free service for guests of Busch Gardens – see Mears Express.
- TECO trolley operates in downtown Tampa – it’s largely a heritage throwback, but it runs through areas where you can also walk between most places.
- If you are just coming to laze on the beach, you will be fine – various airport shuttle services are available throughout the region.
Tampa really is the ultimate in car dependent sprawl, and the area is worse off because of it.