Some public transit riders in Hillsborough County will need to find alternative transportation starting Sunday, Oct. 8, when 14 routes are eliminated to save some $6 million annually.
Other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus riders will have better and more frequent service in the route redesign.
“There are winners and there frankly, unfortunately, are losers,” says Steve Feigenbaum, HART’s Director of Service Development. “There are going to be people who aren’t going to be positively affected. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum.”
HART attempts to streamline services making them more efficient, relying upon more innovative on-demand services to replace lower ridership circular routes. Its goals are in line with a survey revealing the public favors more frequent service, even if it takes longer to reach the bus stop.
“We’re trying to do this whole thing, based on the data, where we can get the best bang for our buck,” he explains. “The budget is not adequate to really serve the full needs.”
HART is beefing up transportation to Tampa International Airport, increasing it from one to three routes. It also is increasing the frequency of Route 34 to every 20 minutes on weekdays. Bus frequency also is increasing on Routes 1, 14 and Metro Rapid.
New routes make it easier to commute from Tampa International Airport to Brandon Mall, or from Downtown Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base.
Buses 2,4, 10, 18, 21LX, 22X, 27LX, 28X, 41, 47LX, 53LX, 57, 61LX and 200X are being cut.
HART will be relying on and expanding where possible its Hyperlink services, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service providing door-to-door service, connecting riders with existing bus lines on demand. HARTPlus will continue to serve the handicapped within three quarters of a mile from the old routes.
The transit authority is in the midst of a massive public awareness campaign to reach riders along all affected routes. Orange bags were being placed at affected stops, notices were being posted in bus shelters, and HARTline personnel were riding the buses to inform riders about alternatives.
In general, public transit riders may want to consider vanpools, carpools, Hyperlink /(in the University, Temple Terrace and/or Brandon areas), HARTFlex, private on-demand services like Uber or Lyft, taxis or private rides to get to a bus route or their destination. Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line offers door-to-door service and bus passes to elderly, low-income and disabled individuals without transportation, and is especially useful for medical appointments, aging services and food programs.
“A lot of people that have been on express routes have shifted to vanpool,” he says.
Additionally, some shelters will be moved to replace outmoded shelters in other locations.
The route changes can be found at HART’s website under the label Mission MAX, short for Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. An interactive tool is provided through Google Maps.
On September 25, HART approved its long-range plan which maps out its efforts to improve services in the next decade. It includes expansion of the Hyperlink service to the SouthShore in 2020, to Palmetto Beach in 2021, to Riverview in 2023, to West Park and Big Bend in 2025, in Town ’n County and South Tampa in 2026, and to East Brandon, Citrus Park and Seffner/Mango in 2027.
“It’s a higher frequency grid in the core area and more of the on-demand type service for lower densities on the perimeter,” Feigenbaum explains.
It combines both funded improvements where monies are expected through property taxes with a sort of wish list of enhancements that may be implemented if funds become available.
Feigenbaum says HART may possibly implement ridesharing services similar to an Uber or Lyft service to help get riders to the existing routes. It may begin with a pilot program that has not yet been developed. He’s hoping it will be available in 2018.
In Pinellas County
A similar program already is under use by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Its Direct Connect program uses Uber, United Taxi and apps to connect riders to its service grid. Handicapped riders can use Wheelchair Transportation Service (WTS).
Modern technology and innovative technology led PSTA to form what was the “first public-private partnership” to get people to the bus stop, PSTA officials say. Other transit systems have since taken a greater interest in emerging technology and alternative services.
Direct Connect began in two zones in 2016, then expanded in January to the current eight zones countywide. Plans call for expanding it further potentially in February of 2018, says PSTA Transit Planner Bonnie Epstein.
“The purpose of the program is to provide convenient first and last mile service to our core and frequent local routes,” explains Heather Sobush, PSTA Planning Manager.
Another goal is to increase ridership on its 41 routes. “We just don’t have the funding to keep it at the frequency level that we’d like,” Epstein says. “So they run once an hour.”
Direct Connect can transport riders to the core system, where more frequent service is available, cutting transit time. Because of a $5 PSTA subsidy, riders pay no more than $1.
“Right now the county is divided into eight zones. Within your zone you can only travel to and from the Direct Connect in your zone,” Epstein says.
In February, they hope to remove the zones and allow more flexibility. “We expect a lot more growth,” Sobush says.
“We still want to provide that shared ride service,” she says. “We’re looking at ways to also have these innovative projects to be shared ride services as well.”