My opinion on HART’s proposals

South Tampa – Routes 4, 19, 36, 85, and 89

First off, Routes 85, 87, 88, and 89 are all failing routes, with only a handful of riders per day. With the rising cost of gas, and the property tax rollback hurting HART’s budget, it makes a lot of sense to eliminate these four routes.

What will happen to the bus system in these areas?

Route 89 is the weekday connector for the South Tampa area. From an archived article that I dug up a few months ago, HART created this route back in 2005 to better serve the South Tampa area, while reducing service along MacDill Ave through Palma Ceia, formerly served by Route 17 (Route 17 was eliminated due to low ridership at some point in 2004 or 2005). Although the 89 connects Britton Plaza to the WestShore area, overall ridership has been very low. I say this based on my own observation, not bland statements from others. Many days that I used the 89, the bus was totally empty. It did not matter if I took the Lois Ave link or the MacDill Ave link, the bus would have little to no passengers. In 2006, HART considered eliminating the Lois segment of the 89 and redirecting the 85 to MacDill Ave as well…the effort failed. Then in 2007, frequency was reduced from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.

Route 85 was also created in 2005, as a weekend-only service, connecting WestShore to MacDill Air Force Base via Britton Plaza. Although ridership was not high enough at the time to warrant a weekend extension of Route 36 to the base, ridership on the 85 is also dismally low.

HART is slated to replace the Lois Ave segment of the Route 89 with the current Route 4, the MacDill segment is slated for elimination. The 85 will be cut as well, with weekend service directly between WestShore and Britton Plazas pretty much unknown. Route 36 would then get a weekend extension into MacDill Air Force Base…the final schedule setup is unknown at this time.

Speaking of Route 4, this Downtown/South Tampa route is in a pretty odd pickle in of itself. I assume the Route 4 was among HART’s original routes and has seen a few changes over the years. Originally, the route ran down Dale Mabry (according to old HART press releases), through Palma Ceia and Hyde Park, and ending in Downtown…with 60 minute frequency. I am not sure if the Route 4 had 30 minute frequency at any point of its life. However, with the elimination of Route 17 in 2004 or 2005, the Route 4 was rerouted to MacDill Ave south of Britton Plaza and has not changed since.

The problem with South Tampa bus service is this…Palma Ceia does not need bus service, nor has the largely wealthy neighborhood really warranted the necessary riders for such service. Since Palma Ceia, and Hyde Park for that matter, are wealthier neighborhoods that are in close proximity to Downtown Tampa, many people see that it is better to drive to work, than to use the bus…even with rising gas prices. The Route 19, which has served South Tampa for years, basically serves the same purpose as the Route 4. The only difference is that the 19 serves Tampa General Hospital and the Port Tampa neighborhood. Port Tampa is mainly full of lower income families that cannot afford the sky high gas prices and must resort to using the bus. Recently, HART created late-night service for the 19, allowing these families and hospital workers from TGH and Memorial Hosptial, as well as employees in Hyde Park and Britton Plaza, to get home after 8pm, without sacrificing a lot of money for taxi service.

Palma Ceia is likely the main reason that the Route 17 was eliminated, the Route 4 runs as it is today, and why HART needs to reshuffle its bus system in South Tampa. With very few people using the bus in this wealthy neighborhood, it makes no sense for HART to keep spending its funds and gas on the 85 and 89, as well as the current Route 4.

Routes 87 and 88

Routes 87 and 88 are the two other failing connectors that are slated to be eliminated this year. The 87 serves Southshore and the 88 serves Town-n-Country. Now what I found out a while back was a failed effort by HART to bolster ridership in both areas. At one point, there were two SouthShore connectors and two Town-n-Country connectors. Both were created in order to increase ridership in both areas…and both efforts backfired.

To this day, ridership on the 87 and 88 continue to be dismal. As a result, HART will cut both routes and replace them with HARTflex service. What is HARTflex? HARTflex is basically flexible circulator service that run in select neighborhoods using smaller minibusses. Patrons would have to call ahead to use the service. Originally HARTflex was slated to begin in 2007 in Brandon, Town-n-Country, Carrollwood, Seffner, and Temple Terrace. However, issues such as the property tax rollback have postponed the launch until 2009. But HART is proposing to launch the first phase of this new service in SouthShore, replacing the failing Route 87. The Route 88 HARTflex replacement will likely go into service sometime in 2009.

Increased frequency on Routes 2 and 30

Now this is the good news. Route 2’s midday-weekday frequency would be increased from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. Route 2 is HART’s busiest route, traversing Nebraska Ave, and is slated to become a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) route in 2010, serving downtown and USF. Already, peak hour frequency is 15 minutes and weekend frequency is 30 minutes. Route 2 is as close to the “golden rule” of public transit than any other bus route in Tampa Bay.

The Route 30 serves Downtown Tampa, Kennedy Blvd, WestShore, TIA, and Town-n-Country. Though the Town-n-Country segment does not see a lot of riders, the segment south of TIA is bustling with riders headed into the WestShore area. HART proposes creating 15 minute service between the airport and downtown on weekdays, with 30 minute service on weekends. This increase in frequency would be a catalyst for the proposed second BRT route, that would serve the airport and East Tampa.

There are so many other changes that I would like to comment on, but other than the South Tampa realignment, the other bus routes do not affect me very much.

Please let me know what you think!

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