So long for now….

With my newest posts and photos in place, I will temporarly close out this blog until mid December when all of my semester exams are done. I appologize for the inconvenience during this time.

Come celebrate 30 years of transit excellence in Hillsborough Co.

HART is turning 30! So to kick off the celebrations, HART is holding a b-day event at Lykes Gaslight Park on September 30 from 11:30am until 1:30pm.

See the full post at their Facebook page.

As new buses roll in, the Phantoms roll out……to retirement…..

Yes people, the transition is well on now. A couple sources have told me that HART now has 9 new Gillig Low Floor buses in service, that is, buses 2901 through 2909. Until early September, HART will continue to recieve about four to five buses per week until the final count of 30 is fulfilled. In the meantime, the entire fleet of 30-foot (6XX) Gillig Phantom buses have been shipped out to their final destination, along with four 35-foot (7XX) Gillig Phantom buses. The remaining Phantoms will be shipped out on a gradual basis until all the new buses have been placed into service.

As of August 26, 2009, only 18 35-foot Gillig Phantom buses remain in service.

A look at the buses

Lets take a look at the various types of buses that each transit agency has. In no particular order at all, we’ll visit the older high-floor bus fleets, then onward to the newer low-floor models. Before we begin, I would like to thank those who allowed me to use their photos in this post (please note that those photos belong to their respective owners and are copyrighted).

First, the high-floor buses.

Flxible Metro (Flxible Bus Company) & GMC RTS (not pictured)


The Flxible Metro bus, was among HART’s original bus fleet, along with the GMC RTS (neither bus is pictured at this time). The Flxible and RTS buses were purchased in increments during the 1980s. PSTA also operated RTS buses during the 1980s and 1990s as well. However, after 2000, these buses were all scrapped in favor of Gillig models.

Gillig Phantom (Gillig Corporation)

Photos above are public domain

No, they aren’t ghosts, but the name does sound a bit spooky to some. I guess even the appearance looks a litte strange too. But nonetheless, the Gillig Phantom bus was considered a powerhorse for many transit agencies including the San Mateo Transit District (SamTrans), the Pittsburgh Port Authority, the San Antonio Transit Authority (VIA Transit) , and of course Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), and Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT). Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) also uses these buses, but they are in the process of retiring them.

Photo courtesy of S. Bennear.

This is the interior of a Gillig Phantom bus from HART. Many older models, like this one, had plush seating and rear door wheelchair lifts. Newer models had the wheelchair lifts in the front door of the bus. Gillig manufactured the Phantom from 1980 to 2008, when the company refocused their efforts on building low-floor buses. Today, the Phantom remains in use at many transit agencies, but during the years to come, they will be gradually phased out.

Photo courtesy of S. Bennear.

This photo shows a line of 6XX buses at the HART bus garage. These are part of a line of 30-foot Gillig Phantom buses that HART had already retired during the course of 2008. The three 6XX buses that remained in service until 2009 include #602, 608, and 609.

Gillig Low Floor (Gillig Corporation)

Photo above are public domain, taken by HARTride 2012.

The mainstay of Gillig is no longer the Phantom, but rather the low-floor buses, like the one above of a 21XX by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). In fact, many transit agencies have turned to low-floor buses due to many factors, including ease of accessibility. With high-floor buses, one must travel up a set of stairs just to enter the bus. For a wheelchair-bound passenger, I see high-floor buses to be a nightmare of sorts because the wheelchair lifts take forever to deploy, thus increasing the boarding times. With low-floor buses, the wheelchair ramps deploy much more easily and decreases stop times, allowing the bus driver to focus more on making sure the passengers are safe and secure before moving on to the next stop, rather than have to hassle with those older lifts.

Photo courtesy of S. Bennear.

This is the interior of a Gillig Low Floor bus operated by HART. You can see that the higher level is towards the back of the bus, rather than the entire bus. This allows passengers who may have difficulty boarding the bus to sit closer to the front of the bus without having to climb steps. The seating arrangement differs vastly depending on the agency. With many newer buses that HART has purchased, the aim is to have front-facing seats throughout the entire bus, while SCAT & PSTA have opted for sideways-facing seats in the front and rear sections of their buses.

Photo courtesy of S. Bennear.

We see here that HART bus #2407 is ready to go to its next stop.

Now lets take a look at some more Gillig Low Floor buses…..

Photo taken by HARTride 2012.

SCAT #612 is parked at the downtown Sarasota Transit Center.

Photo taken by HARTride 2012.

HART #2316 at Britton Plaza.

Photo taken by HARTride 2012.

HART #2015 at Britton Plaza, new livery. What makes the smaller buses better than the larger ones, is that the smaller ones tend to be more maneuverable in tight spots. #2015 is a notable exception of its entire sub-fleet, the 20XXs, which HART purchased back in 2000. From my understanding, #2015 was involved in an accident that put it out of service for months. Prior to it returning to service in August 2008, #2015 became the first HART bus to sport the current blue/white livery. All of the other 20XX buses will be retired in the spring of 2010 because they have reached the end of their useful lives. Because of the incident the put #2015 out of service, this lone bus will not be eligible for retirement until 2011, when the 35ft-9XX-Gilligs are slated to be retired.

Photo courtesy of S. Bennear.

The seating arrangement in HART’s 20XX fleet of 30-foot Gillig Low Floor buses is very odd. All the seats are facing sideways, with the exception of the last row.

Sadly, we have HART #2006. This bus reached the end of the line about three years early because the engine caught fire. The damage was quite extensive, especially to the back of the bus, where two windows were literally blown out, as well as a rear tire. I strongly doubt this bus was able to be repaired.

Finally, this is one of HART’s newest buses, #2903, a Gillig Low Floor 40 foot bus. They were purchased in 2009 with the help of federal stimulus dollars. Its a very good thing to see these in favor of the older Phantom buses.

Here’s a look inside the bus…

Photo taken by HARTride 2012

Photo courtesy of S. Bennear.

Watch a short video observation

And here’s #2912 at USF.

I should mention that PSTA also has a fleet of New Flyer buses that they purchased back in the 90s, PSTA is one of a few transit agencies in Florida that use these buses. I believe that the Miami Transit Authority also uses them. The Chicago CTA’s fleet is dominated by New Flyer buses, as well as the New York City MTA.

With that said, I would like to thank several people who have been very helpful to me. First off, I’d like to thank S. Bennear for allowing me to use some of his photos for this post, including the interior shots. Also, kudos to Tampa3170 for giving me timely updates on the retirement of HART’s Gillig Phantom buses, as well as the inception of their new buses into active service.

Upcoming SCAT service changes

The Sarasota County Area Transit Authority (SCAT) is making significant changes to its bus system in November, 2009. Below is a brief summary of the changes. For a full detailed look, click here.

The most sweeping change will be the expansion of Route 16 to cover more areas of Englewood and South Venice. In response, Routes 21, 24, and 25 will all be eliminated. A new route, Route 26, will be introduced to cover other areas of Venice, not covered by the improved Route 16. In response to that change, Route 19 will be eliminated and Route 9 will have its frequency increased to 60 minutes from 120 minutes. Additionally, Sunday service will be added to Route 9.

Route 99 (the Manatee/Sarasota Connector) will have OWL service added, with buses making their final runs around 10:00pm, instead of the current 6:45pm runs. Also, the morning short trip from SRQ airport at 5:30am will be eliminated.

Combined OWL routes 17/13 and 14/11 will have Sunday service frequency changes/additions.

Other routes will recieve scheduling adjustments to improve efficiency.

HART’s 10-year vision

HART is planning many things that will change the face of mass transit in Hillsborough County during the next ten years. According to an article published by the Tampa Tribune, here is what’s in store, despite dwindling sources of funding and state-mandated budget cuts and property tax reductions.

Among major service enhancements, 53 buses and 113 paratransit vans could be replaced with newer models. This includes the eventual replacement of the 900 and 2000 series Gillig Low Floor buses, which HART purchased back in 1999 and 2000. The replacement of the Gillig Phantom (700 series) buses will begin within the next couple of months, being replaced with the new Gillig Low Floor (2900 series) fleet of buses. HART CEO, David Armijo announced shortly after his arrival in late 2007 that he would like to see the current bus fleet increased beyond the current 200 units.

By mid-2010, Routes 2, 33, 36, and 83 will all be restructured, enhancing services in North Tampa. This includes the merger of Routes 33 and 83 into one Route 33 that would serve Fletcher Ave and the University North area, the extension and restructuring of Route 36 to the future St. Joseph’s Hosptial North on Van Dyke Road and possible addition of OWL services, and reallignment of Route 2 to allow better operation of service that will soon be taken over by MetroRapid, HART’s new Bus Rapid Transit System.

Also by mid-2010, Route 30 service will be split into two routes to better serve TIA and the Northwest Transfer Center with Downtown Tampa. Perhaps we’ll see 30A and 30B as part of this. Voters may be presented with a 1-cent sales tax hike proposal to fund mass transit in the fall.

By 2011, WestShore and Downtown Tampa services will be further enhanced via local impact fees.

MetroRapid Green Line from the USF area to Downtown Tampa is expected to be online by 2012. The east-west route will then follow in 2013 or 2014.

Finally, by 2020, HART’s first Light Rail line is expected to open.

Public hearings will be held Aug. 19 at the University Area Transit Center, 13110 N. 27th St., and Aug. 26 at the Marion Transit Center, 1211 N. Marion St. Both sessions are from 3 to 6 p.m.

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A brief look into HART and PSTA

I’m currently trying to compose at least a brief summary of how HART and PSTA came about. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to look too far to find out some neat facts about PSTA, as they have a history section on their website. Below is a synopsis of PSTA’s history, in my own words, as I used it for improving the PSTA article on Wikipedia.

PSTA began in the early 1900s as the St. Petersburg Municipal Transit System (SPMTS). The system began with a streetcar line to Gulfport and eight buses to run several routes throughout the St. Pete area. By 1928, ridership on the system hits 4.2 million. In 1949, the Gulfport streetcar system is closed, marking the end of streetcar service in Pinellas County. Meanwhile, transit service elsewhere continued to expand.

In 1970, The Central Pinellas Transit Authority (CPTA) is formed, serving the Clearwater area and northern Pinellas. The agency is fully established by 1973 and operated 9 routes with a fleet of 21 buses. The CPTA saw 900,000 riders in its first year of service. In 1975, SPMTS begins paratransit services and both agencies continue to expand their fleet. In 1978, tourist trolley service (using trolley-replica buses) begins in downtown St. Petersburg and becomes successful. By the 1980s, the two agencies have formed a cooperative agreement, which allowed the expansion of routes throughout Pinellas County.

In 1982, the two companies merged to create the PSTA. In the years following ther merger, PSTA operated nearly 80 routes with a fleet or nearly 130 buses. The agency begins installing electronic fareboxes and completed its central Pinellas operations center, as well as several bus terminals. In 1990, PSTA obtained its first express route, previously operated by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART). This service has been immensly improved since the acquisition. Also in 1990, PSTA established a cross-county bus route via US 19.

Massive expansion and improvements take place during the 1990s and well into the 2000s. PSTA constructed its Williams Park terminal in downtown St. Pete in 1994. In 1996, the agency introduces electronic fare cards (called GO Cards) and begins replacing their outdated bus fleets with a combination of New Flyer and Gillig buses. In 2001, the Suncoast Beach Trolley begins service along the gulf coast beaches and in 2003, PSTA purchased a fleet of motorcoach buses (from Motor Coach Industries) to operate its express routes. Additional capital improvements are made during the early 2000s as well, including the renovation of the Park Street Terminal. In 2001, debuts.

In 2004, HART and PSTA begin an intersystem passport to allow patrons from either county to use each other’s bus systems without paying additional fares. A year later, PSTA’s current operations center opens near Roosevelt Blvd. In 2006, PSTA expanded its fleet with the purchase 48 Gillig low-floor buses. HART & PSTA agree to honor each other’s reduced fare photo permits. In 2007, Executive Director Roger Sweeney retires. He is succeeded by Tim Garling. That same year, PSTA introduces a online trip planning system. This system allowed patrons to better plan out their trip throughout the PSTA system. In 2009, the interface was scrapped in favor of a partnership with Google, which HART began partnership back in 2007. This newest alliance allows patrons to seamlessly plan their trips on both the PSTA and HART systems.

Today, PSTA operates 36 routes and has a fleet of over 200 buses, which consist of New Flyer, Optima, Gillig, and MCI buses. Just recently, they purchased a fleet of Gillig BRT Hybrid buses in order to contribute to a cleaner environment.

Finding out more information about HART is just a bit more difficult, since they do not have such a fact page on their site. However, I do feel that this will change for the better down the road. In the meantime, I will try to update this post further before the middle of August, so stay tuned…

Is it really "all aboard" for HSR in Florida

During the past few months, the Obama Administration has been closely examining areas that may be eligible for a High Speed Rail line. Florida continues to be one of them, but we are about in the same line as California at the moment.

So far, the Miami Chamber of Commerce has embraced the idea of HSR in our state…

Miami chamber all aboard plan for intrastate rail
August 3, 2009

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has embraced the notion of building a high-speed rail line to link Miami and Tampa via Orlando.
The chamber has joined with business group partners in Tampa and Central Florida to endorse Florida’s recent announcement that it will seek a share of $8 billion the Obama administration is offering for high-speed rail development.
The Florida Department of Transportation said it wants $2.5 billion to build the Tampa-Orlando segment and about $30 million to advance the Orlando-Miami leg.
“The project would significantly enhance the vitality, quality of life and economic development of Florida,” according to a Miami Chamber statement issued last week. The group passed a resolution supporting “the design, construction and implementation of the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail System.”
The federal government plans to begin awarding grants before year’s end.


However, much has yet to be settled in Polk County…

High-Speed Rail Wants County’s Backing
State DOT seeks panel’s support for Tampa to Orlando route.

Published: Friday, July 31, 2009 at 12:01 a.m. Last Modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 1:16 a.m.

BARTOW Local officials are poised to consider a resolution to support the Florida Department of Transportation’s application for money to build the first leg of the Florida High Speed Rail Program, the Polk County Commission was told Friday.AC
The action will be a resolution that is scheduled to be adopted at the Aug. 13 meeting of the Transportation Planning Organization, a panel composed of local elected officials that reviews transportation projects.
Jennifer Stults, the county’s long-term planning director, said the action is being taken at DOT’s request to support the agency’s application for $2.5 billion to construct the link between Tampa and Orlando. The application is due by Oct. 2, she said.
The application is part of $8 billion in federal stimulus money that is available nationwide.
If DOT receives the money it seeks, construction could begin by 2011 and could be completed by 2013, Stults said.
The project includes a station in Polk County, but the exact location has not been determined.
Stults said two possible locations are at Kathleen Road and at USF Polytechnic.
Commissioner Ed Smith asked whether U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, is supporting this project or the SunRail project, the Orlando commuter rail.
Stults said Mica is supporting both projects, explaining the federal money for the projects comes from different programs.
Smith asked about the next phase from Orlando to Miami and whether it would connect to the Tri-Rail commuter system there.
The planning details for that portion of the project are still under development, Stults said.

[ Tom Palmer can be reached at or 863-802-7535. ]

However, in a general perspective, Florida seems to be ahead of California, being that we did approve (then later rejected) a consitutional amendment. Also, Florida’s plan is the furthest along than any other plan on the table.

Florida Ahead of the Curve on High Speed Rail?
News Service of Florida – Jul 17th, 2009

Florida may be poised to be the first stop for President Barack Obama’s vision of high speed rail connecting major U.S. cities, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos said Thursday at a St. Petersburg Beach transportation summit.
With her department having submitted a pre-application for $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money to build the first leg of a long-discussed Tampa-Orlando-Miami bullet train, Kopelousos said during an address at a three-day Transportation Summit hosted by Floridians for Better Transportation that the traffic signs from Washington, D.C. look good for the Sunshine State.
“If President Obama wants to see dirt turned for high-speed rail, Florida is the leading state,” Kopelousos said.
The Florida high speed rail corridor was one of eight identified by the White House in April for the beginning of a national network. The Tampa-Orlando-Miami route is thought to be a prohibitive favorite for the stimulus money because much of the preliminary surveying had been done when the plan was approved by voters in 2000 and the Florida High Speed Rail Authority was created in 2002.
The high speed rail panel had been parked since 2005, after voters put the brakes on the plans for the bullet train after a push by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who said the state could not afford it. However, buoyed again this year by the possibility of receiving the stimulus money – without a requirement for matching funds from the state – the train talk has picked up speed this year.
But Kopelousos’ optimism about Florida’s prospects for high speed on Thursday were countered in an interview with the News Service of Florida by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who said the DOT’s stimulus application’s chance for success could be harmed by two others that accompanied it. Dockery said the other applications were not truly high-speed rail, which the stimulus set aside $8 billion for.
“It would seem like if they were serious about high speed rail, they would have done just that project and put all their eggs in one basket,” Dockery said. “They’re watering down their effort by putting in other projects that are not even related.”
The DOT submitted an application for $432 million for the controversial proposed SunRail Orlando commuter train alongside the application for construction of the Tampa-Orlando leg of the bullet train and a request for $70 million for “incremental” passenger service between Jacksonville and Miami that would operated by Amtrak.
If the high speed rail application is approved, Gov. Charlie Crist’s stimulus advisor Don Winstead told reporters this week that the money will also be used for engineering and environmental work for the Orlando-Miami portion of the line. However, Winstead disagreed with Dockery’s assessment that the other application would harm the high speed rail request, saying the requests were appropriately separated.

The question still remains though, will Florida win the bid? One large problem continues to be an inefficiency of mass transit connections in both Tampa and Orlando. California has such connections in place, with plans for more in the future. That element alone increases the chances of California winning the bid, rather than Florida. Unless, we can set the political squabbling aside and properly plan these connections, Florida’s bid for HSR will indeed be lost…