In these hard economic times, the big message is clear; raise revenues and cut costs. That is what HART has been trying to do in various ways by introducing HARTflex, cutting trips on underperforming routes, and even eliminating routes that don’t carry enough passengers. However, it seems that changing one route has become a community battle of sorts.
The route that I am speaking of is Route 39, which runs along Busch Blvd from Town-N-Country to East Tampa. Ever since its inception in the mid 1990s, Route 39 has always had a “jog” that takes buses from Busch Blvd at 50th St to Temple Heights Blvd and then onto 56th St. In recent years, HART has attempted several times (as recent as 2010) to eliminate this “jog” in the route. Why is HART so eager to eliminate this segment? There are a few reasons, but the two main points are efficiency and cost savings.
*Cost savings: First and foremost, HART officials tell me that they can save X amount of dollars by keeping Route 39 on Busch Blvd, as opposed to leaving it in its current state. Saving money is even more crucial as funding continues to decrease.
*Efficiency: HART believes it is much more efficient to keep Route 39 on a major highway, rather than have it meander through tight corners and narrow streets. This is an especially hard task for a 40-foot bus. Revising the route also will improve travel times.
Now here is where the battle lines are drawn. Although the plan is a very sensible idea, the community of Temple Heights have been opposed to the plan for years. They believe that it is a huge inconvenience to have to walk several blocks further to catch the bus. Many of these residents are in the lower income brackets and may not have any other form of transportation. Even in the most recent plan to revise Route 39, the concept to eliminate the Temple Heights segment was shot down by community opposition.
HART is proposing the same plan for its Fall, 2011 service changes. But after having the plan shot down 5 or 6 different times, will the plan finally pass? Or will it just fizzle out like the last several attempts?