In this tough economic climate, many companies and organizations have had to do more with less. Public transit is definitely no exception, and neither is HART. This past year; HART was faced with a tightened budget, with limited room to make improvements to its current bus system. However, HART managed to keep bus schedules largely intact, with a few changes to increase efficiency on busy routes and remove buses from under-performing routes. There was also a fare increase this past year, which was expected for the most part since HART’s last fare increase was in 2007.
This upcoming fiscal year (2013/2014), which begins in October, is expected to be more of the same, with revenues expected to come in much lower compared to the previous fiscal year (2012/2013). To be exact, last year’s revenues were $28.5 million, while this year’s projections are at a mere $15.2 million. This is despite ridership levels that continue to skyrocket in the midst of a very slow economic recovery. However, after a thorough review of HART’s expenses, there is now an additional $1.2 million available for the district to use on…what else? Beefing up existing bus routes!
So where exactly did those savings come from? Well, according to this article, many open job positions were eliminated, printing and advertising expenses were reduced (advertising expenses alone can be a HUGE drain on any organization’s budget), and cutbacks in things like consulting fees. With the additional funds, HART wants to increase weekend service levels on Routes 2, 6, and 30 from their current end-of-service times to 12-midnight. All three of these bus routes are extremely popular and many modifications have been made to allow more service seven days a week. Another huge change will be to Route 5, which serves the 40th Street corridor and the heart of the University of South Florida Tampa Campus. For many years ,this route was largely neglected, with weekday service ending just after 9pm and weekend service ending just after 6pm. HART wants to have Route 5 end service at 12-midnight on weekdays and about 9pm on weekends. Other changes will include restoring midday service to Route 46, adding Saturday service to Routes 14 and 57, and adding Sunday service to Route 37.
As for when these changes will take effect? Well. don’t hold your breath just yet. Because all of these proposals are being put into place for the fiscal year 2013/2014 budget, they will not be taking effect until the November, 2013 service change/evaluation cycle. Furthermore, the budget itself must undergo a public input process, which is required by state law, so there is a possibility that not all of these changes will be final. However, if all of the improvements are enacted, it will be the first time that any public transit district in the Tampa Bay area will be operating at least one bus route that has OWL service running through 12-midnight seven days a week.