May Friday Rewind – HART MetroRapid

Friday Rewind New 1

In this edition of Friday Rewind, I’ll be taking a look back at some of my past postings regarding HART MetroRapid. And the timing of this post could not be anymore perfect, as the new service just launched earlier this week! Notice the new Friday Rewind logo? This is the logo that I’ll be using for quite a while. The old logo just didn’t have that “kick” to it.

I first began blogging about HART MetroRapid long before the new line even had a name. My first post was back in November of 2008, only a few months after my original Tampa Transit Utopia Blog was launched. During this time, HART had just launched its Project Development and Environment (or PD&E) Study to evaluate potential stops, costs of operating the system, etc. During the planning stages, there was a lot of public input going into shaping MetroRapid, including the selection of the Nebraska Ave corridor as the first phase, as Nebraska Ave is HART’s busiest bus corridor. Ideally, HART would have liked to have a true BRT line, which uses dedicated bus-only lanes to speed buses past rush hour traffic. However, as the plan evolved from its earliest stages, this idealistic vision would not come to fruition, at least for now.

Here’s a little snippet from that post:

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz about a Bus Rapid Transit (or BRT) system coming to Tampa. Well, HART has reached the next stage of the system finally becoming a reality. The agency has launched a study to implement the first phase of the system, which will run along Nebraska Avenue and Fletcher Avenue. The system will serve two future park-n-ride lots near I-75, the University Area Transit Center, and Downtown Tampa via Fletcher & Nebraska.

So what did HART come up with? Well, many people say that MetroRapid is more like “BRT Lite”, which tries to operate as a BRT line, but shares the road with regular traffic. In February of 2009, I blogged about the MetroRapid corridors that had been selected. The first, is the Nebraska Ave/Fletcher Ave (or North-South) corridor from downtown Tampa to Hidder River Park. The second corridor (the East-West corridor) is along Columbus Dr, Himes Ave, MLK Blvd, Hillsborough Ave, and 56th St between Tampa International Airport and Temple Terrace. These corridors would utilize Transit Signal Prioritization (or TSP) systems to help keep buses flowing on schedule, and some portions of the routes may have special bus-only “jump lanes”.

As the MetroRapid North-South corridor was being finalized, studies began for the East-West corridor. HART held a workshop back in June of 2012 to get public input for the project. Even though the North-South corridor was largely funded by the Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax, the East-West corridor remains largely unfunded. I understand that HART will be seeking federal funding avenues where available for the second phase. Of course, the second and any subsequent phases of MetroRapid will largely depend on the success of the North-South line.

Groundbreaking for the North-South line took place on August 6, 2012, with the first Gillig Low Floor bus for MetroRapid being delivered to HART on November 16, 2012. The delivery of the first MetroRapid bus actually took me by surprise, because I first thought that the buses would not be delivered until January, 2013 at the very least. However, I later realized that HART will need enough time to test the TSP system along the corridor before it can begin revenue service.

Here’s a snippet from my November, 2012 posting:

My understanding is that the new buses are very similar to that of the 29XX and 10XX buses that HART added to their fleet in 2009 and 2010 respectively. However, the rear end of the bus has a similar styling to that of the 25XX buses. The interiors sport the same seating configuration as the 29XX and 10XX buses, but the color scheme is that of white, gray, and green tones to match the MetroRapid livery. It is also my understanding that HART will have 12 of these buses on the road when the first segment of the MetroRapid system opens in 2013 (I previously had mentioned 15, but because HART later decided to reduce frequency of the route from 10 minute peak headways/15 minute non-peak headways to 15 minute peak/20 minute non-peak, the number of buses to be purchased for the route was reduced to 12). The buses are manufactured by Gillig Corporation, based in Hayward, California (yes, that’s why they make that cross-country trip).

In December of 2012, I blogged about the progress of the shelter construction and bus delivery. In March of 2013, I reported that all 14 MetroRapid buses had been delivered to HART. And most recently, I blogged about the two week fare-free period that is currently ongoing. If you have not had a chance to ride MetroRapid yet this week, you will have a chance to do so next week…from Monday, June 3 to Friday, June 7. Revenue service for MetroRapid will begin on Monday, June 10, and will cost $2.00 (the same as a local bus fare) for a one-way trip.

So in wrapping up the first week of fare-free rides on MetroRapid, I’ve heard mostly positive reviews from passengers who have been sounding off on Facebook. It seems that many riders believe that MetroRapid will bring forth a faster bus trip into downtown, and while I agree that this will be the case to a degree, my fellow transit blogger Zac does not think that there is really much of a time savings with MetroRapid compared to the existing Local Route 2.

With all of this said, I must definitely stress that MetroRapid is not the “silver bullet” that Tampa needs to kick-start its transit expansion, nor do I think that there is any such “silver bullet” that can do that. I’ve been hearing as of recent that some people are like, “OMG! This is going to be the TRANSIT REVOLUTION!”. All I can think to myself is, “STOP PEOPLE! STOP! You’re getting way too ahead of yourselves!” In response to this commotion, I posted a note on my Facebook Page explaining exactly why I don’t believe that MetroRapid is going to cause any sort of “Transit Revolution” in Tampa. In fact, I strongly believe that MetroRapid is a “make it, or break it” moment for the entire Tampa Bay region. Because if MetroRapid fails to deliver on its promises, the entire region will be set back another 20 to 50 years when it comes to the possibility of any rail system coming to the area.

Have a great weekend everyone!

HARTride 2012

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