Could MetroRapid already be having a fever?

And what I mean by that is, could HART’s new MetroRapid service already be faltering? It’s almost like a person having a high fever, which that in of itself is never fun. One simply cannot focus on things needing to be done when he or she is sick. With a bus route, it simply can’t perform well if its running with vast inefficiencies, like the placement of bus stops, etc. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing largely mixed reviews of HART’s new bus rapid transit system, and we haven’t even been given the first month’s ridership numbers yet! However, these reviews already give a somewhat grim synopsis of what could come if HART does not make key changes to the route soon.

Many newspaper and magazine articles that were published right around the debut of MetroRapid largely provided us with a positive outlook of what MetroRapid could be. And I stress just that…could be. Yes, there are always going to be the first day/first week jitters, just like students heading back to school after relishing in the long summer break. However, the reality is, if you have a group of people complaining week after week that the route doesn’t run right, and nothing has been done to address some of the issues that are allowed to persist, then something simply isn’t right. Based on what people have been saying, let me go ahead and outline some of the major issues that I strongly believe that HART must address and resolve NOW! Not five months down the road.

  • Confusion between HART Local and MetroRapid stops/shelters
  • Lack of Ticket Vending Machines at some stations
  • No posting of a route schedule or the route number for MetroRapid
  • Transit Signal Priority

Confusion between HART Local and MetroRapid stops/shelters

At first glance, it may be understandable why MetroRapid shelters are completely separated from local route bus stops. Although HART has intended the separation of these stops to make MetroRapid run as efficiently as possible, it seems that this setup has caused a lot of confusion because local buses don’t stop at MetroRapid shelters, and the opposite can be said for local bus stops. This Tampa Bay Times article published May 28, 2013, briefly addressed this issue. My understanding is that other transit districts that have BRT in mixed traffic situations have local and BRT stops next to each other.

Now, how this can eventually become a huge problem if not resolved now; is that with the summer dragging on here in Florida, many people want to be out of the hot sun. I can definitely attest to this because I’ve been in that sort of situation while using the HART bus system in the past, I hated waiting for a bus in the hot sun! Some people may not care what route the next bus is running on, just as long as it is A BUS. This can especially be confusing if it is a stormy day, and a passenger is trying to wave the bus down just to escape the rain. If you’re standing at a Route 2 stop and the next bus coming down Nebraska Ave is a MetroRapid bus, good luck with trying to get the bus to stop, it WILL NOT STOP FOR YOU!

Lack of Ticket Vending Machines at some stations

Another issue that could kill all future prospects for MetroRapid is the fact that Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) are only equipped at selected stations. While HART intended to equip higher-capacity stations with TVMs in order to speed the boarding process, it isn’t going to do enough in respects to actually speed the boarding process. Why? Because a vast majority of stations along the MetroRapid route don’t have TVMs, which force customers to fiddle with change while boarding the bus, which in-turn SLOWS the boarding process. In essence, HART is defeating the who purpose of having a “faster” bus line by not equipping all MetroRapid stations with TVMs.

No posting of a route schedule or the route number for MetroRapid

Unless you’re riding a bus route that has headways of 10 minutes or less, you probably want to look at a paper schedule, right? Well, HART currently doesn’t publish a schedule timetable for MetroRapid, as it does for its other routes. Though I’m not too sure about the reason behind this, it would definitely be wise (especially for customers who are using HART for the first time) to have a schedule timetable published so that customers pretty much know when the bus will arrive and not have to second-guess everything.

If HART could publish 15-minute headways on a schedule brochure for Route 30, when it was running 15-minute headways, then gee…why can’t they do the same for MetroRapid? Posting a timetable will also make things easier for customers to distinguish which trips leave for Hidden River Park, and which ones terminate at the UATC. Oh, and by the way, as I found through Zac’s blog post about MetroRapid, there is actually an out-of-sync northbound trip that leaves the Marion Transit Center at 10:55am, instead of 10:45am. MOST CUSTOMERS WILL NOT KNOW THIS BEFOREHAND!

Another thing that HART should do, is post MetroRapid’s internal route number, Route 400, on shelter signs, booklets, etc. Currently, the only evidence of Route 400 being out-in-the-open is on Google Maps. At first glance, someone may not know what Route 400 is, because they don’t know to associate the number with MetroRapid. When HART comes out with its real-time bus tracker (I’m not sure when that will be), posting the internal route number will be crucial to the program that powers the real-time bus tracker, since many of these programs are dependent on the actual route number.

Transit Signal Priority

There’s a wonderful (and I say wonderful in a rather sarcastic manner) caveat to HART using Transit Signal Priority (TSP) for MetroRapid. You would think that TSP would be used regularly to help keep the bus moving along, especially in rush hour traffic, right? Not exactly the case, and perhaps I missed the memo on this one in the beginning. HART has made clarifications that TSP would only be used if the bus fell three minutes or more behind schedule. I’m sure HART has its reasons behind this, including not wanting the bus to go too far ahead of schedule, which can also be a problem. However, I really don’t think this is the right approach when it comes to keeping a BRT line bus moving along at a regular pace, especially during rush hour, when traffic is heavier.

In fact, having a MetroRapid bus constantly stop at red lights will obliterate ridership in the long-run, particularly because we’re all given the perception that MetroRapid is supposed to be a fast and quick service. Like what Zac mentioned in his post, there really isn’t much time saving compared to local Route 2, even though it may fit in line with projections. And if the bus is constantly stopped at red lights, it will only cause service to continue downhill. In the long-run, the mixed perceptions of MetroRapid will give ammunition to anti-transit and Tea Party groups to completely derail the upcoming 2014 transit tax referendum in Pinellas, as well as any such future efforts in Hillsborough. It will also sway government officials to become more hard-pressed to support future transit initiatives because MetroRapid would be labeled as a “boondoggle”.

Conclusion

For these reasons above, HART needs to start re-evaluating MetroRapid and its current path. If these issues are not resolved, they will not only kill off all future viability of MetroRapid, but they will kill off all future prospects for rail transport and other much-needed transit improvements for the Tampa Bay area. As I’ve mentioned in my note on my Facebook page, MetroRapid is NOT A TRANSIT REVOLUTION, IT IS A MAKE-IT, OR BREAK-IT POINT FOR TRANSIT IN THE ENTIRE TAMPA BAY REGION. If MetroRapid ends up being a total failure, the repercussions will kill off any future transit growth in the Tampa Bay area for the next 50 years!

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