HART service changes for March 16, 2014

Mar14premarkupHART

It’s almost that time again for the spring time routing/scheduling markup cycle for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART). Although this cycle will mainly comprise of minor scheduling/timepoint/running time changes, the most sweeping change that will take effect this cycle will be the revision of Route 46 to serve the Valrico area.

First, let’s quickly highlight the minor changes. Routes 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 27LX, and 30 will all see minor running time changes. Route 18 will have its final southbound trip restored to the Marion Transit Center. Previously, the last buses of the evening terminated at Columbus Dr due to budgetary issues.

Now onto the big change that is Route 46. Route 46 currently runs between the Westfield Brandon Mall and Davis Island. Under the approved changes, the Davis Island segment will be eliminated in favor of an extension to Valrico. The new western terminus will be at the Marion Transit Center, where customers can easily connect to the 46 from other routes. Customers wishing to connect to Tampa General Hospital can still do so via a transfer to Route 19 from the Marion St Transitway. Route 19 provides service to and from Tampa General Hospital seven days a week, with 30-minute weekday headways from 4:10am until 8:00pm, and then running hourly from 8:00pm until 11:20pm.

The Valrico extension will provide for new local services via State Rd 60 (Brandon Blvd) Monday through Friday, with the possibility of Saturday service should funding avenues allow later on. The new eastern terminus would be at the Dover Park-N-Ride Lot, where Route 22X currently picks up and drops off passengers. This alone will become a huge incentive for car-centric customers to leave their cars at the lot and use transit to get around the Brandon/Valrico area. Connecting services such as Local Routes 8 and 37, as well as the Brandon FLEX will be able to get residents around without having to hassle with lane changes and traffic signals.

Additionally, Route 46’s span of operating service will increase by one hour, ending service during the 8:00pm hour, instead of the 7:00pm hour, and Midday service that was previously eliminated due to budgetary issues will be restored. Hourly headways will still be retained, but if funding avenues and ridership levels allow, service could later increase to 45 minute or even 30 minute headways. This alone will make it easier for customers to use transit while being able to return home at a reasonable hour. Evening service may also be expanded if funding and ridership levels allow. Nonetheless, the improvements for Route 46 are a welcome sign for the Brandon/Valrico area, which has been greatly under-served by transit for years. If HART had additional funding, they could further improve existing services in the area.

To view a map and schedule for the revised Route 46, click here!

For my February Friday Rewind post, I’ll take a look at the history of Route 46 and how it has evolved through the years. I’ll also discuss how the proposal to eliminate the Davis Island portion has come up a few times before, but never materialized.

Enjoy your Wednesday!

HARTride 2012

HRT departs from daily ridership reporting

A Norfolk NET bus passing by Commerical Park in downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 in April, 2013.
An HRT Route 17 bus passing by Commercial Park in downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 in April, 2013.

For quite a while now, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) has been able to post ridership numbers on its bus system, as well as its light rail (LRT) and ferry lines, on a near-daily basis. Numbers would be posted on the agency’s website homepage for each of the three modes, and a calendar underneath its “Public Records” section would archive that month’s daily ridership figures. For myself, and several other transit supporters and bloggers, the daily reporting of ridership numbers was really a positive rarity in the transit industry, since most transit districts only report ridership figures on a monthly basis, and usually only through prepared, but comprehensive reports.

During the month of February though, I’ve noticed HRT posting daily ridership less and less. The homepage started to be filled with “TBA” (To be announced) or “N/A” (not available), and the ridership calendar stopped being updated after February 4th. During the week of February 20th, I noticed that the ridership modules on the homepage had been removed entirely, being replaced with a clickable banner about the recent implementation of early morning Ferry services due in-turn to the implementation of tolls along both tunnels connecting Portsmouth to Norfolk.

Upon noticing these changes, I immediately knew that this could only mean one thing; that HRT has decided to go with comprehensive monthly reports, instead of reporting ridership figures daily. My suspicions were confirmed by HRT on Monday (2/24) when they replied to a post that I wrote on their Facebook page (please see screenshot below).

My post on HRT's Facebook page and their response.
My post on HRT’s Facebook page and their response. Click the image for a larger view.

Basically, what HRT has informed me of, is that by doing a comprehensive monthly report on ridership, customers would be able to gain a more accurate analysis of what the numbers mean, rather than just seeing each day’s ridership numbers on the calendar. When it comes to determining if a transit system is doing well, ridership numbers really matter. However, if most people can’t interpret what the numbers mean, then what’s the point of posting the information in the first place?

As for what you may be seeing in the future from HRT, here’s a link to their December, 2013 ridership report. It definitely provides some detailed insight into their ridership numbers. Many transit agencies prepare reports similar to this.

February 2014 Update on HRT’s LRT Extension Studies

The existing Tide LRT Line in Norfolk, VA travels from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center to Newtown Rd. Two studies are currently in progress to extend both termini. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
The existing Tide LRT Line in Norfolk, VA travels from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center to Newtown Rd. Two studies are currently in progress to extend both termini. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

It’s been a while since I wrote about two ongoing studies to extend Norfolk, VA’s light rail line. Much has progressed during the past few months on both studies, but a long road still lies before Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) in terms of finalizing routes for both extensions, putting together the final costs for each project, and building and maintaining public and political support.

Naval Station Norfolk Extension

Let’s first begin with the light rail (LRT) extension towards Naval Station Norfolk, which was launched nearly a year ago. This extension would bring the current Tide LRT Line roughly 7.6 miles from its current western terminus at the Eastern Virginia Medical Center to the Naval base, considered to be the largest U.S. Naval base in the world. Six different alignments have proposed by HRT and a series of public hearings are scheduled this week to garner public input. Now, these routes are only preliminary and several reports suggest that major flaws such as right-of-way issues have not been screened out as of yet. HRT stressed that they hope to have a clearer picture by the summer.

The three public hearings that will be held this week are listed below, with one of them to be held this evening, Monday, February 24.

  • Monday, February 24: At Granby High School, 7101 Granby St., Norfolk, VA. Free parking is available at the school’s parking lot. HRT customers can use Route 1 to attend the hearing.
  • Tuesday, February 25: At Old Dominion University’s Ted Constant Convocation Center, 4320 Hampton Blvd, Norfolk, VA. Free parking is available at the 43rd St. parking deck. HRT customers can use Routes 2, 4, and 16 to attend the hearing.
  • Wednesday, February 26: At the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, 235 E. Main St., Norfolk, VA. Parking is available in the Main Street and Waterside parking decks. HRT customers can use Routes 6, 8, 45, 960, and 961, as well as The Tide LRT Line to attend the hearing.

Sources: Railway Age, HRT.

Virginia Beach Extension

Many questions remain about the proposed LRT extension to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. In January, HRT released its projected cost for the Hilltop/Laskin Rd alignment, which came in at about $1.3 billion. Although this alignment is projected to see weekday boardings of at least 8,845 customers per day, compared to only 5,295 customers if the alignment using an abandoned Norfolk Southern freight rail corridor was used, the cost of using the Laskin Rd alignment would be much higher than NS route, which that estimate came in at just over $1 billion back in late 2013. The Laskin Rd alignment would also require that new infrastructure be built along several roadways, just like the LRT segment through Downtown Norfolk.

Regardless of which alignment is chosen (either of the two above, or a shorter option to truncate at Rosemont Rd), the Virginia Beach LRT extension faces a massive cost and significant political barriers. To make matters more complicated for HRT and the city of Virginia Beach, several private sector proposals were presented in 2013 that touted a much lower cost of construction and operation, and a sooner opening date. No one knows at this point as to which alignment will ultimately be selected, or who would be selected to build and operate the extension.

Source: Virginian Pilot.

President’s Day Holiday Transit Schedule

Monday, February 17, 2014 is President’s Day. Unlike most Federal holidays, where transit services are typically limited to weekend-level services, most transit districts tend to operate on a typical weekday schedule on President’s Day, with some districts operating weekday services with modifications.

In the Tampa Bay Area, most area transit districts (HART, PSTA, MCAT, SCAT, and PCPT) will operate on a normal weekday schedule. This includes the TECOline Streetcar, HART MetroRapid, HART and PSTA flex bus services, and various trolleybus routes throughout the metro area.

In Polk County, both the Citrus Connection (Lakeland) and WHAT (Winter Haven) will NOT OPERATE. In Hernando County, THEbus will ALSO NOT OPERATE.

In the Hampton Roads Area, all HRT services (bus, LRT, and ferry) will operate on a normal weekday schedule. However, MAX (Express) routes 918, 919, 922, and 965 will NOT OPERATE. Additionally, the Naval Station Norfolk segment of Route 3 will be altered, and stops between Gate 4 and the Navy Exchange will NOT BE SERVED.

If you have any questions regarding holiday transit services, please contact your respective transit district for details. Customer service centers will be open normal hours (unless otherwise specified by the transit district). Customer service centers will NOT BE OPEN for those transit districts that ARE NOT OPERATING on President’s Day.

January Bus Ridership Report

Despite colder than usual weather that hit the Tampa Bay area during the month of January, HART and PSTA both shattered previous ridership records for the month! Let’s take a glance at the total bus ridership for both systems. Please note that HRT’s January numbers were not available at the time this post was published.

January Ridership 1

For the PSTA bus system in particular, January brought in the second-highest ridership for January ever! Although they were hoping to set another all-time record, the weather just didn’t let things play out that way. Nonetheless, PSTA is continuing to see modest gains in monthly and daily ridership, and many busy routes have packed buses. So much so, that it’s standing room only on some buses.

PSTA is hoping that the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, now entering its crucial second phase called YES for Greenlight, will help improve existing bus services, as well as build a framework for an eventual passenger rail system in Pinellas County. I’ll have a blog post up soon in regards to what challenges lie ahead for Greenlight Pinellas.

Going to the HART bus system, services like MetroRapid and HART’s continuing partnership with the University of South Florida (called the U-Pass program) are leading the way for record bus ridership for 2014! MetroRapid’s January, 2014 ridership was 49,184, and we could soon see those numbers surpass the 50,000 mark! While I can’t say that February will be that milestone month, I do think that that milestone will be reached by April, 2014.

100_4047

The USF U-Pass program allows active USF students (with a valid USF ID card) to use HART local, limited express, and HART FLEX routes, as well as MetroRapid, at no additional charge (see my blog post about the USF U-Pass Program and the USF Bull Runner Shuttle for details on how the program works). The U-Pass Program represented roughly 4% of HART’s January gains, with FY 2013/2014 usage increasing by 12% over FY 2012/2013! I suspect that these increases will continue through 2014, especially with the recent increase in bus service for the USF Tampa Campus area.

Back in November, 2013, HART increased evening bus services for both Routes 5 and 6, which allows students to commute home from evening classes, as well as provide a continual transit link to the USF Tampa Campus for those study breaks at the campus library, which is open 24 hours from 12 Noon Sunday through 6pm Friday during the Fall and Spring semesters! Route 5 in particular serves the heart of the USF Tampa Campus, serving the Engineering and Medical campuses. Route 6 traverses USF Holly Drive’s residence halls and allows for a quick walk to the USF Marshall Center (Student Union). Additionally, Route 18 travels through the USF Tampa Medical Campus, and Route 57 and the MetroRapid North-South Line allow for students to enter the Tampa Campus from the north via Fletcher Ave.

So what will the month of February hold for public transit? We shall see…

Sources: HART, PSTA.

HARTride 2012

Transit 101 – Episode 1 – Planning your transit trip

Transit 101 Cover 1

Note: This post was originally posted on February 10, 2014 as part of the Transit 101 blog series. I am re-launching this series so that I can proceed with posting episodes that were never previously posted.


Today, I’m launching my inaugural posting of my Transit 101 series. If you have not had a chance to read on my introductory post, please take a moment to do so. Thank you!

In this first episode of Transit 101, I would like to go through the various ways that you can plan your public transit trip! Unlike the 1990s, where most people would have had to call their transit district or visit a customer service center, the advent of technology has made planning a transit trip so much easier! Many transit districts even allow you to purchase transit passes online, and some are now coming out with mobile apps to allow you to purchase transit passes on the go! I’ll go more in-depth into fares in a later episode.


So without further delay, let’s take a look at the ways you can easily plan your transit trip. I’ll be going through each method in detail in a moment.

  • Google Maps’ Transit Option
  • Smartphone Apps
  • Trip Planning via Telephone
  • Visiting a Customer Service Center

Google Maps’ Transit Option

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My fictional character, Jeremy Riddle (above), loves to surf the web. When it comes to using public transit, the first place he goes to is Google Maps. Many transit districts have partnered with Google by providing their GTFS data, which allows customers to easily map out where they want to go, and how to get there via transit…all in one interface, and at no cost to the transit district!

In fact, the following transit districts have already partnered with Google to provide this wonderful service to their customers!

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) – Tampa, FL
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) – St. Pete/Clearwater, FL
  • Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) – Sarasota, FL
  • Central Florida Area Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX) – Orlando, FL
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) – Norfolk/Hampton, VA
  • Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) – Chicago, IL
  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York (MTA) – New York City, NY
  • Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) – Paris, France
  • Public Transportation authorities in Manila, Philippines

Although Google Maps has provided a transit option for a few years now, the entire interface has been redesigned with additional features to further help you with planning your transit trip in a snap! A couple of the newest features are the Schedule Explorer option, and the addition of real-time departure times for some transit districts.

Let’s take a glance at Google Maps. Click on the images for a closer look.

The Google Maps interface was recently updated with new features. Some features retained from the old version was good ol' Pegman (lower right-hand box).
The Google Maps interface was recently updated with new features. Some features retained from the old version was good ol’ Pegman (lower right-hand box).

There’s a couple ways you can plan your trip with transit. You can either type in an address in the search box on the upper-left hand corner of the map, or simply select a bus stop. Bus stops are indicated by the blue “bus” logo. In transit systems that have rail services, corresponding “train” buttons will show. Please keep in mind that you have to zoom in a bit for these buttons to show.

Blue transit stop logos show up when the map is zoomed in.
Blue transit stop logos show up when the map is zoomed in.

Clicking on a bus or rail stop will show you what services are available from that stop, where they terminate at, and in many cases, will show what times a particular bus or train departs from the selected location.

Now, notice the small circles next to each departure time? Those circles indicate that real-time information is available for those particular trips. HART is one of several transit districts to allow real-time GTFS data to be transmitted to Google.

A bus stop showing departure times for HART bus routes 4 and 19.
A bus stop showing departure times for HART bus routes 4 and 19.

At locations that show a bunch of routes, you’ll see the following.

The Marion Transit Center and connecting bus routes. Note that MetroRapid North-South is given the route designation of 400.
The Marion Transit Center and connecting bus routes. Note that MetroRapid North-South is given the route designation of 400.

I believe at one time (before the recent update), you could click on the individual routes to see what times each bus departed. However, this functionality seems to have been temporarily disabled.

Now, let’s say you want a step-by-step guide of your transit trip. Just like turn-by-turn driving directions, Google Maps allows you to view your transit itinerary step-by-step. Simply click on a bus or rail stop button, then select the “Preview Steps” link to open up something like this…

Step-by-step transit directions!
Step-by-step transit directions!
Use the directional buttons to scroll through each step. To exit the preview, just click "Exit Preview".
Use the directional buttons to scroll through each step. To exit the preview, just click “Exit Preview”.

Now, let’s do a quick “to” and “from” using the search box. For this demonstration, I’ve chosen the USF Tampa Campus as my origin, and the Rivergate Tower at 400 N Ashley Dr in Downtown Tampa as my destination.

Whether you type in an address into the search box, or just select a transit stop on the map, you’ll always have the option to fetch directions to or from the selected point on the map.

It's always pretty cool to have an interactive map!
It’s always pretty cool to have an interactive map!

Now, by default, when fetching directions to or from a particular point on the map, driving directions will be selected. You’ll want to choose the transit option bu selecting the “bus” tab. Bike and walking options are also available for those who like to walk or bike from place to place. For longer-range travel, an airplane option is available (I haven’t tried that latter option yet).

Any request to fetch directions on Google Maps automatically defaults to the driving directions option.
Any request to fetch directions on Google Maps automatically defaults to the driving directions option (car icon).
Vola! The transit directions option!
Vola! The transit directions option!

Using the transit directions option on Google Maps is pretty straightforward. Just like how Maps plots out the best route for you to take when you drive, Maps also plots out what is the best bus and/or rail route to take to your destination. Please keep in mind that several options may be available to you.

Notice the link on the bottom of the left-hand box that reads “More Options and Times”? Click on it! It will take you to the Schedule Explorer option.

The Schedule Explorer allows you to customize your transit trip!
The Schedule Explorer allows you to customize your transit trip!

Something that I really like about the new Google Maps is the Schedule Explorer Option! This allows you to customize your transit trip by entering a departure time that is best for you, then selecting which routes would best suit your travels.

The top pane shows what routes are available to you based on the departure time and date you selected. Below this pane is step-by-step directions on getting to your destination (walking to the bus or rail stop, the routes you selected, any applicable transfers, and reaching your destination), as well as a map. To return to the map view, select the “Full Map View” button on the right.

GM8
A full view of what’s below the route option pane.

In transit districts with rail services, additional options are available by clicking the “Route Options” button below the route options pane (just above the map).

This pane allows you to further customize your trip by selecting options with the fewest transfers or least walking distance.

Additional Route Options.
Additional Route Options.

And that’s not all! I could probably spend hours going through the different route possibilities for the HART system alone. If you want to try things out for yourself, just head on over to Google Maps now!


Google Trip Planner module on transit district websites.

Google Trip Planner PSTA 1
Some transit agencies have a Google Trip Planner module on their websites. This is the PSTA.net homepage.

Some transit agencies , like PSTA, have a built-in Google Maps module on their websites. In these modules, you would enter an originating and destination address, then specify the date and time that you wish to depart/arrive. You will then be directed to the Google Maps website for the results.


Smartphone Apps

With the advent of Smartphones, comes numerous apps designed to help plan and navigate your transit trip. While I will go into detail regarding Smartphone Apps in a separate post, I thought that it was important to at least mention what apps exist. Please note that these apps are created and operated by third parties and not the transit agencies themselves.

OneBusAway

Transit App

Mapnificent


Trip Planning via Telephone

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Although Google Maps is by far the fastest and easiest way to plan your transit trip, I understand that there are people that either don’t have access to a computer and/or the internet, as well as those who prefer to use the telephone rather than the internet. Don’t worry! Pretty much transit districts still have their telephone lines open, and they are still staffed by customer service representatives during the week. In addition, many transit districts are able to provide an automated interface (or IVR – Interactive Voice Response) through their InfoLine phone system to provide transit scheduling information 24/7!

Below, I’ve listed the InfoLine phone numbers for each transit district that I’ve covered through blog posts and through my Transport sections. Please note that calls to the InfoLine after hours may be routed directly to the agency’s transit dispatch center.

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).
    • 813-254-4278.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm and Weekends from 8am to 5pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 5pm.
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
    • 727-540-1900.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm, Saturdays from 7am to 8pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4:30pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4:30pm.
  • Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT).
    • 941-749-7116.
    • Hours of operation are not currently available.
  • Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
    • 941-861-5000.
    • Hours of operation are not currently available.
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
    • 757-222-6100.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 5am to 7pm, Saturdays from 7am to 7pm, and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 9am to 4pm.

Visiting a Customer Service Center

The Marion Street Transit Center in northern Downtown Tampa
HART’s Marion Transit Center has a staffed Customer Service Window during selected hours Monday through Saturday, and some holidays.

Some customers would rather speak to someone in person about planning their transit trip. That’s perfectly fine! Most transit districts still provide customer service centers by which customers can pick up schedules and speak with a customer service agent face-to-face. And while hours will vary depending on the district and day of the week, most customer service centers are typically staffed at least Monday through Saturday, with some districts being able to provide Sunday and Holiday hours. Please keep in mind that some districts close down their customer service operations on some holidays like Thanksgiving.

Below, I’ve listed locations of customer service centers for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, and Hampton Roads Transit. Please keep in mind that hours are subject to change, and up-to-date information can be accessed through the district’s website.

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).
    • Marion St and University Area Transit Centers.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 7am to 5pm. Closed on Sundays.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 5pm.
    • HART at City Hall is open from 11am to 1pm Monday through Friday. Closed on weekends and holidays.
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
    • Williams Park Customer Service Center.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 8am to 4:30pm.
    • Grand Central Station.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
    • Park St Terminal.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
    • Pinellas Park Transit Center (at Shoppes at Park Place)
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
    • Hampton and Newport News Transit Centers.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. Closed Sundays. Holiday operation may vary.
    • Silverleaf Commuter Station.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 5am to 9pm. Closed weekends and holidays.

Regardless of what method you choose to to plan your transit journey, please always keep in mind to have everything planned out prior to leaving for the bus or rail stop, and always arrive at the stop at least five to ten minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time. If inclement weather should arise, please arrive at your stop at least ten to fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time.

If you happen to come across anything that is incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible and I will correct the information. I always strive to make sure everything is up to date.