Planned Modifications to HART Route 51X

Back in January, I wrote a post about how HART may want to consider looking into re-routing Route 51X to run along the I-4/Selmon Connector, even if the likelihood of such a change was low. Well, in the past couple days, I’ve been made aware of a proposal being worked on for possibly the November, 2014 markup that would change the structure of Route 51X to provide better service to and from New Tampa, as well as southeast Pasco County.

The proposal, if approved by the HART Board, would convert the current Route 51X into a Limited Express structure. For those not familiar with HART’s Limted Express routes, these routes are structured as a hybrid between a traditional local route and a traditional express route. A Limited Express route typically has more stops than a traditional express route, but its fare structure is placed within the same category as a traditional local route, thus most customers (including USF Tampa students) can use a Limited Express route at no additional cost, compared to a traditional express route (the local base cash fare is $2.00, where as the express cash fare is $3.00).

A diagram showing two proposals for Route 51LX. From HART's Finance and Governance Board meeting packet.
A diagram showing two proposals for Route 51LX. From HART’s Finance and Governance Committee meeting packet (Page 40). Click on the image for a larger look.

The diagram depicted above shows two proposals. One would retain the current express trips to and from downtown Tampa, but allow for some form of localized midday service between the University area of Hillsborough County and southeast Pasco County via New Tampa. The second option (right) would eliminate express trips to downtown but retain the localized service depicted on the left. The second option would allow for localized service to run all day, as opposed to only the midday hours.

Both options would eventually eliminate the Victorious Life Church Park-N-Ride lot in favor of a Park-N-Ride lot at the Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel campus (the Park-N-Ride lots at Crossroads Community Church and the Lowes on Bruce B. Downs Blvd near I-75 would be maintained), and establish a transfer point at the Shoppes at Wiregrass, where the new 51LX would connect to Pasco County Public Transportation (PCPT) route 54, which provides cross-county transit service within Pasco (it is given the route number of 54 due to it running along State Road 54). Both options would also allow for a stop at the University Area Transit Center, where customers would be able to connect to various local routes and the MetroRapid North-South Line.

Whichever proposal is eventually selected and approved by the HART Board, the modified service would allow new riders, particularly those in southeast Pasco County, access to the HART bus system. Many PCPT riders already enjoy seamless transit connections into Pinellas County thanks to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) running local routes into Pasco, and vice versa with PCPT. The modified Route 51 would allow for the same agreement between PCPT and HART, eventually paving the way for a similar modification of Route 20X from Lutz to Tampa, should the modified Route 51 be successful.

Some HART riders may recall the failed Route 52LX that ran for a short time during the mid-2000s, between downtown Tampa and New Tampa. That route was operating before the most recent development boom in southeast Pasco was completed (including Wiregrass) and was not able to take full advantage of the potential rider pool that now exists in the area. The modified Route 51 would be able to take advantage of this, and as such, must be executed carefully so that existing ridership is not lost at the expense of trying to bring in new riders.

I do want to stress that even though this is great news for New Tampa and southeast Pasco residents, the plan outlined above still has to go before the HART Board for approval. In fact, this proposal is just in the beginning stages, and the board still has to approve the necessary steps (such as outreach efforts) in order to make such route changes a reality (such steps are required by Title VI regulations). Once this proposal is presented to the board, I’ll have a follow-up post as to whether this plan will continue forth or not.

Updates coming to the Tampa Bay portal

Hi everyone!

It’s been a long while since I’ve been able to make any substantial updates to my site due in large part to personal obligations and my day job. However, in the next few weeks, I am going to be working on my sections dedicated to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT), and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT). This will be followed by my Northern Tampa Bay page, which will cover Pasco County Public Transportation (PCPT), Hernando THEbus, and Citrus County Transit. I hope to be able to have these updates finished by the end of June.

These updates are in addition to updates I’ve made with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) pages (specifically the HART Flex and MetroRapid pages), and the Alternative Fuels Portal (by which I added a small section on the BYD E-Bus that has been roaming around Washington State). Later in the summer (July/August), I plan to make further updates to my Hampton Roads and Europe Transports portals. Of course, all of these updates are subject to change if things in the real world don’t go to plan.

Upcoming updates to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority section

Specific to the PSTA portal will be the following sections:

  • Bus Route List: Just like my comprihensive bus route list for HART and MCAT, I will make a very similar list for PSTA. The master list will likely be grouped by type of mode (like the HART list is currently setup) and will include local, express, trolleybus, and Flex routes, along with points of interest along each route.
  • Information of PSTA’s bus fleet: My planned bus fleet page will be structured similarly to the pages I’ve created for HART’s bus fleet. However, the Retired Buses sub-section will not be created until a much later point, simply because outside of the few fleets of Flxible New Look, GMC RTS, New Flyer, and older model Gillig buses (though I have heard a bit about a small Orion I fleet existing also), I really don’t know what other buses that PSTA had previously. This is where you can help! If you have any information and/or photos of old/retired PSTA buses, please drop me a line through the Contact page! You will be credited on my Kudos Page!
  • Comprihensive pages on PSTA Trolleybus and Connector (Flex) services: Since PSTA operates and supports several trolleybus lines within Pinellas County, I will be creating a separate, dedicated page to talk about these services. The page will include information regarding the Suncoast Beach Trolley and the Central Ave Trolley, which PSTA fully operates, as well as the St. Pete Downtown “Looper” and the Clearwater Jolley Trolley, which are operated and funded by their respective municipalities, but recieve a portion of funding and support from PSTA. I will also have a comprihensive page dedicated to the PSTA Connector, a flex van service that operates in northern Pinellas County, on the same model as HART Flex.

While I am creating these pages, you may notice on the navigational bar that these pages are already listed. However, these pages are only being used as menu placeholders and clicking one of these links will lead you to a page that notes that the section is currently under construction.

Updates to other transit district pages in the Tampa Bay Portal

Pages for MCAT and SCAT will recieve similar treatment to that of the PSTA portal (with comprihensive bus route lists). The Northern Tampa Bay page will remain as one page, with horozontal lines on the page separating the three districts from each other. All sections will have practical information such as fares.

Hampton Roads Portal Updates

Details regarding updates to the Hampton Roads section will be announced in a later post, but will include a comprihensive bus route list, among other improvements.

A more immediate update to the Virginia Beach WAVE page will be arriving as soon as Monday, April 28, as VB WAVE Route 30 service is slated to begin for the summer season on Thursday, May 1. Route 31 and 32 services will commence on Sunday, May 18.

A blog post concerning July service changes will be posted as soon as the fate of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) Routes 16 and 17 are determined. As I outlined in a previous post, both routes are slated for elimination by HRT, as the city of Norfolk is intending to pull funding for both routes. Riders have spoken against the elimination of Route 16 at two recent public hearings.

Europe Transports Portal Updates

Details regarding updates to the European Transports section will also be announced in a later post.

With all of this said, enjoy your Sunday!

Friday Rewind – The HART fixed-route neighborhood connector

Friday Rewind New 1

It’s been several months since my last Friday Rewind post, and during the period of time that I didn’t post anything, I decided to start looking at either revising the scope of what I would cover in the series, or scrap the series altogether. During this time, I was able to gain some inspiration from Zac Ziegler (@transit509) when he began doing his Transit Throwback posts every other Thursday. I began to realize then that I could start writing up similar blog posts about how the transit systems here in Tampa Bay were years ago, including the original Tampa streetcar. For now, I will continue to publish these posts on a monthly basis.

So in this post, I’m going to discuss a small system of fixed-route neighborhood connectors that Hillsborough Area Regional Transit used to operate. These routes, which began in the early 2000s and lasted until 2011, were meant to circulate around various neighborhoods where service by traditional local bus routes were not feasible to operate long-term. These routes however, used regular transit buses (usually 30-footers) to operate along a fixed route, just like a normal fixed-route bus line. In some transit districts, cutaway vans may be used for such a service. Other differences between a traditional local route and these neighborhood connectors, were that their overall route length was shorter than an average bus route, and that the fare would be cheaper than the base local fare (it was 50 cents to ride one of these connector routes at one time).

HART's former fixed-route connectors used regular transit buses. This one is on the defunct Route 85. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. October, 2008.
HART’s former fixed-route connectors used regular transit buses instead of cutaway vans. This one is on the defunct Route 85. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. October, 2008.

In all, HART operated a total of eleven fixed-route connectors and one deviated connector, the latter ran on a fixed route but was able to deviate 3/4 off the route (a predecessor to today’s HART Flex). These routes were given the numbers 70, 71, 72, 73, 81, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, and 89 to distinguish them from traditional routes. The numbers 74 through 80, and 82 was never used. Below I have a running list of all of the connector routes that existed up until 2011. Some include maps that I’ve been able to grab from the Wayback Machine, which is an archive of web pages that were “snapshotted” through the years.

One of four connector routes that ran through the heart of Plant City. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
One of four connector routes that ran through the heart of Plant City. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Routes 70 through 73 – Plant City (Strawberry) Connector Routes
    • These routes once circulated through the heart of Plant City and even offered peak hour services to major employment centers within the city. They ran through the mid 2000s but were abolished when Plant City decided not to renew its contract with HART to provide transit services.
    • Today, the only form of transit service to and from Plant City is the 28 Express (which actually stops off Thononnassa Rd near I-4 and does not enter Plant City proper). There are plans for Plant City to have HART reinstate services, but they will be dependent on funding. I’ll have a blog post in the not-so-distant future that talks more about Plant City transit services.
Route 81 through South Tampa. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
Route 81 through South Tampa. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 81 – South Tampa Deviated Connector
    • A predecessor to today’s HART Flex, Route 81 operated like many other fixed-route connectors in Hillsborough County, but was allowed to deviate 3/4 of a mile outside of its fixed route. Being that the route ran through the highlighted portion of WestShore, it’s easy to conclude that cutaway vans must have been used for the service, rather than regular transit buses. The 81 was discontinued in the mid 2000s and replaced by fixed routes 85 and 89.
Route 83 was one of several fixed-route neighborhood connectors that ran on the HART system between the early 2000s and 2011. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
Route 83 circulated through the USF and University Northwest areas and had seen several mutations before being merged into the current Route 33 in 2009. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 83 – University Area Connector
    • Route 83 was designed to serve lower-income neighborhoods through the University area (near the University of South Florida Tampa Campus). Its destinations at one time or another was the University Mall, the University Community Development Center, the eastern end of the USF campus, and of course the University Area Transit Center.
    • Like many other routes, 83 saw several mutations and service scope changes, including the implementation of evening service in 2006. In 2009, the route was merged into the current Route 33 as part of a reorganization of routes in the University area, and to prepare local routes to connect with MetroRapid North-South.
One of several mutations of Route 84. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
One of several mutations of Route 84. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 84 – (Original) SouthShore Circulator
    • SouthShore transit services have seen several mutations and versions of fixed-route connectors. The very first was known as Route 84, which operated until 2006.
  • Route 85 – South Tampa Weekend Fixed Connector
    • Somewhere in the mid 2000s, HART implemented a weekend-only fixed route connector for South Tampa. This was due in-part to a system-wide reorganization of routes to eliminate ultra-long winding routes.
    • The 85 began as a Saturday-only service, but was later expanded to Sundays, and primarily connected WestShore Plaza, Britton Plaza, and MacDill Air Force Base. The 85 was eliminated in 2008 due to ultra-low ridership.
  • Route 86 – Ruskin Connector
    • Route 86 replaced Route 84 in 2006, by creating a Ruskin-specific connector that would better serve the community. This route only lasted for a short time however, as budget cuts impeded the HART system in 2007, and the 86 was merged into the 87 as a result. I also don’t think residents liked having to transfer from one route to another just to make appointments.
The original Route 87. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
The original Route 87. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 87 (1st Incarnation) – Town-N-Country East Connector
    • Route 87 was one of a few route numbers in the HART system that was used more than once. The first incarnation was part of a two-route connector system in the Town-N-Country area.
    • As depicted by the map above, this and its corresponding Route 88, served quite a few places within Town-N-Country and seemed to serve the area well.
    • As with many transit services, the 87 fell victim to the budget ax in the mid 2000s and some of its basic segments were merged into Route 88 and Local Route 7 (which was re-aligned at the same time).
  • Route 87 (2nd Incarnation) – Wimauma Connector
    • Route 87 was re-used in 2006 as part of an effort to create a Wimauma-specific connector that would better serve the community. This route was merged with Route 86 in 2007 due partly to budget cuts. In 2010, the route was eliminated altogether in favor of implementing today’s HART Flex.
The original Route 88. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
The original Route 88. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 88 – Town-N-Country West Connector
    • Route 88 served as part of a two-route connector system in Town-N-Country and seemed to serve the area well for a time. The route gradually fell to the budget ax every couple of years, becoming smaller and more limited in service until its elimination in 2011, when HART Flex was expanded.
  • Route 89 – South Tampa Weekday Fixed Connector
    • In the mid 2000s, Route 81 was eliminated in favor of a fixed-route connector, known as Route 89. Route 89 was actually the result of the elimination of both Route 81 and Route 17, the latter by which was eliminated due to budget cuts and a system-wide route reorganization (it should have been kept though).
    • Like many other connector routes, the 89 was faced with low ridership and had actually come up for elimination a couple times in the late 2000s. Ridership became so low at one point, that cutaway vans (like the one in the photo below) were deployed regularly, instead of regular transit buses. The 89 was eliminated in 2011, being replaced by a HART Flex zone.
At one time, Route 89 ridership dipped so low that cutaway vans were deployed regularly. Photo credit: HARTride 2012.
At one time, Route 89 ridership dipped so low that cutaway vans were deployed regularly. Photo credit: HARTride 2012.

With all of this said, will HART bring back the fixed-route connector? Highly unlikely at this time, since HART Flex overall has seen a success in usage (though individual route ridership has varied), and its model has since been adopted by the neighboring Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). There are even plans on the books to gradually add more HART Flex zones, including Seffner, Plant City, and Gibsonton. However, the recent circulator studies in SouthShore and downtown Tampa may bring back such connectors in the more distant future.

No New Funding (equals) A Transportation Disaster

Transportation Trust Fund blog post logo

It seems that every month, we’re faced with a new looming fiscal disaster that is only averted by our elected officials in Washington D.C. at the very last minute. Many of us know all to well the words “fiscal cliff” and “credit downgrade”. Both phrases have been synonymous with the continual partisan bickering in the Capital.

Now, usher in the Federal Highway Trust Fund, a pool of funds that is supposed to be dedicated to highway construction across the nation. This fund was established decades ago when the President Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was being built. The fund was meant to provide financing to the system, as well as other highways across the nation. This fund has been largely supplied through gasoline taxes, which haven’t been raised in a very long time, and is now in danger of running dry. Without any action by Congress to re-authorize transportation funding, long-awaited highway projects like the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway in Garland, TX will never be able to be built, and improvements existing highways will eventually cease. This would not only significantly delay the much-needed upgrades to our nation’s aging infrastructure, but it will also cost thousands of jobs within the construction industry.

So what’s the issue here exactly? Well, many members of Congress have shown little to no interest in raising gas tax revenues, especially with more fuel efficient vehicles hitting the roads. Some legislators in fact, have instead opted to push and shove through plans to implement what is called the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, which would essentially bill each and every commuter based on the amount of miles they travel. This plan has hit many roadblocks of its own, including opposition from privacy advocates who fear that equipment used to gather data to enforce VMT would possibly gather too much info about drivers. Currently, the only US state to have VMT in place is in Oregon. But they’re only operating VMT in a limited scope as of right now.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, the Federal Highway Trust Fund has been able to help modernize and expand many of our highways, by helping to keep state transportation coffers filled. This in-turn allows the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to keep their program of projects fully funded for the upcoming fiscal year. Federal money I’m sure has played a role in being able to help fund two projects in Pinellas County that have been gaining dust in the planning books for the past few decades. One project is to convert the portion of Gandy Blvd between Interstate 275 and 4th St N into a limited-access freeway flanked by frontage roads. Construction on this project was able to begin recently and is slated for completion in 2017 or 2018. The second project, which is not planned to begin until 2017, is the Gateway Expressway, which would convert portions of Pinellas County Road 296 and 611 into a limited-access tollway, also flanked by frontage roads.

Even more importantly though, is plans to rebuild the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects I-275 between St. Pete and Tampa. Although state funds are already in place to build a basic four-laned bridge, those funds could possibly be impacted down the road, should FDOT have to re-prioritize highway projects due to a lack of federal funding. In this article from the Orlando Sentinel, FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad mentioned that the agency has put together a contingency fund of “couple hundred million dollars” just in case Congress doesn’t act. He has also mentioned that the planned Express Lanes project for I-4 through Orlando will be protected in whatever way possible should FDOT have to re-shuffle projects. This still leaves uncertainty for other road projects, especially those that tie in pedestrian and transit improvements, like bike lanes, improved sidewalks, and bus queue/jump lanes.

Furthermore, public transit funding could also plummet if Congress does not act on re-authorizing transportation funding. This is because a portion of the Federal Highway Trust Fund includes as Mass Transit Fund, which was established in 1982 and is also dependent on gas tax revenues. This would force many transit agencies across the nation to slash services and hike fares. For already cash-strapped agencies like Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), further reductions in transit funding could mean that recent improvements in rush-hour, late-night, and weekend services could all be scaled back come 2015/2016. If the drop in funds is prolonged, HART could be forced to raise fares again…possibly much higher than previous increases. For the record, HART’s last base fare increases were in 2007 and 2012 respectively. Between 2007 and 2012, the base one-way fare has increased from $1.50, to $1.75, to $2.00. HART’s recent fare increases have been more modest compared to other districts who have had to raise fares in a more steep manner. Imagine however, if that fare suddenly jumped to $3.50…or even $4.00? Transit would begin to become unaffordable for most riders. And since purchasing new buses goes through a federal process, and utilizes federal funding, HART’s loss of transit buses could accelerate, forcing entire routes and services to be eliminated all at once.

The most grim consequence that any prolonged Congressional inaction could have on all this will no doubt be the loss of construction jobs. Many state leaders have warned that if the trust fund runs out, job losses could begin as early as this year as projects begin stall out. This will undoubtedly hurt the slow-going economic recovery and possibly even send the country right back into recession. And while some leaders have proposed just putting another “band-aid” on the matter, which many funding proposals have seen in recent years, this game of “kicking the can down the road” is not going to work for much longer. A long-term funding solution has to be devised…NOW!

l would strongly suggest contacting your legislators in Washington and tell them to come up with a long-term transportation funding solution that will be able to help our economy recover and grow. We cannot let Congress keep playing the “kick the can down the road” game, especially with transportation. They must devise a long-term solution to keep our infrastructure funded.

Earth Day 2014!

Earth Day

Until now, I’ve never really done any blog posts about Earth Day, yet I used to always do something “Green” for Earth Day back when I was in elementary and middle school. In this post, I will highlight some things that various public transit districts are doing to make every day of the year Earth Day.

FUEL EFFICIENT VEHICLES

First and foremost, many transit districts have at least a few transit buses that utilize an alternative method of fuel; whether that be hybrid-electric diesel, compressed natural gas, or even one of those zero-emissions buses that you’ve seen my fellow blogger Zac talk about. Many transit districts are also obtaining fuel efficient Paratransit vans and staff vehicles.

SOLAR LIGHTING AT SHELTERS AND STATIONS

Many bus shelters and train stations are being powered by solar panels, rather than conventional means. This is not only friendly for the environment, but also takes stress off our aging conventional power grid. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), among many others, have stepped up the installation of solar-powered bus shelters over the past couple of years.

ENERGY EFFICIENT FACILITIES

Some transit districts like HART are paving the way to a greener future by building LEED Certified facilities (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). HART’s rebuilt Operations Center in East Tampa is just one of those facilities, and I’m sure that many other transit districts will follow.

OTHER PRACTICES

Whether its recycling used products and chemicals, purchasing recycled and green-certified products, using reclaimed water to wash down vehicles, or even installing hand dryers and water-saving fixtures in restrooms; many transit districts across the globe have turned to earth-friendly practices to show that they too care about the environment! But this not just a one-time deal, these are practices that will last for many years to come!

USE TRANSIT WHEN POSSIBLE!

One way that you can help make every day Earth Day, is by using transit! I fully understand that there are circumstances where one isn’t able to take advantage of public transit services. However, just try out transit for a day and see what big of a difference it makes! You may not see the larger impact right away, but if one fuel-efficient bus can remove a handful of personal vehicles from the road, then that’s quite an impact already!

My experience using HART for Tampa’s AirFest

Boarding the Route 4 "shuttle" bus to the Tampa Bay AirFest. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.
Boarding the Route 4 “shuttle” bus to the Tampa Bay AirFest. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.

This past March, I had the opportunity to use the HART bus system during the Tampa Bay AirFest at MacDill Air Force Base. I specifically got to use the Route 4 “shuttle” service, which ran every 15 minutes on a modified route throughout the day on March 22nd and 23rd. Using HART during this event allowed me to escape the mounting traffic jams and parking issues that AirFest normally brings each year that it is held (there was no event held in 2002, 2012, and 2013).

In past years, I’ve ended up driving to the event because I lived relatively close to the base and was able to leave early enough to escape the midday traffic backups that turn Dale Mabry Highway into a sea of vehicles. This year was different because I didn’t want to deal with all of the traffic and parking hassles. By the time the base gates had opened for AirFest, there were already long lines of vehicles wanting to get in. As in previous years as well, the Dale Mabry Hwy gate was really the only point of egress, although the MacDill Ave gate did open to entry traffic for a time. I don’t think a lot of people knew about that though.

So instead of driving to the base, I parked my car at Britton Plaza, which has a shelter that serves HART routes 4, 19, 36, the South Tampa Flex route, and PSTA’s Route 100X. After securing my car, I walked up to the shelter, where a southbound bus to the base was waiting, along with a northbound bus that was heading back to downtown Tampa. I immediately noticed other people parking their cars and hopping aboard the bus as well. Britton Plaza’s parking lot can vary greatly depending on the day of the week, time of day, and whether it’s a busy shopping period (such as around holidays). From my observation, the lot had to be at about 75% capacity, and I’m sure a portion of vehicles were not parked there because people were shopping…this was the “unofficial” Park-N-Ride lot for AirFest.

Now Route 4, along with the South Tampa Flex, and Route 100X, typically run only on weekdays. However, when HART’s budget allows, Route 4 will be modified during the AirFest to run as a weekend “shuttle” with frequencies similar to the MetroRapid North-South Line. During this operation, some normal Route 4 stops are not served due to buses running a limited stop operation. There were two years, by which HART did not run the shuttle due to budgetary constraints; 2008 and 2011.

Knowing that exact change is required, I went to the ATM machine and had Publix break my large dollar bills before I boarded the bus. Having exact change, and having that change ready before boarding, is the most efficient way to use transit if paying with cash. This is because you’re not impeding the boarding process by having to dig through and pull out a wad of dollar bills or a handful of coins. If you have a ton of large bills, you may be out of luck because operators are not allowed to handle change.

Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.
On board one of HART’s  swanky new buses. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.

Once aboard the bus (which by the way, was one of HART’s relatively new 2013-series Gillig Low Floor buses), I noticed a good amount of people already on board, with some coming from downtown. As I took my seat, I saw that a lot of people were still boarding, which was definitely a good sign that many within Hillsborough County had heeded the warnings of long traffic jams and decided to use the bus as an alternate method of getting to the AirFest! By the time the bus had left, it was near-standing room only for the entire trip!

Accounting for traffic entering the MacDill Ave gate, it took about 25 minutes to travel from Britton Plaza to Bayshore Blvd gate. During this portion of the trip, I was able to talk with a fellow passenger who became concerned that there may not be enough buses to keep the 15 minute frequency intact. I noted that while this may be the case, weekends typically don’t require that all buses be deployed at the same time. So if worst-case scenario things can be tweaked to run more efficiently.

I also mentioned about how HART has been losing buses due to limited funds, and that many improvements would require a referendum to be passed. She then brought up Greenlight Pinellas for a moment and how vital it is to Pinellas County. She hopes that Greenlight will be able to pass, and I agreed with her. Although PSTA has been fortunate to get funding to replace older buses, much of this funding is coming from federal sources that will soon run out. Once those funds run dry, PSTA will wind up in the same situation as HART, unless a referendum is passed.

When the HART bus reached the Bayshore gate, military police forces walked up and began to examine if there was anything suspicious. For a moment, everyone got up from their seats, thinking that an ID check would be required (it wasn’t…at least for the bus I was on). As I looked out the window, I noticed one service member using a device to scan the underside of the bus to make sure there were no explosives or other suspicious items hidden underneath. Another service member actually boarded the bus and was required to be on board for the entire duration that the particular bus was on the base. In years past, where HART ran the Route 4 “shuttle”, buses were not allowed on base and had to turn around at the gate. This year was different because buses were allowed to travel in a counter-clockwise pattern to a boarding area just northeast of Hangar 1.

Arriving at the AirFest event area. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.
Arriving at the AirFest event area. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.

Upon arrival at the boarding area, passengers were directed to follow a walkway that was fenced on either side by those barriers that you typically see at parades. The walkway led into the parking area, by which the event entrance was just to the left. As in past events since 2001, a tent was set up with airport-style security screening. However, as long as one did not bring prohibited items, there wasn’t really any problems. No lengthy lines either! All in all, I managed to spend a good two and half hours at the Tampa Bay AirFest, all the way through the USAF Thunderbirds doing their aerial performance. It was definitely quite a sight to see!

On my way back to the bus boarding area, I noticed that four HART buses had parked, all in a “lineup” formation. I figured that this was because the day was beginning to come to a close and that all inbound trips would be ending at 4pm, being that all buses from that point onward would only be running outbound trips. The bus ride back to Britton Plaza was also standing room only, including a lady with three children with her. It was definitely a wonderful experience to not only ride HART to and from AirFest, but to also see a good amount of riders taking advantage of the shuttle as well! If only the HART system was better funded, could they bring forth even more service and attract more riders.

Many buses were at or near standing room only. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.
Many buses were at or near standing room only. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012, March, 2014.

With all of this said, I know some of you may be asking; why do I drive from A to B when I used to use transit so regularly? The reason is because there isn’t enough funding to be able to expand the HART system beyond current levels, which causes a huge inefficiency throughout the system. This is especially the case in unincorporated Hillsborough County, where transit services tend to be a lot more scarce. With the recent drop in funds caused by the recent recession, HART can no longer afford to purchase new buses outside of ones that are replacing outdated fleets.

In fact, HART can barely even keep up with replacing buses that have reached the ends of their useful lives. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, as well as in past posts, HART has been steadily losing buses since 2010 and will continue to do so unless they are able to obtain funding from other sources, or…a transit referendum, similar to Greenlight Pinellas, passes. Without a dedicated funding source for transit in place, recently talked about plans for improved bus service between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport, among many other aspirations, will never be able to materialize.

In my case, with Brandon and Riverview being underserved by transit, I can’t use transit to connect between these two areas, let alone being able to have an efficient connection between South Tampa and Brandon. This lack of transit connectivity really becomes problematic during evening and weekend hours, when I’m usually working. For instance, my workplace lies in an area with no transit routes. The closest bus line is Route 46, which only runs on weekdays and ends service after 8pm. To get to the closest bus stop is even a challenge, as one would have to walk over a mile to do so.

To close out this post, I would like to mention that as I was planning things out for this very post, I was contacted by HART’s Public Information Officer in regards to this very topic. I was very privileged to be able to share my transit experiences with her, and you may be seeing my comments in an upcoming A Community With HART newsletter!

Have a great week!

HARTride 2012.

HART bus route detours during the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA)

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The biggest event since the 2012 Republican National Convention is coming to Tampa Bay! I’d say this is even bigger than the RNC due to its global exposure! It’s the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which is also known as the “Bollywood Oscars”! This year’s grand event is being held at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and is the first such appearance here in the United States!

To give you a taste of just how huge this event will be, take a look at this YouTube video that I found of an IIFA flash mob in New York City’s Times Square. This was done on April 13, 2014 (just a few days ago).

Video Credit: aryadanceacademy

For more information about the upcoming event, please visit the IIFA’s official website.

Bus Route Detours

Because of various street closures and security protocols, several Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus routes will be detoured from April 24 through the 26. Additionally, the West Tampa Transfer Center, which sits adjacent to the Stadium, will be CLOSED DURING THESE DAYS.

RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM AREA

HART bus routes 7, 32, 36, 41, and 45 will all follow the detour procedures that are in place during events that are held at Raymond James Stadium. These procedures will activate the temporary bus transfer point at MacDill Ave and St. Isabel St, next to St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. So if you’re planning to use transit during the course of April 24 through 26, please be aware that you may need to walk further than normal to catch your bus. Please allow extra time to get to the temporary transfer point, and keep in mind that many normal bus stops WILL NOT BE SERVED!

  • Route 7 will utilize Hillsborough Ave between Lois and Habana Avenues and then travel down Habana towards the temporary transfer point. The HCC Dale Mabry Campus WILL NOT BE SERVED! Students that normally use the HART system should make alternative arrangements.
  • Route 32 will follow normal routing to the temporary transfer point.
  • Route 36 will follow Spruce St, MacDill Ave, Habana Ave, and Hillsborough Ave between Hillsborough Ave and Spruce St.
  • Route 41 will follow normal routing to the temporary transfer point.
  • Route 45 will follow normal routing to the temporary transfer point.
  • Route 15, which travels along Columbus Dr, may be detoured intermittently per Tampa Police Department directives.

DOWNTOWN TAMPA

Due to street closures around the Tampa Convention Center, Tampa Bay Times Forum, and the River Arts District, Routes 4, 19, 30, and the In-Town Trolley will all see detours.

Please remember that the Lightning Playoffs are still in motion too! A home game is scheduled for April 24.

  • Routes 4 and 19 will use the Selmon Expressway between Hyde Park/Plant Avenues and Morgan St/Florida Ave.
  • Route 30 will use N. Boulevard and Cass/Tyler Streets.
  • The In-Town Trolley will NOT SERVE HARBOUR ISLAND and instead circulate along Madison St, Morgan St, and Old Water St before returning to Florida Ave.
  • Route 8, which runs through the Channelside District, may be detoured intermittently per Tampa Police Department directives.

In addition to the above, the TECOline Streetcar may be affected by the IIFA events in downtown as well. Please follow the TECO Line Streetcar System on social media for any special announcements.

Any questions or concerns about transit services during the IIFA should be directed to HART, by calling 813-254-4278. See detour maps for Routes 4, 19, 30, the In-Town Trolley, and bus routes that will be on detour in the Raymond James Stadium area.

Enjoy your week ahead, and stay safe!

HARTride 2012

The Interstate 275/Interstate 4 Interchange – Incomplete

Back in 2003, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) embarked on a project to redo the many ramps of the Interstate 275/Interstate 4 interchange in downtown Tampa, known for years as Malfunction Junction. Among those improvements were a separation of southbound ramps towards downtown Tampa from thru traffic, as well as widening existing thru lanes, and rebuilding the flyover from southbound I-275 to eastbound I-4.

Although much of the interchange flows a lot better than what how it used to prior to 2006, a sore spot remains the aforementioned flyover. The terrible mistake that FDOT made when rebuilding the interchange was that the flyover was only built with one lane, which causes monumental backups during rush hour. The replacement flyover should have clearly been built to accommodate two lanes so that traffic could flow more freely. Just look at how FDOT later constructed the flyover at the I-75 interchange at Bruce B. Downs Blvd. That flyover was striped for one lane, but can handle two if capacity needs warrants it.

Another sore spot is the two southbound thru lanes on I-275. Those lanes were never increased and there seems to be no accommodation for a third thru lane underneath the flyovers leading from I-4 onto I-275 south and downtown. During rush hour, those lanes back up severely as well. All the while, two Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) express bus routes; 20X and 51X, are consistently running the risk of being substantially delayed because of these backups.

From what I’ve learned over the years, FDOT was only able to address the most dangerous aspect of the interchange and work on resolving those due to limited funding. However, I strongly feel that FDOT could have done a lot better on reconstructing the interchange to be able to accommodate future expansion. For example, the flyover from southbound I-275 to eastbound I-4 could have at least included accommodations to add a second lane if need-be. There also needs to be accommodations for those wonderful express lanes that they plan on adding later on. There seems to be nowhere at all to put them, unless they plan to wipe out all those homes on the fringe of the interchange.

For any such work to take place at the interchange, commuters will have to wait at least five years, if not longer, before construction on this subsequent project even begins. As I will talk about in my next No New Funding (equals) post, many roadway projects across the nation could become stalled or cancelled if Washington doesn’t act on renewing and increasing federal funds for transportation. Also, as of now, the ongoing construction along I-275 through West Tampa and WestShore is slated for completion by sometime in 2016. Once that is finished, some traffic headaches should be able to be resolved.

Nonetheless, FDOT should have done better planning and execution of the 2003 project to avoid having to return to the interchange 15 to 20 years later and do everything over again. Then again…can we really continue to expand highways like this? Maybe all of our interstates will be 20-laned behemoths like parts of California are experiencing. Or even worse, maybe some sections will even be double-deckered like the former Ebarcadero Freeway that existed in San Francisco prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake. This is one key reason why better transit options are needed for Tampa Bay…and needed NOW!

HARTride 2012

6 Years and Counting!

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6 years ago today, I launched the Tampa Transit Utopia Blog with the hope that one day, I could showcase my love of public transit to the entire world! Although my site remains a work in progress, much has been done during the course of these past six years. I’ve been able to travel to Brussels and Paris – and use their bus and rail systems (including a high speed rail line), ride the New York City Subway system, and use the Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) bus system and light rail line in Norfolk, Virginia. Here in the Tampa Bay area (Florida), I’ve been able to use the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT), and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus systems.

A rocky year, but progress is made.

When it comes to my website, things haven’t been as smooth this past year as I would have liked them to be. I’ve been encountering numerous delays with posting topics, as well as some personal matters during the summer of 2013. You can see why I have a disclaimer in some form reading; “Please note that this is a hobby website that is dedicated to public transit…” Additionally, I have a day job by which I am working at least 40 hours a week. All of which make it pretty difficult at times for me to keep up with planning and publishing blog posts. Despite these setbacks, I’m determined to continue blogging about transit, and building my website!

Meeting new people along the way!

One thing that I’ve been able to enjoy during the past 6 years, is being able to meet with others who are also passionate about public transit; whether it be face-to-face, or through social media. Although this has been largely thanks to my presence on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve also been communicating with people through the SkyScraperCity forums, where I was heavily inspired to begin this very website that you are now reading!

Those I’ve been able to meet with face-to-face include Zac Ziegler, who runs the Transit 509 blog (@transit509 on Twitter) and Jason Eames, who runs the Yo Bus Driver blog (@yobusdriver3507 on Twitter). Both are transit nerds, as well as advocates for transit. Both also use means other than a personal vehicle to get around. Zac uses his area transit systems, and Jason can often be seen riding his bike. I’ve also been able to meet with Kevin Thurman, who is the Executive Director of the transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay. CTB has been working hard to engage public discussion about transit in the Tampa Bay area, as well as help push Hillsborough County leaders into putting a sales tax referendum on the ballot by 2016. Without CTB’s involvement, county leaders would likely still be taking a back seat approach to transit improvements.

Through Twitter, I’ve been able to communicate with Amberly and Jimmy, the voices behind the FixHRT blog (@FixHRT on Twitter), as well as a few others who reside in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Most of these individuals that I’ve spoken with rely on transit to get them around. Whenever the budget ax falls on a route they use, they get vocal about their route(s) being eliminated or reduced. Many of them are not afraid to attend public hearings and tell transit and municipal leaders how they feel when a route they rely on is on the chopping block.

I’ve also been able to chat with the many staff members at the non-profit Bus Information Hotline in Pittsburgh, PA (@PGHTransitHelp on Twitter), all of whom have given me a unique insight into the Port Authority bus system there, as well as other various transit-related issues. And speaking of Pittsburgh, PA, I cannot thank one person enough, Shawn Bennear, who asked me to take over his old Tampa transit website several years ago. I’m not sure where my website would be without his inspiration. Today, Shawn continues to run the Pittsburgh Transit History website, and is a bus operator for the New Castle Area Transit Authority, located just outside of the downtown Pittsburgh area.

To everyone who has given me inspiration to build and continue my website and blog, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I truly appreciate getting to know all of you, and for being able to discuss various transit matters with you! I also appreciate being able to get some fresh ideas, as well as feedback for the various blog posts that I’ve written! I also want to thank all those on the SkyScraperCity Forums for giving me inspiration to launch my original Tampa Transit Utopia Blog! I’m not sure my passion for transit would be without all of you!

How I feel about transit so far.

Overall, I’ve been pretty pleased with the way that public transit has evolved over the years. We’re using modern and more energy efficient vehicles (like Compressed Natural Gas, or CNG), constructing residential and commercial properties along transit corridors, and becoming more creative in the way we get from point A to point B (and I mean by that is the development of different transit modes like Bus Rapid Transit, modernized streetcars, and light rail). However, with the economic crises of 2008 and 2009, many governments have become more restrictive on how they fund transit, and political leaders have become much more weary on how money should be spent. Here in the US, the ongoing political battles in Washington, D.C. have gotten worse and worse. This and the recent recession have forced all levels of government to substantially reduce transit funding and have killed off any hopes of a nationwide high speed rail network.

Despite these setbacks, I strongly believe that public transit will be able to continue making advances in order to make life just a bit easier. By that I mean providing commuting options; walking, using the bus and/or train, biking, carpooling, and vanpooling. There are even services like Lyft and Uber that are trying to change the way we view taxi services. In the distant future, we will be presented with driverless vehicles that will forever revolutionize transportation. With these changes occurring, many laws will need to be rewritten so that these new modes of transportation will be allowed to legally operate, and also so that we will be able to be protected  while using them. That rewriting process is going to take a very long time to do, so it is imperative that lawmakers begin this process now, rather than later.

What’s to come next?

Moving forth, I hope to be able to complete my three existing sections (Tampa Bay, Hampton Roads, and Europe) by year’s end and add some new photos along the way. Some of which I’ve already posted to my Twitter Feed. Afterward, I plan on building up my New York City metro area section, and perhaps my Asia transports section, if time permits. I also plan to have a section up for LYNX transit and SunRail in Orlando later this year, and perhaps smaller sections on other transit systems, like Cleveland, OH, in the distant future.

As of this post, I have over 20,800 website/blog views, 15 blog followers, 69 Facebook followers, and roughly 700 Twitter followers. I hope that these numbers will continue to grow as my website continues to grow! I want to thank all of my followers for following my website/blog, as well as my social media outlets! I’m hoping that the next few years and beyond will be a great time for my website/blog, as well as public transit as a whole!

Enjoy your day everyone!

HARTride 2012

Say What? The City of Norfolk is defunding HRT Route 16?

Under the transit revision proposal by Hampton Roads Transit, Routes 44 and 45 could see a boost in frequency while routes deemed as under performers are in danger of being axed. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
Under the transit revision proposal by Hampton Roads Transit, Routes 44 and 45 could see a boost in frequency while routes deemed as under performers are in danger of being axed. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Almost a year ago, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) announced that they would revise the Route 17 (formerly known as the Norfolk NET) into a one-way loop around the downtown Norfolk area. This change coincided with the move of the downtown bus transfer hub from Cedar Grove to an interim location along Wood St.

Now, there’s word that during the March Norfolk City Council meeting, which was held on March 25 (meeting agenda | HRT presentation slides | [YouTube] video of the meeting), city leaders decided to pull funding from Route 17, as well as Route 16. This surprise decision has angered some riders, including those who depend on Route 16 to get to and from the Old Dominion University (ODU) Campus. To say the least, I am definitely NOT HAPPY by this move. as it brings forth a huge inconvenience to those who rely on certain routes to make connections and get to their final destination on time. These cuts will also force customers to have to walk further to get to a bus stop, especially in times of inclement weather and high traffic periods on the roadways.

For me personally, these cutbacks bring back haunting memories of when Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)’s Route 7 had its weekday frequency north of the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry campus reduced from 30-minute headways to 60-minute headways in 2007 due to budget cuts. Several other routes were axed or reduced/re-aligned during that cycle as well, including the Route 98 Trolleybus between Hyde Park and Downtown Tampa (which was cut due to ultra-low ridership).

Routes that could be eliminated

A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus runs Route 7 by the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus in Tampa. Back in 2007, Route 7's weekday frequency was reduced on its northwestern segment due to budgetary constraints and relatively low ridership. However, the reductions have hurt service going to and from the college campus. Could Norfolk's Old Dominion University soon be seeing an even worse fate with its direct bus line, Route 16? Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus runs Route 7 by the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus in Tampa. Back in 2007, Route 7’s weekday frequency was reduced on its northwestern segment due to budgetary constraints and relatively low ridership. However, the reductions have hurt service going to and from the college campus, with buses arriving at unevenly spaced times and confusion as to which bus is going in which direction. Could Norfolk’s Old Dominion University soon be seeing an even worse fate with its direct bus line, Route 16, in danger of being eliminated? Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Changes to all HRT routes mentioned in this post are slated to take effect during the July 6, 2014 markup cycle, with Routes 16, 17, 28, and 412 all slated to be eliminated due to funding issues and/or low ridership (see a Google Map I made of the affected routes). One rider I spoke with noted that when HRT sent route surveyors onto Route 16, they did so during times when the ODU campus was on winter and spring break. Now if that is truly the case, then SHAME ON YOU HRT!

Something that a rider mentioned to me was that Routes 16 and 17 are being eliminated in order for the city to provide funding for the increased services on Routes 44 and 45, which are receiving improvements as part of HRT’s agreement with Elizabeth River Tunnels. From what I’ve learned from watching the video of the council meeting, since capital contributions by the HRT member municipalities isn’t increasing this fiscal year, I guess HRT has found an way to “balance the budget” while trying to shove the route eliminations underneath the radar (that is from public eyes).

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, Route 17, the downtown Norfolk circulator that has seen various changes over the years, is also slated for elimination. Originaly known as the Norfolk NET, which stands for Norfolk Electric Transit, has used hybrid-drive buses, and originally began with a small fleet of electric-powered buses (those latter buses didn’t quite work out for HRT). The route was altered following the opening of the Tide Light Rail Line in 2011 and has seen further changes made to it since then. The route currently has adjoining routes that run very close to it, and has thus been deemed as a duplication of service in the downtown area.

Two other HRT routes that are also slated for elimination include Route 28, which is a Norfolk/Virginia Beach Limited Stop route that has not been well planned from the start (as they don’t utilize specialized buses or anything to distinguish the route from local routes), and Route 412, which is an under-utilized portion of the Peninsula Commuter Service that has seen most of its riders utilize Paratransit services instead (one rider told me that virtually 99% of would-be Route 412 riders utilize Paratransit servces in the area). There are also several local routes in the area where Route 412 runs. I will discuss more about Route 28 in a future blog post about Limited Stop routes.

Changes to routes affected by the Elizabeth River Tunnels Agreement

Also on the chopping block is Route 17, the downtown Norfolk circulator. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
Also on the chopping block is Route 17, the downtown Norfolk circulator. HRT has deemed the Route 17 as a duplication of downtown service due to its close proximity to neighboring local routes. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

As part of the agreement between HRT and the Elizabeth River Tunnels, which operate the Downtown and Midtown tunnels connecting Portsmouth to Norfolk (and is now charging AWESOME TOLLS TO BOTH TUNNELS, I say that sarcastically), Routes 44, 45, and 47 will all see some sort of change come July, either changes with schedules/timepoints/running times, and/or routing changes. This agreement allowed for the Elizabeth River Ferry to operate earlier hours on weekdays.

  • Route 44 will have its downtown Norfolk segment eliminated in favor of improvements on the Portsmouth side of the route. The new eastern terminus would be at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. However, there’s also word that the Eastern Virginia Medical Center loop will also be eliminated. IF THE LATTER CHANGE HOLDS TRUE, PASSENGERS WANTING TO CONNECT TO THE TIDE LIGHT RAIL (LRT) CAN KISS THAT CONNECTION GOODBYE!
  • Route 45 will keep its existing route, but have frequency improvements during rush hours (15-minute headways from 30-minute headways).
  • Route 47 will also keep its existing route, but have frequency improvements during rush hours (15-minute headways from 30-minute headways). This change will affect the segment between Crawford Street and Villiage/Academy.

Routes that could see reductions in service

If a plan to eliminate the Eastern Virginia Medical Center loop segment of Route 44 goes through, the direct connection between the bus route and the Tide LRT could be lost. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
If a plan to eliminate the Eastern Virginia Medical Center loop segment of Route 44 goes through, the direct connection between the bus route and the Tide LRT could be lost, causing many customers to have to walk further to a connecting bus stop and wait longer to connect between buses and trains. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Routes 2, 11, and 18 are all up on the table for some sort of service reduction, although no further details have been provided. This could mean a possible reduction in frequency and/or span of service.

What one rider is suggesting

Another rider I spoke with has come up with a suggestion that HRT should consider. That suggestion would be to merge portions of the 16 with another route. For instance, portions of Route 4 could be merged into the 16 to maintain ODU service while leaving critical portions of the 4 intact. I personally think that this would be a great idea because it would preserve such service to ODU.

Public Hearings on the matter

Due to rider concerns, HRT will be holding two public hearings to allow public input on the proposed elimination of Routes 16 and 17. Please see below of dates and locations.

  • Monday, April 14, from 6:00-7:30 PM, at the Park Place Multi-purpose Center, 606 W. 29th Street, Norfolk.
  • Thursday, April 17, from 6:00-7:30 PM, at the Tidewater Community College-Norfolk Student Center, 310 Granby Street, Norfolk.

Conclusion

Although it is normal for many transit districts to impose various changes throughout their respective systems, the proposal to eliminate Route 16 has come as a huge shock to many riders that depend on it to get around. I sure hope that HRT will reconsider eliminating the Route 16, in favor of modifying routes in the area to maintain service to the ODU campus.

DISCLAIMER

FOR PRIVACY REASONS, I AM NOT IDENTIFYING THE NAMES OF THE HRT BUS RIDERS I’VE SPOKEN WITH IN REGARDS TO THESE SERVICE CUTS. THANK YOU.