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.

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