2016 Year-End Roundup

It’s once again time to wrap up the current year and usher in the new year. As 2016 comes to a close, I’d like to spend a few moments reflecting on some of the biggest transportation stories and developments of the year. Below is a quick synopsis of what I will be covering – in no particular order.

Go Hillsborough saga

Tampa Bay Express

Cross-Bay Ferry

Direct Connect/TD Late Shift/HyperLINK

First Coast Flyer Blue Line

2nd Ave Subway (and the return of the “W”)

Subway Developments in Paris


First Coast Flyer Blue Line
Jacksonville, FL

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Credit: Jacksonville Transportation Authority

2015 saw the opening of Jacksonville, FL’s first Bus Rapid Transit line – the First Coast Flyer Green Line (Route 102). 2016 saw the opening of the system’s second line – the First Coast Flyer Blue Line (Route 107). As part of Jacksonville’s regional transportation vision – four BRT lines in all will be constructed and plans are in the works to upgrade and possibly expand the Skyway People Mover.

The FCF Blue Line opened for revenue service on December 4, 2016 and operates every 10 to 15 minutes during the day on weekdays, with 30 to 60 minute service during the evenings, and the last trips running through 12-midnight. Weekend service operates every 30 to 60 minutes all day, with Saturday service ending at 12-midnight and Sunday service ending at 10:00pm. The route operates from the heart of Downtown Jacksonville to The Avenues Mall off Phillips Hwy and I-95.

Both the FCF Green and Blue lines utilize sleek 40-foot Gillig Low Floor buses with the BRT Plus look, and all buses are powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). A total of 22 buses were ordered for both the Green and Blue lines, and that is on top of the batch of 35 and 40-foot CNG powered buses that were ordered to beef up local and express bus routes and replace the oldest buses in JTA’s fleet.

As we progress into 2017, the system’s third BRT line – the First Coast Flyer Red Line – will continue through the planning process and eventually move to the construction stage. The projected opening for the Red Line is sometime in either 2017 or 2018. The last of the routes – the First Coast Flyer Purple Line – will also continue through the planning stages, with the projected opening being sometime either in 2018 or 2019.


Go Hillsborough Saga
Hillsborough County, FL

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What was supposed to have been a second attempt to bring a countywide transportation plan to the citizens of Hillsborough County, FL for a vote was quickly marred in allegations of backroom dealings and tons of “Politics as Usual”. Go Hillsborough was originally envisioned as a mulitmodal approach to get the county’s existing roadways fixed and transit system expanded. The original intent was also to utilize multiple funding sources by which so that a sales tax hike wasn’t the only option to fund the improvements – something that effectively killed transportation referendums here in Florida in 2010 and 2014.

While the beginning stages of public input and planning were productive – and many transportation needs were identified, executing how the fund the improvements became a daunting task by which eventually led the Hillsborough County Commission to conclude that raising the sales tax was once again “the only viable option” to fund the plan. This got many fiscal conservatives up in arms and those who were originally supportive of the plan (myself included) became very skeptical as to whether the final plan would even be presented to voters.

As 2016 progressed, Go Hillsborough fell into a full blown circus act – with allegations that some of the people helping to put the plan together were engaging in backroom dealings. This led the Tampa/Hillsborough Tea Party to sound the alarm and call for increased scrutiny on the plan, which in-turn led to the erosion of public trust in the plan. At the end of the day, the Hillsborough County Commission voted against putting any sales tax initiative onto the November, 2016 ballot and eventually opted to go for a “money pot” approach for improving the county’s roads only.

This “money pot” approach would allocate x-amount of dollars each year for the next five years for roadway improvements. Yes folks, there is no provision for transit funding in the plan, and there is no doubt in my mind that some of this money will be siphoned off to help fund the controversial Tampa Bay Express toll lane project.


Tampa Bay Express
Tampa Bay Region, FL

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Credit: Florida Department of Transportation

Speaking of Tampa Bay Express, the controversial plan to bring variable toll lanes to the Tampa Bay interstate highway system – the plan progressed at the local and state levels during the course of 2016, despite growing opposition from the communities that would be affected by the widened highways.

Those in support of TBX have largely comprised of larger non-Bay Area based companies, politicians, and lobbyists who believe that TBX would greatly improve traffic congestion throughout the Tampa Bay region and build a structured backbone for Premium Transit options such as light rail. However, those opposed to the plan – which comprise of many Bay Area residents, local business, and community leaders – say that the project is costly, wasteful, and destructive. Those opposed to TBX also believe that the state’s “promises” to enhance transit services will not be fulfilled and that traffic congestion will worsen once the toll lanes are built.

While I was initially open to the idea of variable toll lanes along some highways in our region, when details of the TBX project came out, I began to grow concerned as to how the project would be funded, how it would impact our communities, and what provisions (if any) would there be for transit expansion. When it became clear that TBX was nothing more than a political ploy from Tallahassee as part of a broader agenda to massively toll Florida’s currently free highways, I joined the #STOPTBX movement and have ever since been 100% opposed to the project.

While most of the movement with TBX has favored the supporters, there was a significant decision that favored the opposition – removing the “Starter Project” toll lane component from the Howard Frankland Bridge. This means that when the northbound span (built in 1959) gets replaced in 2021, it will not include any toll lanes that take up existing “free” lanes. The southbound span (built in 1987) will not be tolled either. Any toll lane provisions will likely be placed onto an expansion of the second span that would adjoin the “free” lanes. A third span could be built with Premium Transit provisions included – such as BRT lanes or a guideway for Commuter Rail.


Cross-Bay Ferry
Tampa Bay Region, FL

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After months of planning and debating over the course of a new passenger ferry network, the first route of the Cross-Bay Ferry launched in November, 2016 – allowing those in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to sail across Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Tampa. The six month pilot project was funded by both counties as well as the Cities of Tampa and St. Pete. Ridership on the ferry so far has been a success, but many are wondering if the ferry will survive beyond the pilot project – which ends in April, 2017. The debate continues on how the ferry will be funded in the long term and how service can be improved, as well as the prospect of future routes.

The Cross-Bay Ferry currently operates seven days a week, excluding some holidays, and there are at least two departures each day from both Tampa and St. Pete.


Direct Connect, TD Late Shift, & HyperLINK
Tampa Bay Region, FL

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2016 also brought upon two new innovative programs – the first of their kind in the nation – and both right here in Tampa Bay! The first is Direct Connect – which allows Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority customers to summon a taxi cab or ride share vehicle from their home or business within a designated zone and bring them to a designated bus stop, where they can catch the bus to their final destination. The second is HyperLINK – which allows Hillsborough Area Regional Transit customers to summon a van within a designated zone and bring them to a designated bus stop, where they can catch the bus to their final destination.

Both programs operate slightly different from each other but hold the same common goal of bridging the “First-Mile, Last-Mile” gap that exists with transit. This gap is especially problematic with those who are normally unable to access the transit system but have limited to no access to a personal vehicle. You will be able to read through how each program works in an upcoming blog post and through pages that are currently under construction.

Lastly, a separate program benefitting low-income persons considered as Transportation Disadvantaged launched during mid-2016, called TD Late Shift. TD Late Shift allows Transportation Disadvantaged customers in Pinellas County up to a set number of free Uber riders a month. The service is available during hours by which PSTA buses have stopped operating for the evening, and there is a provision for one free qualifying daytime Uber ride a month. Trips must be to a place of employment or residence. TD Late Shift allows those who are low income and have no access to a personal vehicle a link to and from work without having to worry about being stranded due to bus service starting late or ending early.


2nd Ave Subway
New York City, NY

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Credit: NYC MTA

After decades of being swamped in delays, the first phase of the 2nd Ave Subway Line is poised to open on January 1, 2017 at 12-noon, though a ceremonial trip will take place later tonight, and several open houses have already taken place along the new stations to allow the public to take a glimpse of them before revenue service begins.

The concept of the 2nd Ave Subway goes back to almost when the New York City Subway System first opened. Back in the early 1900s, trains ran elevated above 2nd Ave and many residents and business owners complained that this environment was too noisy and drove down property values. While the 2nd and 3rd Ave elevated lines were eventually torn down, the 2nd Ave underground replacement was never realized right away. Budgetary and construction delays, as well as “Politics as Usual” delayed the opening of the first segments for nearly an entire century.

The 2nd Ave Line will be used for two Subway services – the “Q”, which runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and eventually the “T” which will run the entire length of the 2nd Ave line. The “Q” will operate seven days a week from 57th St to 63rd St/Lexington Ave, 72nd St, 86th St, and 96th St from 12-noon to 10:00pm on January 1, 2017. On January 2, trains will operate along the new stations from 6:00am through 10:00pm. Then, on January 9, 24/7 service will begin. All other “Q” stations will be served in the same manner as they are served today, with some scheduling changes as the new stations transition over to 24/7 service.

In preparation for the “Q” service to 96th St, the “W” was brought back on weekdays to replace service that was lost to the “Q” being moved out of Queens. The “N” continues to serve Queens during late nights and on weekends. The “W” originally operated in Queens and Manhattan in 2001 but was eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts.


Developments on the Paris Subway
Paris, France

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Credit: Peter Ehrlich (Used with permission from the photographer)

Across the pond in France, there have been several key happenings with the Paris Subway system. Among them are…

  • Automation of the 4: Since the successful conversion of the “1” from manual to automated operation in 2013, plans have been materializing to automate “4”. Both the “1” and the “4” are the busiest subway lines in all of Paris and both were in dire need of modernization in the 90s and 2000s. With the “1” modernized and automated, automation work has begun on the “4”, as well as the extension to Bagneux, where the “4” will have a connection to the “15”.
  • Extension of the 14: Construction also began on the first phase of the northward extension of the “14”, which will eventually have trains running all the way from Orly Airport to the St. Denis region of Paris.
  • Last MF 67 Railcar retires from service on the 9: The “9” is wrapping up its modernization project with the farewell of the last MF 67 railcar, which were produced during the 1970s. New MF 01 railcars have taken their place, and additional railcars have been produced to help relieve overcrowding on the “2” and “5”. Once thing remains unclear though, what will become of the MF 67 railcars that still operate on the “3”, “3B”, “10”, and “12”?
  • Grand Paris Express Developments: As part of a broader plan to bring forth new rail transportation to Paris, construction is now underway, or about to get underway, for the first segments of the Grand Paris Express subway lines. These lines will comprise of three new subway lines, the “15”, “16”, and “17”, along with dual extensions of the “14”, and another rail line – the “18”. I’m not sure if the “18” will be considered as a subway or a pre-metro/light rail line, but it is nonetheless included in the plan.

 


So what’s to come in 2017?

I’ll be outlining my thoughts in my next blog post. Until then, have a safe and Happy New Year!


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Christmas Weekend 2016 Holiday Service Schedules

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Christmas is just around the corner! As always, many transit agencies will be operating limited to no service on Christmas Day. However, since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, transit agencies that normally operate on a Sunday will operate their typical Sunday schedules. The only exception will be transit agencies that operate Sunday service; but do not operate on major holidays such as Christmas.

Note: Transit agencies not listed on the Exceptions/No Service lists will either operate their normal schedules or have not yet announced their holiday service schedules. Please contact your respective transit agency to see if they will operate through the weekend.


December 23, 2016

Many transit agencies will be operating normal weekday services on Friday, December 23, 2016. However, many businesses and agencies will be observing Christmas Eve on this day and therefore, some transit agencies may have exceptions to normal service. Such exceptions are listed below:

HART: Express bus services will NOT operate. All other services will operate as normal.
TECOline Streetcar: Sunday-Level Service will operate.
Hernando THEbus: No Service.

Note: PSTA will operate all commuter and express routes (Routes 66L, 90, 97, 98, 100X, and 300X) as normal.

LYNX will operate all weekday services as normal, as will SunRail, Votran, PCPT, StarMetro, SCAT, and MCAT.


Christmas Eve (December 24, 2016)

Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday this year and most transit agencies that normally operate on a Saturday will operate their typical Saturday schedules. Agencies that will NOT operate that day are as follows:

PCPT
Hernando THEbus

Note: MCAT will have normal Saturday bus service, but will begin running final trips at 3:00pm, with trolleys ceasing service at 7:00pm. Customers who normally rely on afternoon buses should make alternative transportation arrangements.

Votran will end its night bus routes at 10:00pm, instead of 12-midnight.

Star Metro will operate normal Saturday daytime service, but night services will NOT operate.

The TECOline Streetcar will operate on a Sunday schedule.


Christmas Day (December 25, 2016)

Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year and most transit agencies that normally operate on a Saturday will operate their typical Saturday schedules. Agencies that will NOT operate that day are as follows:

SCAT
Polk Citrus Connection
StarMetro
Palm Tran
Votran
TECOline Streetcar
WATA

HRT will not operate Route 960 on Christmas Day.


December 26, 2016

Many transit agencies will be operating normal weekday services on Monday, December 26, 2016. However, many businesses and agencies will be observing Christmas Day on this day and therefore, some transit agencies may have exceptions to normal service. Such exceptions are listed below:

HART: Sunday-Level Service will operate.
PCPT: No Service.
Hernando THEbus: No Service.
Polk Citrus Connection: No Service.
StarMetro: Sunday-Level Service will operate.
LYNX: Polk County bus routes 416 and 427 will NOT operate. These routes are operated by LYNX, but are funded by Polk County and thus follow the Citrus Connection holiday closures.
HRT: Saturday-Level Service will operate for bus and LRT. Ferry services will follow their regular weekday schedule.


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HART Route 97 makes a comeback on 12/10/16

On December 4, 2016, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) will be enacting some minor scheduling and/or routing changes to improve efficiency throughout the system. Such changes will be enacted on Routes 24X, 25LX, 37, and 96. However, the most significant change will take place on December 10, 2016; when the agency is slated to revive Trolleybus Route 97 – this time under the fresh “In-Towner” branding.

Please visit www.gohart.org for schedules.


Overview of the Service Changes

Service Change notice from HART.
Service Change notice from HART.

Route 97 Reintroduction

This next section will discuss both the old and the new Route 97


The Original Route 97

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The original Route 97 as it operated between 2008 and 2012 (see the Green Line). Credit: HART.

HART originally ran Route 97 as a weekend trolley service in Downtown Tampa to compliment the existing Route 96. Route 97 service was funded through the City of Tampa, and would begin service at 6:00pm Friday night and ran through 2:00am Saturday morning. The service would then repeat on Saturday at 6:00pm, running through 2:00am Sunday morning. In 2012, the 97 was eliminated as budget woes hit both HART and the city. City funding ultimately went into helping to maintain the 96.


City events test demand for a revival of the Saturday Trolley

During the past few months, HART and the City of Tampa have been working on ways to better serve the downtown area without hurting each other’s budgets. In October, HART began  to operate a trial Saturday trolley service during large-scale events in Downtown Tampa – such as MegaCon. These trials were funded by the city and have been well received by customers from what I heard. Reviving trolley service on Saturdays will allow for customers to have an alternative to driving and parking – even for those who just want to take a walk or jog along the Riverwalk, or connect to the Streetcar to have lunch in Ybor City.


What the new service will bring

The new Route 97 will be shaped as depicted above.
The new Route 97 will be shaped as depicted above. Credit: HART.

The new 97 will operate on Saturdays between 11:00am and 7:00pm, with 30-minute frequency. However, during larger downtown events, the city may step in to help fund additional service. Additional service may include increased frequency and/or service hours. Below, is a quick glance at the basic schedule, which is subject to change – so please be sure to visit www.gohart.org for the latest information.

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The basic schedule for the new Route 97. Select the image for a larger view.

And one more note; OneBusAway tracking will be available for the 97 when it operates its basic schedule. Additional services will not be trackable until improvements to the OBA application are introduced by which special services are able to be tracked. If this ever happens is really anyone’s guess.


Other service changes – Effective 12/4/16 or 12/5/16

In addition to the reintroduction of the 97, HART will be enacting minor scheduling and/or routing changes to Routes 24X, 25LX, 37, and 96. These changes mainly encompass making detour routing from August and October, 2016 permanent fixtures.


Routes 24X and 25LX – Effective 12/5/16

A map depicting the new routing for Routes 24X and 25LX during the AM rush. Credit: HART.
A map depicting the new routing for Routes 24X and 25LX during the AM rush. Credit: HART.

Routes 24X and 25LX, which serve the South Interbay region of South Tampa on weekdays from the Brandon/Riverview area, will be seeing a change in routing during the AM service hours. PM routing will remain unchanged. Please see the maps below for both AM and PM routing. Schedules have been tweaked accordingly to reflect the changes.

Route 24X.
Route 24X.
Route 25LX.
Route 25LX.

Route 37 – Effective 12/4/16

Changes to Route 37 at the Hillsborough Community College Brandon Campus. Credit: HART.
Changes to Route 37 at the Hillsborough Community College Brandon Campus. Credit: HART.

Route 37 has previously served the Hillsborough Community College (HCC) Brandon Campus via Columbus Dr, which was previously the campus’ sole entrance/exit. In 2015, a second entrance/exit was added to the campus in the form of Nancy Watkins Dr. In August, 2016 – after several months of planning – HART enacted a temporary detour for Route 37 buses serving the HCC campus. Buses now travel in a clockwise direction from Falkenburg Rd, to Nancy Watkins Dr, curving around the east border of the campus to Columbus Dr, and then back onto Falkenburg. The previous on-campus stop was removed in favor of adding a stop on the north end of the campus on Nancy Watkins Dr. Schedules have been tweaked accordingly to reflect the changes.

Please note that the HCC Brandon Campus is NOT SERVED prior to 6:00am on weekdays, on weekends, and other times when classes are not in session (such as holiday breaks).


Route 96 – Effective 12/5/16

In October, 2016, the routing for Route 96 – the In-Towner Weekday – was changed to better serve key portions of Downtown Tampa and the Channelside District. The detour routing from October will now be permanent. Schedules have been tweaked accordingly to reflect the changes.

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The permanent route for the 96 will follow the detour routing that was enacted back in October, 2016.

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December, 2016 Photo of the Month

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The Photo of the Month for December, 2016 was taken by my photo contributor and Social Media moderator Carlos. He resides in the Miami, FL area and frequents Miami-Dade Transit, as well as Broward County Transit, PalmTran, Tri-Rail, and from time to time – visits other transit systems in Florida and beyond. His most recent out-of-state trip was to New York City, where he got to visit the new 34th St/Hudson Yards subway station.

The bus photographed was the Optare Solo low floor shuttle bus, which was very short-lived in the United States due to a lack of demand and sales. Miami-Dade Transit purchased several of these buses during the course of 2003 with some having a rear door. During the time that this bus was being introduced in the US, Optare was owned by North American Bus Industries (NABI), which was recently bought out by New Flyer Industries. NABI sold Optare in 2005 and that contributed to the demise of the Solo bus in the US.