In Part 2 of Transit Tourism – New York City Transit Excursion 2017, I am going to document my departure out of Tampa. Now, usually, my trips to Tampa International Airport aren’t much to write about – mainly because of the fact that Tampa Bay’s transit system is so inadequate. It’s even more pitiful when a world class airport like Tampa’s, is only served by one bus route – Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Route 30. Now, It’s been envisioned for a while to have a small transit hub on Tampa International Airport property, but previous plans fell through due to budgetary constraints and changing climates in the airport’s expansion plans. Fast forward to the present, and the airport is undergoing the largest expansion project ever to date. In the coming months, I’ll be making another update to my Tampa International Airport page – which will include photos of the terminal as of May/June 2017. Phase 2 of the airport expansion will include accommodations for HART buses to layover by the Consolidated Rental Car Facility – which would end the practice of buses going through the terminal loop roadway. Customers would instead get off the bus at the rental car center and take a SkyConnect train to the main terminal.
Now, to get back to the purpose of this post; instead of having my mom drop me off at the airport, or taking a taxi (the latter which costs a lot more than what I wanted to spend on transportation), I decided to take HART from my mom’s house in South Tampa to the airport via Routes 19, 36, & 30. Route 19 currently operates every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on weekends between Port Tampa City in South Tampa and Downtown Tampa’s Marion Transit Center. The 19 also serves Britton Plaza, Memorial Hospital, the Hyde Park district, and Tampa General Hospital. Buses south of Britton Plaza currently split into two segments, running roughly every hour; Manhattan Ave and WestShore Blvd. Route 36 currently traverses Dale Mabry Hwy and Himes Ave between South Tampa via Britton Plaza and Carrollwood by Fletcher Ave. The 36 runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on weekends. Finally, Route 30, which serves the airport, runs along Kennedy Blvd from Marion Transit Center to WestShore Blvd, passing by WestShore Plaza and International Plaza malls before arriving at the terminal. Buses continue onward to the Northwest Transfer Center in Town-N-Country, and operate every 30 minutes all day, all week. Under HART’s system reorganization plan, all three routes are slated for major revisions.
While it’s not necessarily easy to get to the airport via transit given the fact that Tampa Bay’s transit system is so inadequate, it is not necessarily impossible either if everything falls into place just right. While planning out my trip to New York, I heavily took transit accessibility into consideration and chose a flight out of Tampa that would not be so early in the morning by which I wouldn’t be able to use the bus to get to the terminal, but also not so late in the day by which I would not be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple during the same day. I also wanted to ensure that I would be able to connect between the airport in New York and wherever I was staying. The itinerary that I ultimately chose for my flight to New York was one by which the flight out of Tampa would depart at 8:30am and arrive in Washington D.C. (Reagan National Airport) by around 10:45am. My connecting flight out of D.C. would then depart at 12-noon and arrive at New York’s LaGuardia Airport by 1:30pm. This allowed me to plan my bus rides from South Tampa to TPA Airport in a manner by which I would enjoy seamless connections and relatively light traffic on the roads. Even though I had to get up early the morning of May 9, I was more than ready to head out that morning to catch my bus and flight. Best of all, I didn’t have to worry about parking fees or taxi fares, or having a family member drop me off. I left my car at my mom’s house, purchased a 3-day Flamingo Fare via the Flamingo Fares Tampa Bay App, and was able to relax and post on Facebook while on the bus. Below is an illustration showing the HART buses I took.
Now before I go into each route, I will go ahead and clear something up that I know some of you will ask me. I purchased a 3-Day Flamingo Fare because I used HART on May 7 and May 8, in addition to May 9. I did this for two reasons; first, so that I would not have to hassle with locating parking in Ybor City or Downtown Tampa, and second, so I wouldn’t have to pay for each bus ride or purchase three separate day passes. May 7 happened to fall during the 2017 RiverFest, which was held along the Downtown Tampa RiverWalk. This family-friendly event featured food, entertainment, and all sorts of activities for everyone to enjoy! As with many Downtown Tampa events, parking is always a challenge, so I parked my car at Britton Plaza and took the 19 to Downtown to check out the festivities. On May 8, I parked in Downtown near the Marion Transit Center and took Route 8 to the HART Ybor City offices for a sit-down discussion with Sandra Morrison – HART’s Public Information Officer, and Marco Sandusky – HART’s Senior Manager of EEO and Community Programs. During our meeting, we discussed HART’s planned restructuring and what suggestions that I had in regards to various routes that are slated to be changed. We definitely had a wonderful discussion and I look forward to future transit conversations with them.
Route 19 – Manhattan Ave Branch to Britton Plaza
My journey to New York kicked off at around 4:00am. My duffel bag and backpack were ready to go the night before, and all I really had to do was get ready for the day ahead. Once I was all set to go (about 5:05am), I double checked my backpack for my boarding passes and then walked over to the bus stop. I managed to arrive at the bus stop just shy of 5:20am, which was the time that the first Route 19 bus to Downtown would depart from Port Tampa City. HART bus #1602 (a 2016 40-foot Gillig Low Floor CNG) arrived on time, and I was able to board without any issues with my Flamingo pass. I took my seat near the front of the bus and enjoyed the fifteen-minute ride to Britton Plaza. The bus actually arrived at the plaza a couple of minutes early, so I was able to have a little extra time at the plaza to eat my egg sandwiches that I prepared the day before. During my wait for Route 36, I saw Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus #2309 pull in, the last 2003 Motor Coach Industries (MCI) coach that was still in service for Route 100X. PSTA has slowly been phasing out its ten 2003 coaches since 2015 due to their age and rising cost to maintain them. Until funding avenues can be found for replacement coaches, standard Gillig Low Floor buses are being used as fill-ins for the 100X and 300X. My feeling is that PSTA may eventually purchase a fleet of 40-foot Gillig Low Floor suburban style buses that offer high-back reclining seats and luggage racks. Such buses are currently used at Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) for their Route 100X service. #2309 was pulled from service after May 19, 2017, and is awaiting official retirement.
Route 36 – Dale Mabry Hwy to Kennedy Blvd
HART bus #1004 (a 2010 40-foot Gillig Low Floor Diesel) arrived at Britton Plaza at approximately 5:50am. I quickly boarded and took a seat towards the middle of the bus. My ride was quite enjoyable, just like my ride on Route 19, with little traffic on the roads to delay the bus. While I was concerned that at least one trip would go haywire somehow, that fortunately did not happen. The ride on the 36 in fact, only took about nine minutes and the bus arrived at the stop on Dale Mabry Hwy at Kennedy Blvd on time. The clock had just struck 6:00am as I got off to cross the intersection and proceed to the Route 30 westbound stop.
Route 30 – Kennedy Blvd to TPA Airport
The walk to the Route 30 westbound stop along Kennedy Blvd by Church St took me about ten minutes. Once at the stop, I had until about 6:25am before the Route 30 bus arrived. During my wait, I saw the South Tampa Flex van (#4505) pull up and pick up a passenger. She was the only person to board the van and was the only passenger on board the van when it left. Both the Route 19 and 36 buses had only a handful of passengers on board, which was typical for an early morning trip. Buses typically don’t begin to crowd up midway through the route until around 6:30am, though the Route 36 bus did have a few more passengers on board than the 19 bus did. When #1215 (a 2012 Gillig Low Floor Diesel, which replaced 2000 Gillig Low Floor Diesel #2005) arrived, the bus was pretty crowded, so I was only able to take a seat after a standing passenger at the front of the bus got off a few stops down Kennedy. The bus continued to fill up with passengers until it was almost standing room only. During the fifteen-minute bus ride to the airport, I browsed the web and also posted a few things to Facebook. Like many transit agencies, HART buses are equipped with complimentary WiFi access to allow passengers to browse the web and social media without eating up their data plans. When I got off at the TPA Airport stop, which is located on the north (or Red) side of the Baggage Claim area, the clock read 6:38am, another on time arrival for HART!
Traversing TPA Airport
It took me only a few minutes to walk from the Baggage Claim level to the Shuttle level. For those unfamiliar with TPA Airport’s unique layout (only Orlando International Airport possess a similar layout to Tampa’s), level 1 of the main terminal (also known as the Landside Terminal) is for Baggage Claim. Level 2 is Ticketing and Check-In (of course I checked in online since I was not checking any bags in), and level 3 is where the shops, restaurants, and airside shuttles are located. Boarding and deboarding of planes take place at the airsides, by which passengers will take a people mover shuttle between the main terminal and the airside. SkyConnect will be a people mover line as well – connecting the main terminal to the southeast parking garage and the rental car center. To learn more about TPA Airport, you can visit their website. Also be sure to check out Orlando International’s website if you plan on flying into City Beautiful soon.
Once I arrived at the shuttle station to go to the airside (about 6:45am), I noticed that only one shuttle per airside was in service. During the construction process at the terminal complex, each airside is operating one shuttle instead of two. This is to allow modifications to be made to each of the shuttle bays. In the case with Airside E, both shuttle bays will be relocated so that more space can be made for shops and restaurants. Once the work wraps up next year or so, both shuttles will return to service at each airside. And by the way, the shuttle trip only takes about a minute to complete, which is very convenient versus airport terminals that follow a more traditional layout with long concourses. Security screening wasn’t too bad either and the lines weren’t terribly long. Every time I enter an airport to catch a flight, I’m always concerned that security screening will take a long time. However, on my last fight to New York in 2011, the lines weren’t very long either. At most, it was only about fifteen minutes. By the time I arrived at my gate, it was 7:00am – an hour of relaxation before boarding call!
I will continue my journey to LaGuardia in Part 3 of the series. However, I am going to also talk about the transit system in Washington D.C. and why I’m wary of ever using it. I will also talk about the shuttle buses at Reagan National Airport, so please stay tuned!