Weather Advisory – Tropical Storm Philippe

You probably have heard that Tropical Storm Philippe formed overnight yesterday. The storm remains in large part – poorly organized, and shouldn’t see significant strengthening as a tropical system. A fast-moving cold front will pick up the system today and bring it towards the northeastern US as a post-tropical low.

As of right now, no transit agencies have made any special announcements. Florida will largely be spared by Philippe’s wrath, with the worst of the storm’s effects being felt in Cuba and over the Caribbean waters. So aside from some possible minor detours due to rain and flooding issues in South Florida, it’s business as usual for all Florida transit agencies.

The northeastern US, including the New York City metro region should pay close attention to the remnants of Philippe, as some forecast tracks have the low pressure system possibly striking somewhere along the northeastern US coastline as it moves along with the front and the jet stream.

Please stay tuned to local media outlets for the latest.

Service Advisories

Long-Term Service Advisories

This page will be updated regularly when there is a detour or other service change that may impact transit customers for more than 2 weeks. Service impacts that are less than 2 weeks in duration can be found on the respective transit agency’s website and/or social media feed.

Transit Agency Websites

In some cases, the amount of short & long-term service advisories can be very lengthy to read. So I’ve provided links to the dedicated service alert pages for some of the transit agencies that I cover below.

For advisories affecting the New York MTA, please visit the agency’s Planned Service Changes page. You can also sign up for alerts when service interruptions occur.

For advisories affecting the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (a.k.a. LYNX), please visit the agency’s Service Alerts page.

For advisories affecting Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, please visit the agency’s Alerts & Detours page. The site homepage & as well as the OneBusAway interface, have been updated to include many short-term & some long-term service changes & detour notices.

For advisories affecting the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, please visit the agency’s Rider Alert page. Short-term detours & other service interruptions can be found on the agency’s special Twitter Feed, @PSTAalerts, which is embedded to the page.

Construction Impacts

Not otherwise listed

Construction is well underway for the Selmon Expressway Extension project. During this time, all existing travel lanes on Gandy Blvd between the Gandy Bridge and Dale Mabry Hwy will be open during weekday rush hour. The same case will be for Dale Mabry Hwy from just south of Gandy Blvd to just south of Fair Oaks Ave, and the Selmon Exwy itself from the Gandy Blvd terminus to Himes Ave. Restrictions on turn lanes have been enacted – meaning that some turn lanes have shifted in alignment while others are closed off entirely. Lane closures on all three thoroughfares is possible during off-peak daytime hours, overnights, and weekends. Additionally, closures are possible along Manhattan Ave during off-peak times, which could affect HART Route 17.

Special Event Detours

Special events can always cause detours and interruptions to transit lines. Please check with your transit agency for more information.

There are currently no special event detours to mention.

HART Mission MAX, what does it really mean?

Today is a big day for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) as they enact their Mission MAX system restructuring. While many of the changes that will be enacted this upcoming week are good for many customers, many others are left frustrated and worried because the bus routes that they once relied on are no longer available.

In this post, I am going to provide my personal views on the restructuring and voice my opinion in regards to the overall transit situation in Hillsborough County. Please keep in mind that I am not affiliated with any transit agency or government entity. Also before I begin, I want to thank the hardworking staff at HART for doing their best to educate everyone about the system restructuring and why it needs to be done. The HART staff is truly terrific and I applaud many members for what they do each day – even in the face of uncertain times. To any HART staff member who may be reading this post, my frustration is not on you all. It’s on the elected officials who refuse to further fund our transportation system and those who don’t think improving transit in Hillsborough matters to them.

When I began riding HART in 2006, I was like many customers in Hillsborough – without a car and without any other avenue to get to and from work or school. Unbeknownst to me at the time, HART underwent a system restructuring between 2003 and 2005 to straighten out several key routes and begin the transformation of the heavily hub-spoke system into more of a gridded network – the latter by which provides transfers at key intersections and highways instead of traditional transit hubs. When I read up on this restructuring, I found that many customers were upset because several routes were eliminated and others were realigned – causing them to worry about whether they would be able to get to their destination.

In 2007, Florida’s property tax revenues declined sharply due to state mandated budget cuts. Because HART’s primary source of revenue is property taxes, the agency was forced to make cuts in the system to close what would have otherwise been a budgetary deficit. Routes 7 & 41 were among several routes that were changed during this time. Route 7’s Citrus Park/Egypt Lake segment was reduced from 30-minute frequency to hourly service on weekdays and an unproductive section of Route 41 west of Himes Ave was eliminated. These reductions impacted me because the Route 7 trips going to the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus became irregular – with buses serving the campus on a 20/40-minute headway instead of a 30-minute headway. Often times, I would just walk along Tampa Bay Blvd from the campus and catch a Route 36 bus from Himes Ave, because I no longer wanted to wait for a Route 7 bus. Archive: HART Proposes Cutting 3 Routes, Adjusting Service. Archive: HART To Scale Back Service. Archive: HART Proposes Ending 2 Routes, Changing 16 Others. Archive: HART OKs Bus Route Changes, Eliminates 2 Runs

For the next roughly 10 years, HART did all it could to maintain existing levels of service while gradually expanding higher demand routes. This was by no means an easy task, but they did okay with the limited budget that they had for several years. While I was happy to see that HART was working as hard as it could to make its system better, I was also upset at the various elected officials who did not show that they really cared about bringing more robust transit options to Tampa Bay. In 2009, a sales tax referendum effort – called Moving Hillsborough Forward – was placed onto the November, 2010 ballot. This plan aimed to greatly expand HART bus service and bring light rail corridors to the county. However, many voters weren’t well educated about what the initiative would bring to them – especially those in outlying areas of the county. To make matters more complicated, we saw the rise of the so-called “Tea Party Movement”, where many fiscal conservatives felt that they were being taxed too much and demanded limited government involvement. These two factors, along with the usual political messes, effectively derailed the Moving Hillsborough Forward initiative, and the ballot measure thus failed on Election Day.

In 2015, a second attempt was made to bring a sales tax initiative to Hillsborough voters – called Go Hillsborough. This plan was similar to that of the 2010 initiative, but included a broader range of improvements to the transportation network – including roadway repairs. Many voters were unfortunately still unconvinced that the referendum would do anything for them, and Tea Party activists were quick to pounce on every and any opportunity to derail the measure. Ultimately, the Hillsborough County Commission decided not to place Go Hillsborough onto the November, 2016 ballot and instead opted for a roads-only “money pot” that would place a certain portion of the county’s budget into fixing deteriorating roadways. This plan was very controversial because many believe the money set aside would be blown off on constructing new thoroughfares instead of improving and repairing the ones we have. Furthermore, many transportation advocates like myself – are extremely concerned the such funds would be automatically directed to match local funding needed to allow the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to construct controversial variable toll lanes along the region’s interstate highways.

Tampa Bay Times Opinion: They play politics while transportation goes nowhere.

Tampa Bay Times Article: New 2024 Howard Frankland plan: 8-lane bridge with bike path.

In 2016, HART realized that it was coming to a crossroads. It’s budget was continuing to shrink and its network could no longer sustain itself in the same manner that it has been for the past decade. Tough choices would need to be made over the next decade to position the agency for a balanced budget and future expansion on scarce resources. As overall transit ridership across the nation began to drop and fears were raised that the Trump Administration would slash federal transit funding, HART began to re-evaluate its entire network to see where ridership patterns and demand were, and examine which routes could be kept and which ones would have to be eliminated. I always feared that this day would come because of the failed efforts to better fund transit in Hillsborough, as well as all of the “politics as usual” happening on the local, state, and federal levels. However, how such cuts would be enacted was what really worried me. Would HART enact cuts across the board, keeping most of its routes but reducing frequency? Would the agency have to enact another fare hike (last one was in 2012)? How will people get to where the need to go? These were all questions that I was asking myself as HART began to unveil Mission MAX.

Tampa Bay Times Article: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.

When the initial plans for Mission MAX were unveiled to the public, I became deeply concerned about how the new HART bus system would be shaped. I provided much feedback to HART staff, as did many others who relied on the system. Even though I no longer reside in Hillsborough, I still use HART at times when I do visit the county and enjoy being able to get from A to B without consuming tons of gas and adding further wear and tear on my vehicle. As the final plans for Mission MAX were taking shape, I felt compelled to attend the public hearing on July 26, 2017 and voicing my opinion on the system restructuring. I addressed the HART board by mentioning how hard it will be for many customers to get around Hillsborough if they no longer have a bus route that they can catch. I also took aim at the elected officials who sit on the board who have refused to better fund transit, without being overly harsh (I kept my comments to an assertive level). To close out my speaking time, I stated that it was basically discrimination to allow FDOT to blast away $6+ billion on the controversial toll lanes – thinking that’s the “only” way to dramatically improve transit in Hillsborough – because the lanes will greatly cater to those who are wealthy and Hillsborough has a huge middle and low income population who would never use those lanes.

Tampa Bay Times Article: HART bus service will improve for most riders, but some Hillsborough areas will lose routes altogether. 

Despite massive outcry from the riding public and even civic leaders who were concerned that the outreach didn’t go far enough, HART approved the Mission MAX restructuring and made some final modifications to the plan before its implementation. While those who reside in the urban core of Hillsborough will be able to enjoy a faster and more direct bus ride, many others are now wondering what options they even have left to get to and from. I’m also very concerned that this is not the end of the restructuring process, and that further changes will have to be made due to the push by many electeds to allow the DOT to build the toll lanes. My biggest concern now is that HART may one day soon, have to follow Miami-Dade County’s decision to contract out lower ridership routes that weren’t eliminated, to a private operator. Many transit riders in Miami are furious at their elected officials for “bait and switch” after having a referendum pass in 2002 that would bring more funds for transit improvements, only to see transit services now being reduced. Among the changes recently made in Miami-Dade, several bus routes were contracted out to Limousine of South Florida, which now operates these routes with cutaway vans. I truly believe that while contracting out one or two routes may not be so bad, anything really beyond five routes begins to pose problems for the long term because the private operator may not be held to the same standards as the transit agency itself. I’ve also heard many complaints from transit customers out in California that when their transit services were contracted out – service got worse and customer satisfaction declined.

Tampa Bay Times Article: Depend on a HART bus to get around? Life could get harder.

It will be interesting to see where HART goes from here. It’s the first day of Mission MAX…will everything go smoothly? Or will we see fierce backlash? I guess it really depends who you talk to – someone who will enjoy that faster and more direct bus ride, versus someone who can no longer access the bus system.

Photo of the Month – October, 2017

By HARTride 2012

It’s October, which means…Halloween is just around the corner! To celebrate the ghoulish day, I thought I would bring back the Purple People Eater bus, or what I called the HART 2005 & 2006 buses back when they were painted in a purple scheme. This scheme was brought upon to promote the agency’s express routes and also signaled the end of the HARTline era from the 80s and 90s. While the colors of the buses have changed from purple to blue, the overall scheme was kept. The bus pictured above is #2504 as it traversed Route 19 in South Tampa.

Weather Advisory – Hurricane Nate

The storm has been officially upgraded to Category 1 Hurricane status as of 11:00pm on 10/6/17.

October is always a month to watch when it comes to tropical activity because tropical storms are most favorable to form in the western Caribbean. Well, over the past couple of days, we’ve seen tropical development near the southwestern portion of Central America, which eventually formed into Tropical Depression 16, and then Tropical Storm Nate (yes, my fictional main character is unfortunately intertwined in this real-life storm). Nate reached Category 1 Hurricane status late Friday night.

As of right now, the storm is projected to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans, LA and Pensacola, FL. Watches and Warnings are up all along the northern/central Gulf Coast, and States of Emergency have been declared in the affected areas of LA, MI, AL, and FL. If you are in an area that will be affected by Nate, you should complete your preparations by 12-noon today.

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My experience using the MCAT Skyway ConneXion bus line

Travelling between Pinellas and Manatee Counties has always been a challenge. Being that there has been no public transit services, outside of any intercity bus lines (i.e. Greyhound), everyone is pretty much left to drive from A to B. That picture changed on April 1, 2016 with the introduction of Manatee County Area Transit’s Skyway ConneXion express bus line (Route 203).

The route operates Monday through Friday between MCAT’s DeSoto transfer station and the Bay Pines VA Hospital near St. Pete. Stops in between include MCAT’s Palmetto and Bradenton hubs, Tyrone Square Mall (street-side stop), and a stop near the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA)’s Grand Central Station. While there are only two round trips along the route (one AM and one PM), there are longer term plans for expansion should funding and ridership dictate. From what I’ve heard, many Manatee County area residents like the route and PSTA has been working with MCAT to try and spread the word about the route in Pinellas. If you are a PSTA rider, you probably have noticed links to MCAT’s website on the recently revamped, along with a link on the Schedules/Maps page to the MCAT route. On MCAT’s website, references to are up as well.

In April of 2017, roughly a year after the route’s launch, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council awarded MCAT and Manatee County Government a first place award as part of the 25th annual Future of the Region Awards. This award recognized MCAT’s efforts to plan and launch an innovative regional service at a time where regional transit connectivity is becoming more important to Tampa Bay but few avenues are available to establish new regional services.

MCAT bus #50746 making its northbound AM trek to the Bay Pines VA Hospital.

Travel Log

With the above all said, I’d like to now take a few moments to share my own experience using the Skyway ConneXion service. Now to be very honest, when the service was first announced in March of 2016, I thought it was an April Fools scheme, and it took me a while to realize that it indeed wasn’t. Once I did realize that this service was becoming a reality, I began planning a day where I could hop aboard the bus and take a trip to one of my favorite Manatee County destinations.

Every now and then, I like to stop by the Red Barn Flea Market on US Hwy 301 in Bradenton to see what kinds of items I can find. Usually, I would make the drive down I-275 and the Sunshine Skyway, and then park my car at the market’s parking lot. However, on May 20, 2016, I decided not to make that drive. I instead left my car at my apartment and walked down to the bus stop off MLK St N and 94th Ave N. I then connected to PSTA Route 59 (this was prior to Route 59 being truncated to Ulmerton Rd only) to Downtown St. Pete and the Central Ave Trolley to Grand Central Station. I then walked over to the stop on US Hwy 19 near 1st Ave S to wait for the MCAT bus to arrive.

I made sure to time my departures correctly so that I could catch the MCAT bus on time, given the limited schedule. I also made sure to have $10.00 cash on hand for the day pass. $10.00 may seem pricey for some, but when you compare riding the bus to driving and having to pay tolls, $10.00 can go a long way. The day pass issued on board the Route 203 bus is also valid for all local routes in the MCAT system.

Catching the bus to Bradenton was a breeze!

When the bus pulled up, I was greeted by a very friendly operator and I immediately informed her that I was getting a day pass. I inserted my $10.00 bill into the farebox and obtained my pass. Turning around to take a seat, I quickly realized that I was the only customer on board the bus – and it would remain that way for the entire duration of the trip.

The bus made a quick stop at the Palmetto Station in Palmetto before stopping at the Downtown Bradenton Station, where I got off and transferred over to Route 3. I then took Route 3 to US Hwy 301 and 9th Ave and walked the rest of the way to the Red Barn. All in all, the journey from Pinellas to the Red Barn took roughly an hour and the same was said for the journey back. I decided to spend about an hour at the flea market before having to return to the Downtown Bradenton Station for the return trip back to Pinellas. While I did not find the items that I was looking for at the market, I was able to allot enough time to grab a bite to eat at the food court. The Red Barn has over 500 vendors, including the farmer’s market outside.

To return to the Downtown Bradenton Station, I decided to walk along US Hwy 301, 9th Ave, and 13th St W, as the Route 2 already passed by when I was still eating my lunch. However, the weather was not bad considering it was still a cooler time of year. Once I returned to the terminal, I only waited about ten minutes before the bus pulled into the station with the same operator behind the wheel as that morning. I quickly boarded the bus, swiped my pass, and relaxed for the trip back to Pinellas.

It’s great when you’re not having to do the driving over the Sunshine Skyway!

While the Skyway ConneXion is definitely a good start for Manatee/Pinellas bus service, more needs to be done to improve the regional transit connectivity in Tampa Bay. One step to achieve that be adding limited express routes from Hillsborough into Manatee as well as Hillsborough into Polk – both of which are on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit’s long-term radar. Of course, we have no clue if or when the funds will come around.

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