Can you believe that 2017 is over? I certainly cannot believe how fast time has gone this year! As we enter 2018, I’d like to recap on some of the major transit-related happenings throughout Tampa Bay and beyond, as well as document a few of my transit experiences during the year. So let’s go!
MTA Second Ave Subway Opens
Just in time to ring in 2017 was the opening of Phase 1 of the long-awaited Second Ave Subway in New York City. The new line carries (Q) service from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with some (N) & (R) trips terminating at the 96th St station during rush hours.
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.
Limited revenue service on the Second Ave Line began on January 2, 2017, with 24/7 service commencing on January 9, 2017. Eventually, the Second Ave Line will carry a second service, the (T), stretching as far south as Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.
SCAT Benderson Park/UTC Transit Hub
January provided an opportunity for me to return to Sarasota and witness the grand opening of the new Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus hub in eastern Sarasota County – located right in the heart of the growing University Town Center area. Along with this new hub, I got to step aboard one of the newer 2016 transit buses, as well as one of the 2011 suburban coach style buses with high-back reclining seats and luggage racks.
While the new facility only serves a small handful of bus routes, it was designed with eight bus bays so that future expansion can be easily accommodated. the facility also includes customer and employee restrooms, a sheltered canopy for those wanting to be shielded from the sun while waiting for their bus, and a lounge area for employees.
PSTA Battery Electric Bus
2017 was a year to celebrate for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) as the board voted in February to purchase two battery electric transit buses manufactured by BYD, as part of a pilot project to operate such buses within the agency’s fleet. The two initial buses will be used for a shuttle route being planned for Downtown St. Petersburg, which is scheduled for a summer 2018 launch.
Later in the year, the PSTA board voted to include 2 battery electric buses in the agency’s bus purchase plan each year, beginning in FY 2020, cementing the agency’s commitment to bringing forth a cleaner bus fleet to Pinellas. To further cement that commitment, the agency was also awarded a $1 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through its Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle Program, which will allow for the funds needed to purchase additional battery electric buses and construct additional battery electric bus charging stations.
My Cross-Bay Ferry Ride
February also provided an unique opportunity – but this time to try out the Cross-Bay Ferry trial between Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. I even took my bike along so that I could do a brisk bike ride along Bayshore Blvd. While I was very happy to be able to ride the ferry and thus escape the rush hour traffic on the Gandy Bridge, we still have a long way to go before any permanent passenger ferry service is established between the two counties. I’m especially disappointed that many political and financial hurdles remain despite modest support for a permanent ferry service. I do hope that these issues are one day resolved – and one day sooner than later for that matter.
March & April were largely uneventful for the Tampa Bay region, outside of the Cross-Bay Ferry trial ending and the electric bus developments on the Pinellas side.
Budget Crunch in Hampton Roads
Despite plans for a system-wide restructuring materializing, 2017 overall was not a very good year for Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). The agency suffered massive criticism when it was reported that their total expenditures exceeded its $96 million budget by $5.3 million, leaving the municipalities who contribute to the agency’s funding wondering how they will pay for the overruns.
New York City Transit Excursion
May was probably THE transit highlight of 2017. For 4 full days, I returned to the Big Apple to transit fan and also spend some time with my family in NJ. During my visit, I was able to do the following:
- Fanned the old South Ferry Loop – the former southern end for the (1) Line. The “newer” station, originally opened in 2009 to replace the loop, was forced to close from October 2012 through June 2017 due to immense damage caused by SuperStorm Sandy.
- Fanedn the newer 34th St/Hudson Yards station on the (7) & the Second Ave Subway stations along the (Q).
- Visited the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
- Rode not one, but TWO Nova RTS transit buses, along with a New Flyer D60HF. Both are considered “dying breed” buses because they are no longer being manufactured and are slowly being retired.
- Rode the Q44 Select Bus Service bus line on board a brand spanking new New Flyer Xcelsior (XD60) articulated transit bus. These buses (along with their 40-foot counterparts) are replacing some of the previously mentioned older buses and are equipped with on-board WiFi and USB charging outlets. SBS bus lines are similar to the MetroRapid bus line that Tampa has.
- And last, but not least, attended my first ever transportation plan presentation outside of the Tampa Bay Region – the ReThink NYC Plan 2050 launch presentation – which was truly amazing! I’ll have a recap of the event in my next NYC Transit Excursion blog post.
In case you missed my first few posts, here they are:
Quick stop by Tallahassee’s StarMetro System
I had the opportunity in June to travel again, but this time to the Florida Panhandle for an event in the Destin/Okaloosa Beach area. The tail end of my trip provided me a chance to stop by Tallahassee while a line of thunderstorms passed. I was able to make a quick stop at the StarMetro bus terminal and witness the four Sunday routes in action, as well as take a quick walk around the city. I plan to take another trip to Tallahassee sometime in 2018.
PSTA “Breathe Easy” Zones
July was another relatively quiet month, but I did have the opportunity to venture out to another PSTA event in St. Pete. This event officially recognized the implementation of “Breathe Easy Zones” at some of the major bus terminals in Pinellas. These smoking zones allow those who wish to have a cigarette, a place to do so without disturbing those who don’t want to breathe in the smoke. Much of the state of Florida has done its part over the years to create cleaner air environments where people don’t have to deal with secondhand smoke, and this is just another way to expand on that effort.
August turned out to be a repeat performance of July with not a lot going on. I did take a weekend excursion on the HART system though, making a stop by the oldest sheltered transit hub in the Sulphur Springs area of Tampa.
2017 proved to be a very tumultuous hurricane season, with several monster storms – namely Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Irma made two landfalls in Florida – the first near Key West and the second near Naples. It was the first time since Hurricane Charley in 2004 that Tampa Bay residents had to evacuate, and the storm (Irma) left behind tons of damage, as did the other storms that made landfall this past year. Unfortunately, numerous lives lost in these storms, and tons and tons of weariness was left behind as well.
All of Florida’s transit agencies did a great job doing what they could to help residents escape evacuation zones by shuttling them to county shelters inland. HART in Hillsborough spent an entire day in fact moving people to shelters ahead of Irma and even though the last evacuation shuttles were scheduled to depart their originating areas around 9:00pm, buses continued to operate all the way until around 12-midnight on September 9, 2017.
HART Mission MAX
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) underwent its first system-wide restructuring since 2005. While many of the changes were controversial in the sense that some outskirt areas of Hillsborough County lost bus service, areas that needed more frequent bus service got what they needed. Despite the ups and downs of the changes, all of it was able to be done without raising fares.
TECOline Streetcar Fest
The annual TECOline Streetcar Fest allowed me to experience the post-Mission MAX bus system via the new Route 360LX from South Tampa to Downtown Tampa and escape the parking hassles in Downtown. This annual event brings forth various family friendly activities along the streetcar line from Downtown to historic Ybor City, and local music, not to mention FREE streetcar rides! Usually, HART will charge 15 cents to ride the streetcar during Streetcar Fest, but because it was the 15th anniversary, the agency decided to make all streetcar trips that day fare free.
PSTA Clearwater Beach Transit Hub
In another accomplishment for PSTA this past year, ground broke for a new transfer hub in Clearwater Beach, along the Memorial Causeway near Pier 60. This new hub will allow for easy transfer between beach side trolley lines and will serve as the western terminus for the future Route 200X replacement to Tampa.
Katharine Eagan Kelleman
On the morning of November 8, 2017, it was announced that HART CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman was leaving the agency in January, 2018 to pursue another opportunity elsewhere. It turns out that this opportunity was in Pittsburgh, PA, where she will serve as the CEO of the Allegheny County Port Authority transit system. I wish Ms. Kelleman the very best as she begins her new role!
My transit contributor Zac Ziegler, and I have both mentioned the Port Authority in various postings across our blogs and Social Media channels. Zac even took a trip to Pittsburgh several years ago to experience the system firsthand. Additionally, I’m acquainted with several transit advocates in the Pittsburgh area, and they are looking forward to providing suggestions and feedback to Ms. Kelleman as she transitions into her new role. Lastly, the person who helped inspire me to begin this website – Shawn – resides in Portersville, which is just north of Pittsburgh. Shawn spent many years at the Ross Division at Port Authority and once had a vast website full of transit photography.
Central Florida Transit Excursion
To wrap up 2017, a transit fan friend of mine visited the Tampa Bay region and we got to ride the PSTA and Pasco Transit systems, in addition to riding SunRail and LYNX over on the other side of the state. We also made stops in Lakeland and Kissimmee, as well as Daytona Beach. Later in the month; photo contributor and Social Media moderator, Jake, visited the Tampa Bay area and got to ride the TECOline Streetcar line and the HART In-Towner Trolley (he and I didn’t get to meet up in Tampa, but my other friend and I met up with him in the Orlando area).
First MTA R-179 test train enters revenue testing.
Despite the opening of the Second Ave Subway, the New York MTA has suffered a lot of bumps and bruises over the past year. One of which has been the slow introduction of the new R-179 railcars, which are being produced by Bombardier Transportation to replace some of the agency’s oldest operating subway railcars. The trains have been suffering major defects and thus the rollout schedule has been pushed back. Even the first trainset to enter revenue testing had its share of mishaps, but has been operating smoothly since mid December – to the best of my knowledge.
While 2017 had its ups and downs, 2018 will bring forth many drastic changes to the transit scene as we move ahead. Below are some of the topics that I will discuss as we enter January:
- Transit Ridership: As overall transit ridership continues to trend downward, many transit agencies are having to re-think their strategies to move forward into the future.
- TPA Airport: I’ll recap the airport’s historic year – including new airlines, the terminal revamp, and what’s to come next.
- Selmon Extension & other highway-related items: Because buses run on roadways, it’s important to know how projects like the Selmon Expressway Extension may impact bus service.
- MTA Subway Action Plan: Can quick fixes to the aging subway system restore confidence in riders & those who support the system?
- Autonomous Vehicle Technology: How AVs are changing the landscape for transportation as a whole & where will things go from here?