Welcome to my transit blog, where you can read up on transit-related topics ranging from fare evasion to service adjustments. Feel free to start a discussion if you please, just make sure that you keep things clean. All comments are moderated, meaning that I must approve all comments before they can show up on blog posts and web pages. So any comments that I find to be inappropriate or offensive will not be posted on the website. Periodically, I will have ”Focus Posts” and poll questions that deal with specific transit-related topics.
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.
TBO.com Archive: HART Proposes Cutting 3 Routes, Adjusting Service.
TBO.com Archive: HART To Scale Back Service.
TBO.com Archive: HART Proposes Ending 2 Routes, Changing 16 Others.
TBO.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 PSTA.net, along with a link on the Schedules/Maps page to the MCAT route. On MCAT’s website, references to PSTA.net 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.
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.
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.
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.
With only a week left before Hillsborough Area Regional Transit launches its Mission MAX system restructuring, I wanted to take a few moments to provide a personal reflection on the West Tampa Transfer Center. HART will be closing down the center permanently after Saturday, October 7, 2017 in favor of having an on-street transfer along Dale Mabry Hwy at Tampa Bay Blvd.
Tampa Bay Center Mall
While the current West Tampa Transfer Center will barely be 10 years old when it shuts down for good, the general transfer point has been around for much longer – perhaps even before the inception of HART in the early 1980s. During the 1980s, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s premier shopping destinations. The mall opened in 1976 and was anchored by Sears, Burdines (which was later absorbed by Macy’s), and Wards (which opened in 1979 and was originally known as Montgomery Ward). During the early and mid 90s, my family took me to Tampa Bay Center on a regular basis and I was constantly wowed by the bright, open atrium, eloquent fountains, and the glass elevator by the food court.
The Original Transfer Hub
Like many transit systems across the nation, many of HART’s early transfer points were situated at shopping malls, and Tampa Bay Center was no exception. Several canopies were set up near the Wards entrance to the mall and Routes 7, 11, 14, 15, 32, 36, 41, 44, & 45 all traversed the spot at one point or another. The original Route 11 was axed during the 2005 system restructuring, and Routes 14 & 15 were removed from the transfer hub. Route 44 was merged into Route 45 in 2007. Route 11 will make a return in 2019, but will not serve this section of West Tampa – instead serving the Main St corridor and International Plaza.
Relocating the Hub
As parts of the Tampa Bay region boomed, shopping preferences changed. Various demographic shifts and retail cycles, along with some misfortune during the 90s, ultimately led to the closure of Tampa Bay Center. By 2001, most shoppers and retailers were drawn to either the WestShore Business District, Brandon, or Citrus Park. Wards had gone out of business entirely – along with many other chains that have demised over the decades.
Sears was the final tenant to leave Tampa Bay Center, moving over to the former Dillards spot at WestShore Plaza. Dillards vacated WestShore Plaza to join the then-new International Plaza in 2001. The land that Tampa Bay Center sat on was then sold to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their new facility, and demolition of the mall commenced shortly thereafter. The HART transfer center canopies and large sections of the parking lot were the only relics left of the former mall.
With Tampa Bay Center gone for good, HART was left to ponder where to relocate its West Tampa bus hub. Many options were explored and likely included parcels in West Tampa, Drew Park, and even near WestShore. However, a parcel on the northeast corner of Himes Ave and Ohio Ave was eventually chosen for the new hub. The facility would include five sheltered areas for seamless transferring, plus a street-side stop on northbound Himes Ave for the northbound Route 36 buses, restrooms for both customers and employees, and vending machines. A ticket vending machine was added in 2013 to allow customers to purchase passes without having to make the trip to downtown.
Aspirations Never Realized
It was originally envisioned that the West Tampa Transfer Center would become a launchpad for expanded operations towards WestShore and Temple Terrace. Two additional bus bays were constructed just north of the central building to stage buses. The northernmost bay was constructed to eventually accommodate a 60-foot articulated transit bus should the East-West MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit line be built. Longer-term plans discussed the possibility of adding a light rail corridor along Himes and Dale Mabry.
Not Really The Best Location
One of the good things about the old Tampa Bay Center Mall was that it was right across the street from the old Tampa Stadium (later called Houlihan’s Stadium). What is now Raymond James Stadium replaced Tampa Stadium during the late 90s. While having the WTTC next to the old mall property was good for customers in the sense that they didn’t have to go too far from the old stop to access the new one, the major sore spot was that stadium events forced the hub to shut down due to traffic and security concerns. Buses would have to stage along St. Isabel St by MacDill Ave during stadium events. This procedure inconvenienced many customers who didn’t want to walk extra blocks to get to their bus.
While an immediate closure of the WTTC wasn’t on my mind prior to the announcement of Mission MAX, I knew that there was a good chance that the WTTC would not survive beyond 15 years due alone to the fact that it kept having to close during stadium events. I always thought that it would make more sense to have a transfer point along Dale Mabry because the highway rarely ever shuts down completely unless there is a major traffic incident or if the event at Ray Jay is significant enough to warrant a complete closure of the highway. Himes, on the other hand, is always closed during stadium events.
Another reason why I believed that the WTTC would not last much longer is the fact that transit agencies are gradually moving away from having fixed hubs and are transitioning to a more grid-based system where transfers are done at major intersections. HART made a major shift towards a grid system in 2005 and Mission MAX aims to get the system another step closer to a true grid. I fully realize that HART management back in the early 2000s was different and perhaps leadership back then had a different view of the system than current leadership does. I just never agreed that the current spot for the WTTC was the best place for a long-term transfer hub and believe that the funds to relocate the hub could have been better spent on a more robust location that would have provided a sound footing for expansion down the road.
While we cannot change the past, we can look forward to the future – and that is what HART is aiming to do with Mission MAX. While many of the changes that will become effective on October 8, 2017 were contentious amongst many riders, I can say that the decision to close the WTTC for good was a good decision.
Sunday, October 8, 2017 is just around the corner, and there is much to talk about in this post. In addition to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit’s systemwide restructuring – called Mission MAX – Hampton Roads Transit is also enacting its own changes on the same day. HRT is also undergoing its own Transit Development Plan update and is considering undergoing a similar system restructuring to that of HART. I’ll delve more into HRT in a few moments, but first – let’s do one final rundown of the changes that we’re expecting to see on the HART system.
HART System Changes (Mission MAX)
HART has created a side-by-side comparison on which routes are changing, so that you’ll be able to easily see how each route operates now, versus after the restructuring takes effect. You can also view the summary list of the changes, an interactive system map – powered by Remix, and the new static system map. If you go to the Maps & Schedules Page on the HART website, you’ll be able to scroll all the way to the bottom of the routes drop-down menu to see the new schedules. Additionally, you can begin planning out how your new commute will shape up by going to Google Maps and using their transit trip planner. I have step-by-step instructions on how to use Google Maps’ transit trip planner, but you will want to do a couple of things before you begin mapping out your trip.
Does everything that I just wrote sound confusing? If so, let me break things down a bit:
- A summary list of the changes is available on the HART website. This list goes through how each route is changing.
- To view the new schedules for each individual HART route, simply go to the Maps & Schedules Page on the HART website, and select the routes drop-down menu on the left. Once you’ve opened up the drop-down menu, scroll all the way down to where you see “HART Service Changes, Effective: 10/8/17 – Coming Soon”. Beneath that divider, you will be able to view the new schedules.
- You can view a side-by-side comparison of how each HART route looks like today, versus how they will look like after the restructuring takes effect. This tool is very helpful in determining how your commute will be impacted.
- The new static system map will show how the entire HART system will look once the changes are in place.
- You can also view an interactive system map that shows where each route travels to and from, as well as stop placement. The map is powered by Remix, which is a very powerful tool for transit agencies to use for planning – whether it be a large scale restructuring like what HART is doing, or a routine round of service changes. I’ve actually used the interactive mapping features when they were in demo mode (and open for general public use), and I can definitely see why many transit agencies like to use Remix as a tool for their transit system planning needs.
- Lastly, you can go over to Google Maps and use their transit planning feature to view how your commute will shape up once the restructuring takes effect.
- Simply click the blue diamond “directions” button on the upper left-hand corner of the page. Then, type the address of where you’re coming from and the address of where you’re going to.
- Once your itinerary is mapped out, select the “train” icon at the top to launch the transit option.
- Under the transit option, select the drop-down menu that reads “Leave Now”, and change it to “Depart at” or “Arrive by”, then change the date field to 10/8/17 or a date thereafter, and your desired arrival or departure time.
- Now you can see which route options are available to you once the restructuring takes effect. You customize your commute further by using the “Schedule Explorer” tool on the bottom left if you wish.
If you have further questions about HART’s Mission MAX restructuring, please do not hesitate to reach out to them by calling (813)-254-4278, visiting the HART website, or reaching out to them via Social Media.
HRT System Changes
Now, let’s take a look at what HRT has in store for October 8, 2017. These changes are not as radical as Mission MAX, but as I mentioned earlier, HRT is working on its own TDP update, which calls for a systemwide examination of its services.
Changes taking effect in the Southside (Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, & Virginia Beach)
- Route 2: The current detour on Route 2 will become permanent. No service will be provided to Naval Station Norfolk. The route will terminate at the NEX Mall. Schedule adjustments will be made.
- Route 3: Minor schedule adjustments to improve adherence.
- Route 21: The current detour on Route 21 will become permanent. No service will be provided to Naval Station Norfolk after 6:30 pm Monday through Friday. No service will be provided on weekends. The route will terminate at the NEX Mall. Schedule adjustments will be made.
- Route 25: The route will be modified to provide service to Sentara Princess Anne Medical Complex. Service will be discontinued to the Municipal Center via Route 25. Service to the Municipal Center will be provided by Route 33.
- Route 33: Minor schedule adjustments to improve adherence.
Changes taking effect in the Northside (Newport News & Hampton)
- No changes are planned for this service change cycle.
Changes taking effect on the Express Routes
- Route 919: All evening trips revised due to closure of Bainbridge Avenue and Franklin Street.
- Route 922: The following morning trips will be discontinued due to low ridership:
- 5:15 AM
- 6:45 AM
- All evening trips revised due to closure of Bainbridge Avenue and Franklin Street.
- Route 960: The route will be revised to service Newtown Station. Service will be discontinued to Silverleaf Commuter Station. Route 960 will operate between Downtown Norfolk Transit Center and Arctic Avenue/19th Street with a stop at Newtown Station.
- Route 965: All evening trips revised due to closure of Bainbridge Avenue and Franklin Street.
HRT Fare Changes
In 2014, HRT approved a two-phased systemwide fare increase, with the first phase taking effect October, 2014. With this second phase, the one-way base fare for local routes will be brought from $1.75 to $2.00, which is the same level that HART charges for a one-way local & limited express fare. The fare increase was conducted as a two-phased approach so that customers would not be negatively impacted by a single slew of fare increases all at once.
The new fares will take effect on Sunday, October 1, 2017
For a rundown of the new fares and frequently asked questions, please visit the HRT website.
HRT Transit Development Plan (TDP)
HRT is currently working on completing its TDP and is asking for public input. Two meetings will be held., one tonight and the other on Saturday, September 23, 2017. This TDP update calls for a systemwide examination of current services and recommends eliminating lower ridership routes and segments to pave the way for new services to higher demand areas. To view the recommendations and to provide comment, please visit the HRT website.
In Episode 5 of my Transit Tourism series documenting my recent trip to New York City, I will be discussing my first journey aboard the (1) and (W.) subway lines though Manhattan.
Note: When I type in the W in parenthesis to indicate the (W). Line, WordPress changes that to its logo. As a result, I’ve had to make a couple minor changes to prevent this. Unfortunately, this means, you’ll see periods in places where they shouldn’t be. I apologize for any confusion.
After getting settled in my hotel, I wanted to relax a bit since I had arrived in Manhattan a bit earlier than planned. However, I had to be just southeast of Midtown by 4:00pm, so time was of the essence. I could use any extra time that I had to charge my phone somewhere – like Starbucks.
While walking down to the 110th St station for the (1) Train, I managed to capture bus #6696 passing by on Broadway. This is one of many Orion Bus Industries model VII diesel-electric hybrid buses that the MTA possesses. A vast majority of the MTA bus fleet is diesel powered, though diesel-electric hybrid and CNG fleets currently operate. There is even a lease order of battery electric buses on the horizon – using both Proterra and New Flyer made buses. And by the way, Orion was one of the bus manufacturers that was acquired by New Flyer in recent years, resulting in the Orion made buses ceasing production. Today, New Flyer only manufactures the Xcelsior line of 35 and 40-foot buses.
Upon arriving at the 110th St Station, I noticed that complimentary Wi-Fi was available. Over the past several months, the MTA has been installing Wi-Fi routers at each of the stations to provide a better customer experience. Efforts are also being made to allow 4G cellular service available throughout the massive maze of tunnels.
Each station has its own unique characteristics – including tiling. Stations that were built during the early 1900s typically have ornate, classical style tiling, whereas stations built during the mid 1900s have more of a mid century look. Stations built between the 1960s and 1990s feature architecture that was common during that respective time period, and anything built after the 1990s have a sleek, modern look.
If you’re lucky enough, you may enter an older subway station that has relics from yesteryear left over. Old ticketing booths for instance, may still be intact, though they may not be used for purposes such as vending. At some stations, restrooms have been converted into retail shops, where one can grab a snack or a newspaper.
Each of the stations along the numbered lines (except the 7) have digital countdown clock displays that tell customers when their train will be arriving. Along the lettered lines and the Staten Island Railway, LCD displays are being installed to achieve the same purpose.
As the countdown clock above shows, there was only about a minute before my train towards the heart of Manhattan was slated to arrive. I took this time to take the station photos that I’ve showcased in this post thus far, and while I did take some video footage, I did not have enough time to film the train’s arrival this time.
Once the train arrived, I stepped aside to allow arriving customers to disembark, then I entered what was an already packed train. Since the PM rush was approaching, I could totally understand why the trains would be crowded at this time.
To note; nearly all of the trains that operate along the (1) are older R62 and R62A railcars, which are the oldest operating subway railcar fleet for the numbered lines. The modern R142 & R142A trains operate along the (2), (3), (4), (5), & (6) lines, with their rebranded counterparts – the R188 (most being converted R142As) – operating exclusively on the (7). Two sets of R62As continue to operate along the (7), but for how much longer I do not know.
Navigating the Times Square – 42nd St Station, which lies just a stone’s throw away from the famed intersection of Broadway, 7th Ave, and 45th St, can be a bear. If you don’t really know where you’re going, you can get lost. Fortunately for me, all I had to do was follow the signs to the (N), (Q), (R), (W). platform.
While traveling to the Broadway Line platforms for the (N), (Q), (R), & (W). Trains, I snapped a photo of the Times Square Mural on the mezzanine level near the 42nd St Shuttle platform. It’s truly a wonderful mural, depicting a train traveling through a futuristic city. The work was created by Roy Lichtenstein and commissioned by the MTA’s Arts for Transit program.
Okay, now to the (W). Beyond this section of the mezzanine was the stairways to the Broadway Line platforms. I needed to make sure that I was getting onto the correct platform so as to not head uptown by accident.
Now some of you may be asking, where exactly was I going? I was heading to the Cooper Union for a presentation. Since the (N) & the (Q) go express down Broadway and do not serve the 8th Ave station, I needed to catch either an (R) or a (W). train to get to my destination. Since the (W). was restored back in December, 2016, I wanted to have at least one ride on the line – especially being that I didn’t know how long the presentation would last. If it was something that would keep me at Cooper Union past 9:00pm, then there may not be an opportunity to catch the (W). to Whitehall St – South Ferry due to it ending service during the 9:00pm hour.
It took maybe about 8 minutes before the (W). arrived. While waiting, I saw (Q) Express train & an (R) Local train stop at the station. I wasn’t so much looking for photos of the (Q) & the (R) because of the time crunch. I can always do some bus fanning outside Cooper Union if I had extra time. Once the (W). train did arrive, I was on my way again! The train wasn’t really crowded at all, unlike the (1) train that I boarded earlier, and the trip went without incident – all smooth sailing to 8th St!
To close this post, let me mention the types of railcars that travel along the Broadway Line. The (Q) primarily uses newer R160A & B trains, while the (R) primarily uses the older R46 trains. The (N) & (W.) use a mix of older R68 & R68A trains & newer R160A & B trains. However, uncommon occurrences do happen – where an R68 or R68A may spring up on the (Q) or even more rare…on the (R).
Do you like what you’ve been able to read so far? Let me know by commenting on this post. I will have Episode 6 up in a week hopefully. In the meantime, please keep a watchful eye on tropics, as we still have some time to go before November. It looks like we may be seeing a Tango dance between Jose & Maria this weekend. Putting anything even remotely funny aside though, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Irma & Maria. I have many friends who have relatives and friends in the Caribbean and it really breaks my heart to see the devastation left behind by these storms.
Even though Hurricane Irma brought a lot of uncertainty to Florida’s transit agencies this past couple of weeks, there has been some very good news to help balance things out.
On September 15, 2017, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the 51 recipients of the Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle Program grant. The grant, totaling $55 million dollars across 39 states, is aimed at helping transit agencies across the nation to obtain, improve, and expand bus fleets that emit little to no carbon emissions – including battery electric buses.
If you’ve read my previous posts about the battery electric bus journey at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), then you’ll be very delighted to hear that PSTA was among five agencies here in Florida to be awarded some of the FTA Low-No grant money! The $1 million awarded to PSTA will be used to help cement the agency’s commitment to purchase 2 battery electric buses per year, starting in FY 2020, by being able to have the funds available to purchase additional battery electric bus charging stations and buses.
As some of you already know, PSTA will be getting its first 2 battery electric buses towards the end of the year or early 2018 to be used on a planned shuttle route along Downtown St. Pete’s Beach Drive. PSTA leadership has shown their commitment to expanding the battery electric bus purchases beyond the initial pilot, and being granted the FTA money will allow the agency to fulfill that commitment.
The other four FL transit agencies that earned Low-No grant funds from the FTA include Tallahassee’s StarMetro – which already posses a small fleet of battery electric buses, Broward County Transit, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and Gainesville’s Regional Transit System.
Please join me in congratulating all five of these wonderful transit agencies, as well as all of the recipients of the FTA grant!
I really didn’t want to write this post, but as of the writing of this post, Hurricane Maria has rapidly intensified to a high Category 4/low Category 5 storm. While the current track has the storm curving northwest prior to the Bahamas, as we saw with Irma, nothing is certain five days out.
Many along the NE, especially Florida, are already rattled by the effects of Irma, and another mass evacuation is the last thing we need right now. While you should not panic about Maria at this time, you should be paying attention to where it goes. Many factors will influence where the storm goes later this week, including Hurricane Jose – which continues to weaken over the Atlantic.
Further updates will be made as information becomes available. In the meantime, please monitor local media outlets for the latest.
It’s now time for Episode 4 in my Transit Tourism series, documenting my recent trip to New York City. In this episode, I will document my arrival to New York’s LaGuardia Airport and my journey on board New York MTA’s M60 Select Bus Service bus line to Manhattan.
Despite my tight connection in Washington D.C., I was able to board my flight to New York City without issue and the flight was very smooth. I even handed a note to one of the flight attendants for the excellent job he did (I also listed my website address on the note so he could check out the great things that I post).
Once on the ground, it was a little bit before the plane was able to taxi to the gate due to the massive construction project occurring at LaGuardia. The entire terminal complex is undergoing a modernization and expansion project that will ultimately reduce some of the congestion at the complex and create a better experience for passengers. There is currently building pressure from many in the NYC region to utilize Rikers Island (which the prison on the island is slated to close permanently several years from now) as a launchpad for another expansion of LaGuardia, allowing for a less constrained runway pattern than what exists today.
Navigating LaGuardia’s Terminal C wasn’t too much of a challenge since it is relatively small compared to Terminal B, which is the mainstay terminal. As you can see in the above photo, Terminal C primarily serves Delta. so hence the banners and blue wall tones. Tampa International Airport’s Airside E also primarily serves Delta.
Once down at the Baggage Claim level, I searched for the Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) for the New York MTA so that I could obtain my MetroCard. I decided to purchase a 7-day Unlimited Ride card because I did not want to spend a ton of money refilling the Pay-Per-Ride card over and over. I felt that the 7-day card would be the better value even though I was only in the area for five days.
Since I didn’t have any checked baggage, I was able to immediately head out to the curb to locate the MTA bus stop. I had to be really careful to board the correct bus, since the Q48, Q70, & Q72 also stops at LaGuardia. Route Q70 is also a Select Bus Service route, dubbed as the “LaGuardia Link” and connects customers to the 61st St – Woodside subway station for the (7) Train and the Long Island Rail Road.
In addition to making sure I boarded the correct bus; because the Select Bus Service bus lines have off-board fare collection, there is an extra step that I needed to take. I went to the TVM by the bus stop and noticed an SBS Fare Validator Machine next to it. I inserted my MetroCard into the validator and picked up my receipt. When you board an SBS bus, you will need to keep your ticket receipt with you at all times, as ticket inspectors will board buses at random to weed out fare evaders. Fare evasion at the MTA will result in a hefty fine, so it’s best to make sure that you’ve paid your way before boarding.
Before my trip to New York City, I downloaded the MTA Bus Time Smartphone App so that I could track which buses were coming my way and at what times they would arrive. The MTA uses the OneBusAway interface to power MTA Bus Time. You can download the app from the Apple App Store (iPhone) or the Google Play Store (Android), App information can be found on the MTA website.
I also posted regular updates to The Global Transit Travel Log Facebook Group during my trip, including which buses and trains I was on. It was a pretty cool experience being able to let my group members know where I was along the MTA system. In addition, I also posted check-ins on my HARTride 2012 Facebook Page.
Once my bus arrived, I boarded and greeted the bus operator. I also noticed that even the SBS buses have fareboxes, though there is a sign covering it that notifies customers that fares are not collected on board the bus. The reason that all buses have fareboxes, regardless of whether they are SBS or not, is because any SBS bus can be easily rebranded into a regular local bus at any time. However, many of the SBS buses that serve LaGuardia are equipped with luggage racks, which make it easy for customers to stow away luggage without blocking the aisles.
The M60-SBS operates pretty frequently, with 10 to 12 minute frequency during the day on weekdays. Buses run less frequent on weekends, holidays, and late-nights.
The ride along the M60-SBS was just a little over an hour due to construction along the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, which traverses over the East River, Wards Island, and Randall’s Island. During my trip, I was able to pull up my hotel information, post to Facebook, and film a short video – which you can watch below. Once I arrived in the Morningside Heights district, I was only blocks away from my hotel – as well as the (1) Train to the heart of Manhattan.
It only took me about 10 minutes to walk from the M60-SBS terminating stop to my hotel. Once inside, I waited about 15 minutes for the person ahead of me to check in. Once I was checked in, I was able to drop my bag off in my room and get a feel for the environment I was staying in for the next four nights. Although the Morningside Inn is not a top-of-the-line hotel, they have a cozy atmosphere with friendly staff and affordable rates. Each room has LCD TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi access, and comfortable beds, as well as ambient lighting. Many of the rooms also have a mini fridge, which allowed me to walk to the nearby markets to grab a quick snack or drink. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Manhattan without breaking the bank, and not wanting to go the Airbnb route, I highly recommend staying at the Morningside Inn.