Welcome to the Blog!

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.

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Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend 2017 Transit Schedules

Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful time to spend with family and friends. Whether you plan to stay with family for dinner, or maybe head out evening or Black Friday shopping, I have your scoop to how the many transit agencies that I cover will be operating throughout the Thanksgiving weekend.


 Transit Service Levels

Thanksgiving Day – 11/23/17


Black Friday – 11/25/16


Thanksgiving Weekend – 11/26 & 11/27/16

All transit services that normally operate on a weekend will operate as normal.


Customer Service

Veterans Day 2015 Cust Serv 1 Veterans Day 2015 Cust Serv 2


Disclaimers

As always, I try to make sure that all information in this post is correct. Schedule information is obtained from the transit agencies themselves, so they are ultimately responsible for what goes out to customers. However, if you spot something that I’ve typed that is incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible so that I may make corrections.


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Legalese | Disclosures

Photo of the Month – November, 2017

TECOline Streetcar #1976 at the Centro Ybor station in historic Ybor City.

For my November “Photo of the Month”, I bring you one of Tampa’s replica streetcars – an open-air “breezer” car that was built by Gomaco Trolley, #1976.

Back when Tampa’s original streetcar operated, many of these “breezer” trains flourished throughout the city and its inner suburbs, bringing hundreds of passengers from as far north as Sulphur Springs to as far south as Ballast Point Park. Other cities like San Francisco operated similar trains on their streetcar lines, and San Francisco continues to operate replicas of their original streetcar trains throughout the city (some preserved originals come out during special events as well).

Veterans Day 2017 Holiday Service Schedule

Saturday, November 11, 2017 is Veterans Day, with Friday, November 10, 2017 being observed by government offices.  While most transit agencies that I cover will operate a normal weekday schedule on November 10 & a normal Saturday schedule on November 11, some agencies may have exceptions as to which routes will run. Other agencies (specifically some smaller agencies) will not operate at all on Saturday or both days. Please see the following list to see if your respective transit agency will operate on Veterans Day.

As always, I want to thank all those who are currently serving in our nation’s military, or have served in the past. Thank you!


Transit Service Levels

Normal weekday service schedules will be in effect for the following transit agencies on Friday, 11/10/17:

  • Florida
    • HART (Tampa)
    • PSTA (St. Pete/Clearwater)
    • MCAT (Manatee County)
    • SCAT (Sarasota County)
    • LYNX (Orlando)
    • Votran (Volusia County)
    • SunRail (Central FL)
    • Citrus Connection (Polk County)
    • JTA (Jacksonville)
    • Palm Tran (Palm Beach)
    • Broward County Transit (Broward County)
    • Miami-Dade Transit (Miami-Dade County)
    • Key West Transit (Monroe County)
  • New York City Metro Region
    • MTA (New York City)
    • NICE (Nassau County)
    • PATH (Port Authority)
    • Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (NJ Transit)
  • Illinois
    • CTA (Chicago)
    • Pace Bus
  • Virginia
    • HRT (Hampton Roads) – Routes 918, 919, 922, & 925 will not operate.
    • WATA (Williamsburg)

Saturday service schedules will be in effect for the following transit agencies on Friday, 11/10/17:

  • Florida
    • PCPT (Pasco County)
    • StarMetro (Tallahassee)

The following transit agencies will not operate on Friday, 11/10/17:

  • Florida
    • Hernando THEbus (Hernando County)
    • Citrus County Transit (Citrus County)

Normal Saturday service schedules will be in effect for the following transit agencies on Friday, 11/11/17:

  • Florida
    • HART (Tampa)
    • PSTA (St. Pete/Clearwater)
    • MCAT (Manatee County)
    • SCAT (Sarasota County)
    • PCPT (Pasco County)
    • LYNX (Orlando)
    • Votran (Volusia County)
    • JTA (Jacksonville)
    • Palm Tran (Palm Beach)
    • Broward County Transit (Broward County)
    • Miami-Dade Transit (Miami-Dade County)
    • Key West Transit (Monroe County)
    • StarMetro (Tallahassee)
  • New York City Metro Region
    • MTA (New York City)
    • NICE (Nassau County)
    • PATH (Port Authority)
    • Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (NJ Transit)
  • Illinois
    • CTA (Chicago)
    • Pace Bus
  • Virginia
    • HRT (Hampton Roads)
    • WATA (Williamsburg)

The following transit agencies will not operate on Saturday, 11/11/17:

  • Florida
    • Citrus Connection (Polk County)
    • Hernando THEbus (Hernando County)
    • Citrus County Transit (Citrus County)

Please note that the above listing is NOT INCLUSIVE of all transit services. Please contact your respective transit agency for further information.


Customer Service


Veterans Ride FREE With Proper ID

Some transit agencies, including HART & PSTA, are allowing veterans with proper military or veteran identification to use their transit systems for FREE as a “Thank You” for serving our great nation. Please check with your transit agency to see if they are doing this. For HART & PSTA, FREE rides are valid on board all local, limited express/commuter, express, and trolley routes. Paratransit & Link Services (HyperLINK, Direct Connect) are not included. HART will honor these FREE rides on 11/11/17 & PSTA will honor them on both 11/10 & 11/11/17.


Disclaimer

As always, I try to make sure that all information in this post is correct. Schedule information is obtained from the transit agencies themselves, so they are ultimately responsible for what goes out to customers. However, if you spot something that I’ve typed that is incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible so that I may make corrections.


And one last reminder!

Daylight Savings Time in the United States ends at 2:00am on Sunday, 11/4/17.

Be sure to set your clocks back one hour before you head to bed tomorrow, 11/3/17. I hope everyone enjoys their extra hour of rest!


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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

This page will be updated regularly when there is a detour or other service change that may impact transit customers for more than 72 hours.

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.

The listing below is current as of 11/23/2017
Transit agency logos are utilized for informational purposes ONLY. Thank you.


 

Detour: Due to roadway blockage, buses may be detoured via 4th Ave from Channelside Dr to 17th Ave. Customers can board buses at: 4th Ave @ 14th St, 4th Ave @ 16th St & 7th Ave @ 19th St.

Detour 1: Due to water main construction, the Route 9 stops on 30th St., from Diana St. to Sligh Ave. will temporarily not be served. This detour will remain in effect until 12/08/2017.

Detour 2: Due to police activity, and for safety reasons, early morning & late afternoon/evening trips on Route 9 will be detoured via 22nd St between Hillsborough Ave & MLK Blvd. This detour will remain in effect until further notice. Please see HART’s flyer for details.

 

Delays & Detours – Pass-A-Grille: Due to ongoing roadway construction, the Central Avenue Trolley Westbound will travel on its regular route to Pass-a-Grille Way, right on 26th Ave, left on Sunset Way, right on 22nd Ave, left on Gulf Way, left on 19th Ave, and right on Pass-a-Grille Way to regular route. The Central Avenue Trolley Eastbound will travel on its regular route to Gulf Way, right on 22nd Ave, left on Sunset Way, right on 23rd Ave, and left on Pass-a-Grille Way to regular route. Westbound passengers may catch the route on 19th Ave or end of line. Eastbound passengers may catch the route on Pass-a-Grille Way around 23rd Ave Area.

Delays & Detours – Pier District: The Central Avenue Trolley Eastbound will travel from 2nd Ave NE to a left into Beach Drive Trolley Station (Old Dolphin Station), and right on 2nd Ave NE to regular route. Passengers may catch the route on 2nd Ave NE and Bayshore Drive NE.

Schedule Change: AM trips to Downtown have changed. This will result in buses departing from Temple Terrace City Hall 15 minutes earlier than the original schedule. Please see HART’s flyer for the new departure times.

Tampa International Airport Services: HART is currently operating a shuttle van or bus between the Rental Car Facility temporary stop & the TPA Airport main terminal. This service will be operating until the SkyConnect train service at the airport becomes operational (expected to be some time in February of 2018). Shuttles will operate every 20 minutes during the following days & times:

  • Weekdays – 5:10 a.m. – 12:50 a.m.
  • Weekends – 6:30 a.m. – 12:10 a.m.

Delays & Detours – Gandy Freeway Construction: Although the Gandy Freeway project is nearing completion, delays & detours are still possible at times. Routes 4, 9, 58, 74, & 100X are all operating on their normal routing at this time, but Route 444 trips to the St. Petersburg Housing Authority offices are being impacted by changes in the surrounding roadway configuration. Delays should be expected on Route 444 during these trips. Also, Routes 9 & 100X may experience delays due to changes in the surrounding roadway configuration.

Special Event Detours

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

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.

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.

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 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.


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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Friday Rewind – Reflections on HART’s West Tampa Transfer Center

Friday Rewind New 1

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

The former bus bay on the former Tampa Bay Center property in 2006. Credit: HARTride 2012 (Public Domain).

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.

Interior of the Tampa Bay Center mall and its vast atrium prior to the grand opening. Click on the image to view the source website.

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.

Brochures for Routes 7, 14, & 36. Scan by Orion 2003.
Maps of Routes 7, 36, & 39 as they were during the late 90s/early 2000s. Scan by Orion 2003.
Route 14 still follows this route, but the Tampa Bay Center leg was eliminated sometime in the early 2000s, likely to improve efficiency. I’m sure the downfall of the mall also contributed to the decline in public transit in that area. Scan by Orion 2003.

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.

The West Tampa Transfer Center looking east from Himes Ave.

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.

One of the additional bus bays at the WTTC – designed to handle an articulated transit bus.
The WTTC would have been served by MetroRapid East-West. The future of the line itself is uncertain due to funding constraints.

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.

The temporary staging area on St. Isabel St, behind St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital.
I’m sure not a lot of people liked seeing this banner during stadium events.

Demise

The route 36 Southbound stop.

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.


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