Pirates, & Beads, & Transit…oh my!
Post was updated on 01/24/2020
Yep, it’s that time again, for the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival! The Parade of the Pirates brings in hundreds of revelers each year, & along with that…tons and tons of roadway closures. So here’s what you need to know if you plan on attending the parade on Saturday, January 25, starting at 2:00pm.Read More
Can’t believe it’s the end of 2019 already!
In what will be my final post for 2019, I’m going to take a few minutes to reflect back on what happened during the course of the year – both personal happenings in the sense of my transit adventures, as well as some local happenings here in the Tampa Bay Region.
You may have noticed that I haven’t really talked about the All for Transportation referendum measure that was passed by Hillsborough County voters back in November of 2018. This is because shortly after the elections, two parties filed legal challenges against respective parties – including the county. The filing parties have basically alleged that the measure was passed illegally because how specific elements are structured within the measure violate state law. I’m not a legal expert, so I can’t go into the nitty-gritty details, however many news articles have been published about the saga, so you can search those up and get up to speed that way if you wish.
In short though, the legal cases against the measure are awaiting to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court & will be decided (at last check) February, 2020. I’m really hoping for an outcome that upholds the measure because Hillsborough County needs better transportation – and like…right now!
While the usage & expansion of public transportation isn’t necessarily a silver bullet in combating climate change, it certainly does help when coupled with other changes – such as the overall reduction in use of fossil fuels. During the past year or so, a group called Extinction Rebellion has been advocating for all levels of government across the globe to get their act together on combating climate change – or else, we as a the human race will one day (sooner than later) face mass extinction. It’s truly a scary thought when you think about the impacts that climate change is already having on our planet. However, it’s even more scary to think about how some people out there – including some of our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., don’t even believe that climate change is actually a thing.
During the course of April & May of 2019, both Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) & the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) introduced new buses to their fleets – a combined 19 units (10 for HART & 9 for PSTA). PSTA continues to largely order diesel-electric hybrid Gillig buses (either 35′ or 40′), while HART continues to order CNG Gilligs (40′). While PSTA has already been testing a small fleet of battery electric buses (2 in service, with 4 more on order for late 2020/early 2021), HART hasn’t necessarily made that leap just yet – though there is a push for the agency to begin a pilot project by 2021.
Regardless of propulsion though, the new buses are able to replace aging diesel buses that span as old as 2001 & 2002. PSTA’s oldest fleet is now from 2005, while HART’s oldest fleet dates back to 2006. In the coming years, the hope is for HART to completely replenish its fleet by 2025 so that the oldest bus running is not exceeding 10 years in age. PSTA on the other hand will have a tougher time with any such aim due to its limited resources & the fact that its 2006 bus order was the largest ever for the mid 2000s – totaling 48 buses (though 2 have been retired previously).
For 2019, I had three different opportunities to travel out of town (one of which was out of state). The first trip was to Jacksonville, FL for primarily a family gathering/event, though I also spent some time exploring the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) bus system. This visit actually marked my third visit to River City since August of 2018 & my seventh overall visit to the region (though my first four visits weren’t focused on public transit at all & took place prior to 2005).
During my travels along the JTA system, I was able to experience both the First Coast Flyer Blue & Red Lines (Routes 107 & 109 respectively). The First Coast Flyer is a lightened version of Bus Rapid Transit (similar to HART’s MetroRapid, but with less stops) which first opened up in late 2015 with the Green Line (Route 102). The Blue Line followed in late 2016, then the Red Line in late 2019. The final currently planned corridor – the Orange Line (route number is not known at this time), is slated to open in late 2020.
2019 unfortunately brought upon several incidents across the nation by which transit agency employees were physically assaulted. In the Tampa area alone, one HART bus operator was stabbed & killed while on the job, while another – several months later – was also stabbed, but survived. These such incidents have echoed numerous calls from transit operators & their respective unions to force upon critical changes to their respective transit agencies – such as the installation of plexiglass shields within the operator’s area on board transit buses. These incidents also spurred HART, PSTA, & several other agencies to inform customers about the importance of using their transit systems while exercising due respect to each other & agency staff.
Every year for the past few years now, PSTA has partnered with the St. Pete Pride organization as their official public transportation partner – providing special shuttle service to & from the St. Pete Pride Parade, & even having a specially wrapped bus roll down the parade route! It’s always great to see public transit agencies take part in such great events – especially those that support our wide & diverse communities.
Earlier this year, Tampa International Airport introduced its All Access program, which allows non-ticketed patrons to experience the revamped lineup of shops & eateries at the airside concourses. The airport has been undergoing a massive transformation over the past decade, but especially during the course of the past five years, & what better way to allow everyone to experience the full array of what the airport now has to offer than to provide this wonderful program! I’ve been able to execute two such trips to the airport just to have lunch there (my first visit was to Airside C in July, followed by Airside E in December). To learn more about All Access & to book a Saturday reservation, please visit the airport’s website.
Speaking of revamps, Walt Disney World in Orlando has been undergoing its own transportation revamp – from introducing new buses (pictured above), to overhauling the appearance of their monorail trains, to opening a new gondola system (the Skyliner). These changes will make it easier & more appealing for park guests to get around the various on-site properties. Additionally, there’s been a lot of speculation that the current aging fleet of monorail trains will be replaced in 2020. Let’s see if that holds true…
And jumping off from Disney now, one change that occurred sometime back in 2017 was Walt Disney World not renewing its contract with TranStar, one of the many charter bus companies that have done business in the metro Orlando region. While it is likely that the loss of the contract heavily contributed to the company’s demise, it also opened the door to HART being able to acquire a few of their 2014-series buses for use in their system. So far, five out of six 40′ Gillig low floor diesel buses have gone into revenue service.
One last thing to note that involves Disney – there’s been a lot of developments regarding the semi-high speed intercity rail line that is gradually materializing here in Florida. Brightline – which is now known as Virgin Rail USA since Virgin head honco Sir Richard Branson announced back in late 2018 that the company would have a large stake in the rail line’s future – is gradually making its way to Orlando International Airport. Stops are already in operation in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, & West Palm Beach – with additional stops planned in South Florida, as well as along the WPB to Orlando leg.
During the course of 2019, it was announced that Tampa could see an extension sooner than later. However, nothing concrete has come out of this, other than the revelation that state interests in previously planned toll lane projects are conflicting with any possibility of an extension towards Tampa. What is concrete though is that Virgin is seriously discussing with Disney in regards to a stop on or near their property to get guests arriving in from Miami an additional option to get to the park. In my personal opinion, I think the Disney stop will most certainly happen, while any segment between Disney & Tampa will be pushed back in favor of bringing trains to Jacksonville & eventually Atlanta, GA & Charlotte, NC. Virgin has also taken over the former XpressWest project that will link Las Vegas to Los Angeles by 2030.
In another example of public transit making a difference in our diverse communities, PSTA partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay to deploy a mobile food pantry at the agency’s facility in northern St. Pete. Since many of PSTA’s riders live at or below the poverty line, having access to food pantries often mean the difference between having a meal during the day & not. For the first event in July, riders lined up as early as 6am to get one complimentary box of food – which includes fresh bread, fruits, & veggies. The second event in December was equally a success, & there are plans for another in around March or April of 2020 as a result.
While on the subject of partnerships, PSTA partnered with Greyhound earlier this fall to allow them to use one of their transfer hubs to board & de-board buses. The facility chosen was the Pinellas Park Transit Center, which serves PSTA routes 11, 34, 52, 52LX, 74, & 75. The facility also serves as a Direct Connect stop for participating taxis & ride share companies to fill in the first mile, last mile gap between a customer’s origin & destination points.
In addition to being able to use the facility to load & unload customers, Greyhound is also able to use one of the two customer service windows to serve its customers. Greyhound began staffing the window in December & I’ve seen it busy during the morning just prior to the first couple of AM buses pulling in. Such partnerships allow Greyhound to trim down its inventory of aging facilities that it no longer sees fit to operate, while providing opportunities for its customers to easily interconnect with localized transit options to get them to their final destination.
My second out-of-town trip was by far THE highlight of 2019, being able to visit the San Francisco Bay Area & experience their wide array of transit services! I was able to utilize the BART rail network, as well as the Caltrain Commuter Rail line, the MUNI bus & rail systems, & the AC Transit & SamTrans bus systems. Additionally, I photographed buses in a few other jurisdictions, including Sausalito & San Jose.
Of course, my visit wasn’t entirely about transit. I was also able to spend time with my transit enthusiast friends, as well as family that resided throughout the NorCal region. In the midst of it all, I was reminded of the impact of the devastating wildfires that have been plaguing parts of the state during the past few years. In fact, a few friends & relatives have been directly impacted by the sporadic power shutoffs that were enacted to supposedly help prevent fires from starting due to debris coming in contact with live power lines during high wind events.
Throughout 2019, I was able to take several leisurely adventures along the HART & PSTA systems – from the gulf coast beaches to the Shoppes of Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel, being able to use transit to get to a variety of destinations allows me to cut down on my car dependence & experience places that I would otherwise miss during a car drive. I think my most memorable leisurely bus ride was taking the Suncoast Beach Trolley to visit my friend & his family in Reddington Beach in November (Black Friday). I really loved that!
Last, but certainly not least, was my trip to Orlando for a family event, followed by spending the remainder of the weekend in Daytona Beach & surrounding areas. This third & final out-of-town trip for 2019 actually marked the fourth time that I made a stop to Daytona to experience the Votran bus system (my previous visits involving the Votran system comprised of two visits in 2015, followed by a visit in 2017), & marked by seventh stop to the area overall (my first visit was with family in 1995. To my knowledge, Votran didn’t even run late night service Monday through Saturday during that time).
What will 2020 bring?
It’s hard to say at the moment what 2020 will bring. One thing is for sure though, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on whether the All for Transportation measure is valid will no doubt determine where public transit in Hillsborough County will go. There’s also a ton of unknowns regarding the Brightline/Virgin rail line that is being expanded into Orlando. We should both matters further unfold during the first quarter of 2020, & once the determinations are made, I will certainly do my best to break down what’s next for the Tampa Bay region & beyond.
Moving away from this uncertainty though, I do have several large plans for 2020 – including the possibility of another out-of-town trip. I’m not going to divulge any details at this time – & for good reason. However, wherever I do embark on next, it’s definitely going to involve riding a train.
In conclusion, 2019 was a pretty good year for me, even though it wasn’t necessarily a great year for transit in the Tampa Bay region. There’s still a lot to accomplish & we shall see where everything goes from here. Until next time, have a safe & prosperous 2020!
Ready for takeoff!
In this fifth episode of Journeys Afar, I will continue my adventure out to the San Francisco Bay Area. For both my originating & return journeys, I opted for flights that would take me to the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX area. I first had the opportunity to traverse DFW Airport back in 2002 & 2003, & during both times there was a lot of construction going on. What is known today as Skylink, was still under construction at the time, & Terminal D was also being built. So thus, I wanted to get a glimpse of what the airport looks like now. I do regret not allotting myself a bit more extra time on my return trip to spend at the airport because otherwise, I would have had time to get photography of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail & Trinity Metro TEXRail (commuter rail) platforms.
I’ll begin this post briefly discussing my departure from TPA Airport, followed by my layover observations at DFW Airport. Later, I’ll go into my arrival at SFO Airport & end with my journey into the heart of the city of San Francisco.
Boarding call for my first flight – American Airlines # 1351 – began at about 11:10am, with the plane (a Boeing 737-800) pushing back from Gate 78 on time at 11:42am. The overall boarding process went without any major issues & I was able to sit comfortably in my window seat (I love window seats on the plane by the way) during the entire flight. I will point out however that the blue bag that I mentioned at the very end of Part 1, I wound up checking that in at the gate counter. The reason was due to it being a full flight & there was no more overhead bin space to fit the bag in. Therefore, I carried my other backpack with me – which was compact enough to fit under the seat in front of me.
For those of you who wish to watch, here’s video footage of my departure from Tampa.
My flight arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport at 1:25pm Central Time (pretty much on-time). However, I received an alert through the American Airlines smartphone app that my connecting flight to San Francisco (# 2083) was delayed by 30 minutes (the originally scheduled departure time was 2:50pm CT, but it was pushed back to 3:20pm CT). This delay was due to the plane originating from another city before flying into Phoenix, AZ & getting delayed there. While this delay theoretically bought me a bit more time to explore parts of DFW Airport, I still needed to make sure that I arrived at my connecting gate on time.
Here’s the footage of my arrival in Dallas-Fort Worth.
As I mentioned earlier, a lot had changed at DFW Airport since my last pass-through in 2003 – namely the opening of the Skylink automated people mover system. Being that I had some extra time to spend before I needed to be at my connecting gate, I decided that I would go ahead and catch a quick round trip between Terminal C & Terminal A – the former by which both my arriving flight & departing flight were located at.
One of the first things I noticed when I exited the gate area was that there was a 7-11 convenience store in Terminal C. For a moment, you would not think that a convenience store chain would open a store inside a bustling airport – but believe it or not – the need for such a store is there. In fact, the chain recently opened a location inside the Westfield Brandon Mall in Brandon, FL, so seeing this location at DFW Airport doesn’t feel weird at all.
So you’re probably wondering if I have any past photos of DFW Airport from my previous pass-throughs. Unfortunately, I don’t – as my time spent there was with family & I didn’t have a camera on me to snap photos with. That’s okay though, because I took the opportunity to get new photos & should I pass through this airport again in the future, I’ll have those to help expand my overall collection.
After taking a moment to glance at the 7-11, I immediately proceeded to locate Gate C15, where my connecting flight to San Francisco would board later. It didn’t take me too long to find it, so once I did, it was time to head upstairs to the Skylink station to take a quick ride to Terminal A & back.
All of the terminals (except Terminal D) are “C” shaped, with Terminal D being more of a “K” shape. The on-site Grand Hyatt hotel is located at Terminal D – which serves as the airport’s international terminal. The Skylink system connects all five terminals together so that passengers aren’t having to exit & then re-enter security (especially in the case of Terminal E, which isn’t connected to the others by a sky bridge). The network utilizes a fleet of Bombardier Innovia 300 automated people mover (APM) trains that comprise of paired sets (2 cars per train).
Knowing that I had only a limited amount of time before I needed to grab a quick bite to eat, then proceed back to Gate C15, I made my trek to Terminal A very short. The good thing is that trains come around in both directions pretty frequently (roughly every 2 to 3 minutes during the day), which is comparable to TPA Airport’s SkyConnect, as well as the Main Terminal to Airside shuttles.
While DFW Airport has a lot of different dining options, knowing time was limited before boarding call began at 2:50pm (CT), I settled on getting a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal at McDonalds at Terminal C, which was not too far from Gate C15. Once I got my food, I went back to the gate area & consumed my food before boarding began.
Once I was finished with my lunch, I had a brief opportunity to go onto the 3rd-party TransSee website, which allows you to track transit vehicles across a number of US & Canadian transit agencies, & see which buses were running on the Trinity Metro (Fort Worth) DASH circulator – which debuted a few months ago, as well as the midday/PM Molly Trolley, which is another circulator. Both routes connect to specific areas within or near Downtown Fort Worth & offer frequent departures – with the DASH beginning service during the 9am (CT) hour & the Molly starting up around lunch time. Both services operate during the PM & early evening hours, with the DASH running extended night service on weekends. The mainline difference between the DASH & the Molly is that the Molly uses 29′ 2015 Gillig Low Floor replica trolleys, while the DASH is specifically designed to use battery electric buses. The DASH therefore uses 35′ 2019 New Flyer Xcelsior battery electric vehicles (the XE35).
While DART has real-time tracking capabilities, their interface currently does not display vehicle fleet numbers, so there was no point in me doing anything on that end.
With boarding call commencing at 2:50pm (CT), it was once again time for me to prepare to leave. With the ongoing delay, it was projected that I would arrive in San Francisco at about 5:00pm (PT) as opposed to the original scheduled time of 4:30pm (PT). At that point however, I would be happy if I was able to catch my BART connection & still get to downtown San Francisco on time. Knowing that trains depart the SFO Airport station every 15 minutes via the Yellow Line, I knew that there was a possibility of me missing the departures at 4:41pm & 4:58pm respectively, thus the 5:15pm trip would be my “fallback” trip to be able to arrive in downtown on time.
Now, you’re probably wondering, why am I concerned about arriving in downtown San Francisco at a specific time? Well, only because I previously arranged a dinner meetup with both Anthony N. – friend & fellow transit enthusiast/advocate, as well as one of my cousins who resides in the Bay Area. I wanted to make sure that I was able to arrive at the San Francisco Ferry Building for dinner no later than 7:00pm (PT).
Here’s the footage of my departure from Dallas-Fort Worth.
Here’s the footage of my arrival in San Francisco.
My flight touched down at San Francisco International Airport at about 4:55pm Pacific Time. As soon as I got off the plane, I proceeded to the baggage claim in Terminal 2, where Anthony was already waiting for me. It took me only a few minutes to walk from the gate area to the baggage claim, but like all flights – it takes a while for the bags to come off the plane and onto the baggage carousel, so this was no different.
Once I arrived at the baggage claim, I greeted Anthony & waited for the baggage carousel to begin operation. Once I was able to claim my checked baggage, we immediately proceeded to the in-house BART station. Like Dallas & Tampa, SFO Airport also has an automated people mover system, which is called the SkyTrain. The SkyTrain connects all three domestic terminals, the international terminal, the rental car center, the two parking garages for the international terminal & the in-house BART station that is located in parking garage G (international terminal parking). Because time was of the essence however, we opted just to walk through Terminal 3 to the BART station, instead of waiting for the AirTrain.
While walking through Terminal 3, I couldn’t help but notice how kinda dated parts of the ticketing area looked, even though the terminal went through a major overhaul almost a decade before. Despite this, both Terminals 2 & 3 looked pretty impressive overall. I didn’t have the chance to explore the other terminals due to the lack of time, nor did I take too many photos within the complex.
As we made our way through the passageway connecting Terminal 3 & the BART station, I was kinda surprised how lightly used it was. I’m sure it sees a lot more people during certain times of the year, but that day it was nearly empty!
Upon arrival at the SFO Airport BART station, the time read 5:35pm (PT), which meant the train that was due to depart for downtown San Francisco, & then terminating in Pittsburg, at 5:41pm (PT) was due to arrive soon. Despite being so pressed for time in order to make it to this trip, everything was going smoothly. Because Anthony gave me his spare Clipper Card, which is the regional tap-&-go fare payment system – & the only method of fare payment accepted for BART, I did’t have to worry about purchasing a new card, which in-turn saved me the minutes that could have otherwise cost us this departure.
At about 5:37pm, a 9-car “oldie” railcar pulled into Track 3 of the station. These railcars comprise of the original individual cars that were manufactured during the 1970s, when the BART system first opened, as well as cars that were manufactured during the late 1980s & mid 1990s. The original trainsets are known as the “A” & “B” cars, with the “A” cars featuring sloped cab ends, while cars manufactured in the 80s & 90s are known as the “C” cars.
The “A” & “B” cars were both manufactured by Rhor Industries, which was later absorbed into what is today United Technologies Corp. The “C” cars meanwhile were done in two sets by two different manufacturers. The “C1” batch was manufactured by globally renowned railway vehicle manufacturer Alstom, while the “C2” batch was built by Morrison–Knudsen, which did a lot of building & rebuilding work for the New York City subway system fleet during the 80s & 90s.
While I was hoping to catch one of the new next generation Bombardier trains to downtown San Francisco, the “B” car we boarded had to do, because staying behind for a new train would cause us to be late for dinner. Because of this, I will save discussing further about the next generation trains for a future episode.
Here’s a glimpse into my ride along the BART Yellow Line.
As the train made its way through South San Francisco, everything was going pretty well. Our train was not at all crowded for the time being, but Anthony informed me that because it was still the height of rush hour, that the train would begin to crowd up once we got to the Daly City station – which was the terminating points for the Green & Blue Lines.
And Anthony was right! Once the train arrived at the Daly City station, tons of customers began to board. It was the same thing as we traveled up the corridor closer to downtown. It would not be too long before it was standing room only on board the train.
At about the point by which the train pulled into the Glen Park station, the train’s operator announced that we’d be experiencing a delay due to a disabled train at the Embarcadero station. This was not a good sign – as we might not make it to downtown by 6:40pm (PT). I quickly texted my cousin to inform him that we’d be running a bit behind due to the delay – & did so before I lost signal in the tunnel.
This brings up the mainline downside of BART. While it was originally conceived to connect multiple regions throughout the Bay Area, it relies too heavily on a single trunk line with only 2 tracks – especially through San Francisco. So thus, when delays occur due to a disabled train or other incident, the delays quickly spread to the entire network with no other metro style rail options available. At least in New York, if one set of lines went down (let’s say the 1/2/3 trunk line at 42nd St), you’d at least have an opportunity in most cases to shift over to the A/C/E or N/Q/R/W trunks.
From Glen Park to about 24th St/Mission, it was stop-go traffic, as crews were working diligently to get the disabled train pulled from service. In case the situation was not resolved in time, Anthony was ready to execute his backup plan to have us exit at the Civic Center station & head upstairs to take a MUNI Metro (light rail) train to Embarcadero.
Once we passed 24th St/Mission, the train was completely stopped & held in place for about a good 5 minutes before the conductor came back on the intercom to give us an update. It was going to be just a bit longer for the disabled train to be moved out of service & service patterns to be restored. The conductor continued to give us updates roughly every 3 to 4 minutes until the situation had cleared & we’d be moving again. It was about 6:20pm when our train began to resume normal movement & despite the delay, we’d be able to make it to the Embarcadero station without executing the backup plan.
After exiting the Embarcadero station, I notified my cousin that we had arrived in downtown & were heading to the Ferry Building. It turned out that he was running a bit behind schedule as well & would meet us at the building. For the moment being, Anthony & I needed to walk a few blocks up Market St to get to the building. As we were making our way there, we spotted one of the MUNI (San Francisco Municipal Railway) hybrid electric-diesel buses, # 8893, parked on the side, ready to head onto its next run. Shortly thereafter, electric trolleybus # 5781 passed by. Both buses are New Flyer Xcelsior models – the XDE40 & XT40 respectively. The former fleet range from 2013 to the present, while the trolleybuses range from 2014 onward to replace the aging Electric Transit (Skoda) & New Flyer models that had been on the road since the late 90s.
Once Anthony & I arrived at the Ferry Building, we went inside to take a brief look around, as well as walk up to the waterfront. Inside the main corridor of the building, I noticed a classic split-flap display showing the various ferry departures. These types of signs are commonplace in many public transport facilities worldwide, though some have been recently replaced by LED boards or LCD TV screens. The split-flap displays inside the main hall of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in fact, were recently replaced with LCD panels.
After strolling for about 4 minutes, we went over to one of the in-house restaurants – Gott’s Roadside. Anthony specifically recommended Gott’s for its delicious burgers & shakes, & I simply could not resist! In addition, my cousin had dined there before as well, so it was a win-win for all of us!
After spending about an hour conversing with Anthony & my cousin, as well as consuming our dinner dishes, it was time for us to part ways. It was getting close to 8:00pm (PT) & I needed to make sure that I didn’t miss the check-in window at my hotel, which that window closed at 9:00pm (PT). Since I still had my bags with me & no longer felt like hopping on a transit route to the hotel I was staying at, I decided to hail an Uber. Now, I’ve used Uber several times as part of the Direct Connect partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but this would be the first time I would use the app outside of Pinellas County.
Once I summoned my Uber ride, it took about 10 minutes for the driver to arrive at my location. The ride itself took about 7 minutes & the driver was very friendly. Upon arrival at my destination, I quickly checked into the hotel & proceeded upstairs to my room on the 2nd floor.
The overall atmosphere of Hotel North Beach was reminiscent of my stay at the Morningside Inn in New York City back in 2017. Both establishments are housed in older buildings with separate common area bathrooms that can be utilized by any of the hotel guests.
By comparison, the lobby area of Hotel North Beach was much more spacious than Morningside, but in terms of the “budget” room that I had at both establishments, the features were nearly the same (small closet, dresser, ambient lighting). Morningside had LCD flat screen TVs in every room, where North Beach did not (North Beach had traditional mid 2000s tube TVs). My room at North Beach also had an in-room sink & desk whereas my room at Morningside did not.
The nice thing about Hotel North Beach was that it was right next door to a donut shop & bakery, so I wouldn’t have to go too far for breakfast the next morning – especially being that I would be transit fanning for the entire day with Anthony & some of his friends. The hotel is also situated nearby several bus lines, so it was really easy to get to & from the hotel via transit.
It’s the holidays!
It’s almost that time again – time to gather with family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s. As with many holidays, many transit agencies operate reduced schedules on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, with some smaller transit agencies not operating at all.
Note: A generalized overview has been provided for the initial post, as opposed to specific transit agency listings. Specific transit agency listings will be added into this post beginning on Saturday, 12/14/2019.
Most transit agencies will operate normal weekday-level service on Christmas Eve. However, some agencies may have announced exceptions – such as early end of service. Please check with your respective transit agency for the latest information.
Most transit agencies will either operate on a Sunday-level schedule or not operate at all on Christmas Day. Some agencies will operate special holiday schedules. Please check with your respective transit agency for the latest information.
Most transit agencies will operate normal weekday-level service on Christmas Eve. To accommodate NYE festivities, some agencies will operate modified/extended services. Other agencies may opt to end service early. Please visit the respective agency’s website for schedules.
Most transit agencies will either operate on a Sunday-level schedule or not operate at all on New Year’s Day. Some agencies will operate special holiday schedules. Please check with your respective transit agency for the latest information.
Family, Shopping, and Attractions
Thanksgiving is almost here, meaning that you can spend some quality time with family and enjoy a hearty meal. It also means that the shopping hubbub that Black Friday often brings to our various retail establishments. And on top of that, the Thanksgiving weekend is often jammed packed full of specials and savings at local attractions.
But what does this all mean for you, the transit rider? It means that you’ll need to plan accordingly to get from A to B, because many transit agencies will operate limited to no service on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 28, 2018. Thus, you’ll want to pay close attention to the listing below to see if your area’s transit agency will be operating that day.
This year, I’ve been able to gather information on a wider array o transit agencies within the US. Please keep in mind that this list is NOT INCLUSIVE of all transit agencies within the US, so if you do not see your respective agency here, please contact them directly.
Off to the wild blue yonder again…
In this third episode of Journeys Afar, I will begin showcasing my recent trip to the west coast – San Francisco, CA to be exact! While I didn’t think that this particular trip would happen so soon, I’m glad that I was able to embark on it when I did – as it was almost 20 years ago that I made my last visit to this part of The Golden State.
Like my 2017 New York City excursion, I aimed to utilize as much public transportation avenues as possible – including during my departure from & arrival back to Tampa. While I originally planned on using the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) network to connect to Tampa International Airport the day of my departure from Tampa, I needed to tend to some tasks in Tampa beforehand, so I wound up departing from my family’s residence there instead of my residence in St. Pete.
On the flip side, it was a good thing to begin my journey in Tampa because I was able to follow a very similar path to TPA Airport as I had done back in 2017 when I visited NYC. Thus, I’ll be able to do a comparison of my bus rides on board the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) network back then versus this time around. For those of you who aren’t aware, HART underwent a massive route optimization project in late 2017 called Mission MAX & it dramatically changed how many of HART’s routes operate today.
For my HART bus journey, I made sure to have exact change available for a $4.00 1-Day HARTride pass the day prior to. I chose to postpone purchasing any Flamingo Fares products on their app until I returned because I would otherwise lose out on a week of usage. However, once the full Flamingo Fares tap-&-go card program rolls out (hopefully next year), you’ll have the option of purchasing a reloadable card so that you don’t have to worry about wasting a transit pass if you happen to go out of town.
Now, like my NYC trip, I made sure to select my flights very carefully so that I could utilize transit to get to & from the airport without risking missing the check-in window if my buses fell behind. Additionally, because Mission MAX caused some less busy segments to be separated off their busier counterparts, I was no longer able to leave for the airport as early in the morning as I would have liked. One example of the changes made during the Mission MAX route optimization project is described in next section.
Before I move on however, I want to point out that unlike my NYC trip, I did carry a bit more baggage – so I already had in mind that because of the amount of clothing that I would need to bring, that I will need to use my rolling suitcase. That suitcase would then need to be checked-in at the airport. As I will describe later though, there is a convenient option in many cases that can allow you to check-in quickly & save you some time if you’re coming off the bus.
South Tampa bus service was significantly changed due to Mission MAX. Route 4, which had limited ridership, was completely eliminated, while lesser used segments of the 19 & 36 south of Britton Plaza were split off onto other routes. The 17 designation, which was once used for a north-south local route between MacDill Air Force Base & the old Tampa Bay Center Mall via MacDill Ave during the 90s, was reused for the former 19 segment that served Manhattan Ave between Port Tampa City & Britton Plaza. The WestShore Blvd branch of the 19, meanwhile, was also eliminated due to limited ridership. The segment of the 36 south of Britton was integrated into the cross-county 360 Limted Express route that runs between MacDill & the JC Handly Park-N-Ride complex in Bloomingdale.
While HART kept the overall span of service for Route 19 the same (with exception to the adjustment of early morning & early evening trips, the elimination of trips that ran through 12-midnight, & the addition of an earlier morning trip on weekends), the 17’s service span is from 6:00am until 10:00pm, with buses running hourly on all service days. This meant that the earliest bus I could take from the Port Tampa City area would leave at about 6:25am. Because of some final tasks that I needed to take care of prior to my departure, I opted to take the 7:25am departure, which arrived at Britton Plaza on time at 7:46am. Traffic on Manhattan Ave & Euclid Ave was fairly light, which contributed to an on-time arrival.
Even though I had about 15 minutes before my Route 36 bus arrived, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t venture off to Publix & then risk missing my connection, so I decided to stay put at the on-site bus shelter. During my wait, I encountered one of the HART Flex cutaway vans & several other HART buses that were running on the 19 or 360LX. I also spotted one of the PSTA buses that was assigned to the 100X. It’s been quite a while since PSTA retired its 2003-series MCI coaches that were originally used for the 100X & the 300X. Even though no replacements were ever purchased, the buses on the 300X have been modified to include on-board luggage racks – similar to the ones used on board airport-bound buses in NYC.
One of the fleet changes that I haven’t quite discussed in detail when it comes to the HART network is the small fleet of six 2014-series 40′ Gillig Low Floor diesel buses. These buses were acquired in mid 2018 from what used to be TranStar out of Orlando, FL.
TranStar did a lot of charter bus business throughout Central Florida, but probably its biggest contract was with Walt Disney World – where they operated cast member shuttles throughout the parks. I learned in late 2017 that TranStar lost the opportunity to continue its contract when Disney decided to operate the shuttles through another avenue. TranStar declined & went out of business shortly thereafter, possibly due in part to the lost business. I’m sure the company racked up a lot of debt as well by which it could not get rid of.
The 2014 diesel buses are similar to those of HART’s former 2004 diesels in the sense that they do not posses “frameless” windows & use similar seating. While these buses did have to have some added TLC upon their arrival – #’s 1402 through 1405 have run pretty well. #1406 was recently sidelined due to a blown transmission & #1401 has yet to enter revenue service.
Despite a slightly late departure (scheduled time was 8:00am, but the operator pulled up to the platform at 8:03am), the bus arrived at the intersection of Dale Mabry Hwy @ Kennedy Blvd on time (at 8:14am). Once again though, traffic was relatively light so that contributed to an on-time arrival.
In regards to Mission MAX, as I mentioned earlier, the 360LX took over the portion of the 36 that ran south of Britton Plaza. This meant that the Dale Mabry Hwy corridor south of the plaza suffered a major reduction in the span of service. Prior to the reshuffling, the first outbound 36 trip to Carrollwood from MacDill AFB was 5:30am, with the first bus to MacDill leaving Britton as early as about 5:45am at one time.
Now, the first 360LX round trip leaves Britton Plaza for MacDill at 6:55am, arriving at the Kingfisher St Burger King at 7:30am, then arriving at Britton at 7:45am to head to Brandon/Bloomingdale. Also, the 360 operates hourly all week (whereas the 36 runs every 30 minutes on weekdays with hourly weekend service), with no service north of Britton on Sundays (thus the first Sunday departure to MacDill is at 6:00am).
One last note; with the MAX changes, the 19, 33, & 36 all interline on weekends. Interlined bus & rail routes are common across transit agencies & occur when two or more bus routes are set up in a manner by which assigned buses change into one another’s routes at a common terminating point instead of simply turning around & reversing direction on their respective individual routes. So a bus starting out at the Marion Transit Center as a 19, will become a 36 at Britton Plaza, then will become a 33 at the Fletcher Ave @ Dale Mabry Hwy transfer point. That bus will then terminate at the University Area Transit Center (as the 33 does not serve the Hidden River Park-N-Ride Lot on weekends), then reverse course back to Downtown Tampa via South Tampa & Carrollwood. I generally dislike interlined bus routes because if a bus runs behind schedule on one route, it’s run on all three routes in this case will be detrimentally impacted.
While my bus rides have gone well up until this point, I knew to expect delays due to it still being rush hour. I exited # 1404 & crossed Kennedy Blvd quickly so that I could snap the above photos. Afterwards, I decided to head east, instead of west, to the westbound Route 30 stop on Kennedy Blvd by Sterling St. When I went to NYC, I used the westbound stop by Church St. However, being that the two stops are about the same distance from the intersection of Kennedy & Dale Mabry, I thought to just go ahead & use the Sterling stop so that I would not have to cross Dale Mabry.
While waiting for # 1026, I noticed that the wait time was increasing due to a delay along the route in downtown Tampa. Knowing that my flight was not until 11:42am, with boarding call commencing at 11:12am, I had plenty of time to make it to the airport if the bus broke down or something. Fortunately, it did not.
However, the bus did arrive about 6 minutes late (scheduled arrival was 8:26am, but the actual arrival was 8:32am), so this meant that the airport arrival was about 8:45am, instead of the scheduled 8:38am. Upon arrival, I immediately headed into the Rental Car Center complex & took the elevator to the main level where the counters & SkyConnect station are located.
The overall routing of the 30 has changed quite dramatically over the past two years. With Mission MAX, the segment between Tampa International Airport & the Northwest Transfer Center in Town-N-Country was separated, leaving the 30 to serve between the airport & the Marion Transit Center in Downtown Tampa only. Frequencies were kept at 30 minutes all week, with overall span of service remaining unchanged.
Initially, the cross-county Route 60LX made runs between Brandon & NWTC, taking over Route 30’s northern segment. Due to customer feedback, the 60LX was truncated to the airport & has since only operated between the airport & Brandon (with Sunday service only serving MTC & the airport). The segment between the airport & NWTC is now served by Route 35, which has 30-minute weekday frequency & hourly weekend service. The 60LX by comparison, operates hourly all week.
The second major change to Route 30 was made just this past summer, with buses traversing the WestShore/Cypress Point portion of Cypress St & serving the Social Security Administration office along the State Rd 60 frontage road in both directions. This change was done to help restore some of the service lost when Route 10 was eliminated during MAX.
So when I blogged about my 2017 NYC trip, the TPA Airport Rental Car Center & SkyConnect were not yet finished, so I rode the old Route 30 to the first floor, north (Red) side arrivals drive to get off at the airport terminal stop. Since the opening of both the Rental Car Center & its adjoining public bus hub, along with SkyConnect, a total of 6 bus routes serve TPA Airport – instead of just HART Route 30 as it was before. Today, you can catch HART Routes 30, 32, 35, 60LX, & 275LX to the airport during all days of the week. On weekdays, you can also take PSTA Route 300X to the hub.
So remember at the beginning of the post where I mentioned that I would discuss an easy way to check in your bags at TPA Airport while saving time? Well here it is! Remote Bag Check! You can find this area at the southern end of the main level of the Rental Car Center, tucked between the elevator banks to the bus hub & the rental car counters (facing northward towards the SkyConnect station).
While this service is primarily geared towards those who are renting cars at the airport, it does wonders for public transit users as well. In many cases, you can check into your flight, print your boarding passes, pay any applicable bag fees, print your luggage tags, & bring your bags over to the check-in scales to be weighed & then transported onto a special conveyor that whisks your checked luggage straight to the main terminal, then your respective airside concourse for screening & loading onto the plane – all in one convenient location!
Now…let me caution you, because I did say many cases. First off, only domestic flights can be checked in at this location, & secondly, only selected airlines allow for such remote check-in. So if you fall outside of this category, then you’ll need to take the SkyConnect train to the main terminal & then take the escalators to Level 2 for check-in. However, for those who do fall into this category, Remote Bag Check at the Rental Car Center saves you the time & hassle of going down to Level 2 in the main terminal for check-in. It certainly did for me! Once I was completely checked in & dropped off my rolling suitcase, I grabbed my carry-on bags & immediately proceeded for the SkyConnect train to the main terminal.
In addition to the Rental Car Center & SkyConnect, many other vast improvements have been made at the airport. This included a complete transformation of the Main Terminal’s 3rd level, which houses various shops, eateries, & the shuttle bays for the airside concourses. The airport also underwent a complete revamp of its dining & merchant options, which allows for a nice selection of both local & national brands.
Because I was able to use the Remote Bag Check option at the Rental Car Center, my time traveling through the main terminal was only about 10 minutes. I hopped off the SkyConnect train & proceeded to the escalators to Level 3. From there, I headed immediately to the Airside F shuttle bay – though I did pause for a moment at a nearby seating area to ensure that my boarding passes were secured. During my walk through the main terminal, it was definitely nice to see all of the shops & eateries completed. While I did want to grab something quick to snack on before my flight, I decided that the best option was to get over to Airside F & clear security first before I did so.
Upon arrival at Airside F, I quickly went through security (though I forgot to empty out my plastic water bottle that I brought from home, so the screener flagged me for that) & had a look around. Just after clearing security was a display honoring those in our military who earned the Medal of Honor. This display was sponsored by American Airlines, which happened to be the same airline that I embarked on for this trip (as well as my 2017 NYC trip).
The Medal of Honor display at the Airside F lobby area (after clearing security).
With the revamp of the shops & eateries, I was very delighted to see what had taken the place of what used to occupy parts of the main terminal & the airsides. For instance, the Airside F lobby area following security, used to house an express version of Chili’s & I believe some sort of newsstand. Now the spaces are home to local retailer Bay to Bay & The Cafe by Mise En Place, which is a scaled down version of its mainstay restaurant in Tampa (along the Grand Central area of Kennedy Blvd). What really caught my eye however was the presence of illy Caffe, an Itallian-based cafe serving illy-branded coffees, as well as pastries & sandwiches. I wound up grabbing a Spinach & Feta Cheese sandwich & an orange juice from the cafe before sitting down in the adjacent seating area – both of which were right next to Gate 78 (where I’d be boarding my flight at shortly).
By the time I had gotten my food & sat down, the time was 9:45am. I still had almost an hour & a half before my flight would board, so I took this time to consume my sandwich & juice, as well as surf the web & social media. TPA Airport has provided complimentary WiFi access for everyone who traverses the airport complex & for this, I’m very grateful for. Just a decade ago, if an airport that you were travelling through offered internet access – you likely had to pay for it. That’s the experience I had back in 2009 when I traveled through a couple different US airports while en-route to & from Belgium.
Two final notes before I wrap up this post. First, if you want to learn more about the different things that I’ve mentioned in this post, please feel free to select any of the links below.
Second, I’m going to point out that I purchased a bag online a few months ago that has been a vital part of my travels. The merchant is called ebags & the bag that I wound up purchasing is called the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible. This bag is extremely convenient for airline travel as a carry-on item & has many convenient pockets for clothing, important documents (such as your passport), & even a laptop computer! I’ve used this bag several times during my intercounty bus travels, but this was my first time using it for airline travel. I will tell you right now, that this bag is absolutely awesome! I love it!
Be sure to check out their site routinely, as they do hold some good sales.
While I’ve written several Transit Tourism type posts during the course of the past several years, I never really had a name for the series. But now I do!
Journeys Afar will take you on a documented journey along my out-of-town trips by which I’m able to utilize public transportation. Such posts will include re-launches of my 2013 trip to Norfolk, VA & my 2017 trip to New York City, as well as my more recent visits to Jacksonville, FL & San Francisco, CA.
Be sure to look out for my first Journeys Afar posts in the coming weeks – beginning with a re-launch of my first & second NYC 2017 posts, followed by my first SFO 2019 post.
Honoring those who served
Monday, November 11 is Veterans Day, with Friday, November 10, 2019 being observed by government offices. While most transit agencies that I cover will operate a normal weekday 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!
Normal weekday schedules will be in effect for many transit agencies. Below are the agencies that I cover by which will either have exceptions in service or will not operate at all. If you are unsure of whether your transit agency will operate on Veterans Day, please contact them directly.
Transit agencies that are operating normal weekday schedules will very likely have their customer service centers operating on normal weekday hours as well. For those agencies that are operating with service exceptions, please contact them directly for hours of operation.
Some transit agencies are running special Ride FREE promotions on Veterans Day to all those (active or retired) who have served in the military & supply valid ID when boarding. To see if your transit agency is taking part, please contact them directly.
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.
Beginning Monday, November 4, 2019, through February of 2020, the TECOline Streetcar Line will experience a service interruption due to ballast replacement along the streetcar right of way between Cadrecha Plaza in Ybor City & Cumberland St in the Channelside District. Please see the map below for an overview of how service will operate during this time.
As mentioned above, a bus bridge shuttle will fill in the gap during the times that the streetcar is not running through the affected area. Please keep in mind that the closure is currently set for weekdays only between the above mentioned times. The streetcar will operate the full line on weekends, as well as holidays & during special events. Also keep in mind that the closure schedule is subjected to change at any time. For the latest information, please visit the HART website.
Our November Showcase photo is here! Can you believe we’re almost at the end of 2019? Anyhow, we continue our journey across the US. Where to next you ask?
If you happen to follow my HARTride 2012 page on Facebook, then you already know that I was given the opportunity to travel again – this time, to the San Francisco Bay Area. This was my first trip to the Bay Area in nearly 20 years & I wanted to make sure that I utilized public transit to the greatest extent possible. Be sure to look out for my new blog series Journeys Afar featuring highlights from this trip. I’ll also re-launch & (hopefully complete) my 2017 New York City trip under the new series.
Selecting this month’s Showcase photo was no easy task, as I had about a dozen good transit photos from my trip that I deemed worthy of putting up. So yesterday, I put everything up for a vote on The Global Transit Guidebook Forum Facebook group & asked members which of the photos would they like to see uploaded? While the voting process began as a rather close battle with two other photos, the spread widened during the evening hours just prior to me closing the poll.
Discussing the featured photo & its accompanying system now, the train photographed is San Francisco Municipal Railway (known as MUNI) # 2029, which was paired with # 2006 (showing in the background). These trains are 2016-series Siemens LRVs, with # 2006 coincidentally being the first set to enter revenue service back in November of 2017. The trains are poised to replace aging Breda (which was acquired by Hitachi in 2015) model trainsets through 2028.
Both the Siemens LRVs & the older Breda LRVs operate on MUNI’s Metro system – which is a light rail network that operates like a metro/subway – especially along the central section underneath Market St. In fact, trains utilize the upper level of the double decker track section underneath Market that was originally envisioned for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) service that would have connected to Marin County. Marin was originally supportive of BART but eventually withdrew in the early stages of the network’s planning & construction process, thus plans to connect the rail network to that county died completely.
The MUNI Metro system comprises of 6 lines, all denoted by letter. Each letter is derived from the corridor by which each line travels down after exiting the central section underneath Market St. For instance, the (T) is derived from its running along Third St. A 7th (shuttle) service operates as a supplement to regular services in the central section during peak weekday hours & San Francisco Giants home games. An 8th line is currently under construction & projected to open in 2021.
The broader MUNI multimodal network was originally established in 1912 & is owned & operated by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). The network includes over 50 bus routes, roughly 17 of those being trolleybus lines by which electric buses run on overhead poles connected to overhead wires, 2 heritage streetcar lines that operate on street level, & 3 heritage cable car lines. The agency also operates the Presidio Go shuttles in the Presidio section of San Francisco, as well as SF Paratransit services.
This month’s Showcase photo was courtesy of The Global Transit Guidebook Forum member G.D.W.
If you’d like to see your transit-related photo featured in the future, please select the Contact link below, or join The Global Transit Guidebook Forum Facebook Group.