Our August Showcase photo came in a bit late here on the website due to some personal obligations. However, it’s better late than never that I get this next post up, so…with that, we continue our journey across the US. Where to next you ask?
This month, we travel back to the Tampa Bay area to visit my current home transit system – the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
PSTA was established in 1982, when the St. Petersburg Municipal Transit System & the Central Pinellas Transit Authority merged to create one unified, countywide entity. PSTA currently operates roughly 40 bus routes with roughly 200 transit vehicles. The agency also provides support to the St. Petersburg Downtown Trolley (a.k.a. the “Looper”), the Clearwater Jolley Trolley, & participates in several different mobility partnerships across Pinellas County.
While PSTA does its best to provide efficient service throughout Pinellas, the agency has been dealing with many financial constraints that limits its potential. This problem is echoed by many transit agencies across the nation & is not expected to get much better unless new long-term funding sources are opened.
The photo above is of one of PSTA’s newest buses, # 19102, which is a 2019 35-foot Gillig Low Floor hybrid with the BRT style front. PSTA has gained a total of 20 transit buses & 8 cutaway vans during the past two years that have allowed the agency to rid itself of all of its 2001 & 2002-era buses, as well as a few of the worst performing 2008-series buses.
Next year’s bus order is slated to be rather large as well – with 19 replacement replica trolley buses to replace the aging 2007, 2008, & 2009 models, as well as roughly 15 more buses for the planned Central Ave BRT project. Additionally, there may be a provision – depending on funding – for up to 10 additional regular service buses. So thus, PSTA may very well be able to order a total of 44 buses.
Learn how to ride the train…
In this episode of Transit 101, I will explain how to get from A to B via rail. If you’re riding a passenger rail system for the first time, you may be intimidated. Don’t worry though, it’s not as hard as you may think. However, there’s a few key things you’ll want to follow before heading out to the rail station.
Once you’ve been able to locate your starting train route & where the nearest station for that route & direction are located, you’ll want to leave promptly when it is time to do so in order to allow enough time to catch the train. If you’re having to use a bus route or two to reach your respective rail station, you will need to account for the time needed to get to the origin bus stop, travel time, & any transfers you’ll need to make, as well as weather conditions.
Also be mindful that not all rail systems will allow you to bring your bike with you – especially during peak times, so be sure to check with your respective transit agency as to what their policy is regarding bringing your bike with you on the train. Just like getting to a bus stop, weather conditions & other unforseen circumstances may make your journey more difficult.
Because many rail stations are uniquely constructed, identifying them can sometimes be more of a challenge than locating a bus stop. Even more confusing sometimes, is locating where the exact entrance is. Light rail, streetcar, commuter/suburban rail, intercity rail, & elevated subway/metro stations often have easily identifiable station entrances. With underground subway/metro stations though, some entrances can be obscured within existing buildings.
Once you’ve identified where the station entrance is, be sure to have your fare media ready to validate at the turnstile or validator machine. Virtually all subway/metro systems & some commuter/suburban rail systems have controlled access, where you must pass through traditional turnstiles with valid fare media before you can access the train platform. Other commuter/suburban rail systems, intercity rail systems, & streetcar/light rail systems typically have more of an open access protocol, where you are basically freely able to walk onto the train platform without encountering a turnstile or other gated access. However, you must still have valid fare media with you at all times – as transit agencies typically employ staff members who are required to check that your fare media is indeed valid.
While many rail stations have the option of purchasing fare media from a staffed booth on-site, many also have ticket vending machines where fare media can be purchased. Many transit agencies allow you to purchase transit passes/cards online & are also adopting mobile fare payment apps. Additionally, contactless bank cards are being adopted as an additional avenue to pay transit fares without having to have separate media in hand.
Once you’ve ensured that your valid fare media is ready, it’s time to proceed to the train platform. Just like riding the bus system, riding the train system can be challenging if you don’t know which platform your train will arrive on. Virtually all rail stations have signage of some sort to help lead you in the right direction – including which track & platform you’ll need to proceed to. If you’re traversing through a complex rail station with multiple lines & services, it’s extremely important that you follow the signs to the correct concourse by which your particular rail line will board at.
Once you’ve located the correct platform and track by which your train is set to arrive at, be sure to stand clear of the platform edge, as failing to do so can result in serious injury or even death (that’s not a joke folks). The platform edge is typically indicated by some form of special surface that is brightly colored (either white or yellow). Most subway/metro stations will have some form of limited basic seating available, but you should be courteous & offer such seats to those with disabilities, the elderly, expectant mothers, & young children. If you must stand, please stand a reasonable distance away from the platform edge, while not brushing up against other commuters.
While many light rail, streetcar, commuter, & intercity rail lines are powered either by overhead electrical wiring (also known as catenary wire) – with some commuter & intercity rail lines using diesel-powered trains, many subway/metro systems are powered by what is known as a third rail. This special beam (indicated in the second photo above) carries the electrical current that is needed to power the subway/metro train & can carry deadly results should a person make contact with it in any way while it’s live.
As you’re waiting for the train, you may notice some form of a countdown clock nearby to inform you of when the next train will arrive. Such clocks can come in the form of an LED display or LCD TV screen.
As the train approaches the station, you may hear an automated intercom announcement stating to step away from the platform edge & prepare to board the train. Please be sure to keep a reasonable distance from the train as it arrives, & wait until it has made a complete stop before attempting to board. Additionally, as a courtesy, you want to allow departing customers to exit the train first before attempting to board.
…find a seat & enjoy the ride! Keep in mind that there may be times where you will be standing – especially during peak hours. While many trains have ample seating, please always be mindful of any “Priority Seating” areas that are specifically designated for those with disabilities, the elderly, & expectant mothers. You’ll want want to offer these seats to such individuals if they board the train. Also, many subway/metro systems do not have special provisions – especially on older trains – so please be mindful to offer your seat to these individuals as trains become crowded.
Please be mindful of when your next stop will be. Unlike buses, there are no push buttons or cords to notify the operator as to when you wish to exit. You’ll want to have either a print or digital copy of the rail system map as reference for where to exit. Many newer trains have automated stop announcements & (in many cases as well) digital displays that show what the next stops are. Older trains should have static maps available. These tools will also help aid you in getting off at the right stop.
Handrails; when you’re able to reach onto one, hold tight, cause the train may travel fast.
Commuter/suburban & intercity rail trains are configured differently than subway/metro & light rail/streetcar trains. Many commuter & intercity rail cars have plush seating – with some seats having pull-down trays (like on commercial aircraft) or static tables (such as the ones pictured above). Many such trains also feature bar and/or dining cars available to add onto the customer experience. Again though, there are no special buttons or pull cords to indicate to the operator that you wish to exit, so it’s always helpful to have a map handy so that you know which stop to exit at. Also, be sure to have your valid fare media ready to show to on-board staff members in the event that they commence with a fare inspection (the latter also applies to many light rail/streetcar systems).
When you’ve reached your destination station, be sure to stand close to the nearest exit door so that you can exit as quickly as possible. For your own safety, as well as the safety of others, refrain from pushing your way out of the train, as such can risk injury to yourself & others. On some commuter rail & many intercity rail lines, the boarding/de-boarding process may be a bit more similar to commercial aviation, so please be extra patient in these situations because different rules may apply.
Once off the train, step a reasonable distance away from the platform edge & allow others to exit & board. If you need to make a transfer, please be sure to locate signage that will lead you to the correct concourse, platform, & track. If exiting the station, follow the respective signs to exit the station.
Learn how to ride the bus…
In this episode of Transit 101, I will explain how to get from A to B via bus. If you’re riding a public bus system for the first time, you may be intimidated. Don’t worry though, it’s not as hard as you may think. However, there’s a few key things you’ll want to follow before heading out to the bus stop.
Once you’ve been able to locate your starting bus route & where the nearest bus stop for that route & direction are located, you’ll want to leave promptly when it is time to do so in order to allow enough time to catch the bus. While everyone has a different way of getting to & from their respective bus stops – including by bike, weather conditions & other unforseen circumstances may make your journey more difficult.
For example, let’s say you’re catching Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) Route 52 northbound from the stop at 62nd Ave N & 49th St N in Pinellas Park, FL, but your residence is about a 20 minute walk from the west. You want to catch the bus that is predicted to arrive at about 10:24am. This means you’ll want to be at the respective bus stop no later than about 10:14am. So try to leave your residence no later than 9:45am in this case so that you have enough time to get to your stop. For me, I tend to walk faster than others, but if you’re not a generally fast walker, or have mobility issues, then you’ll want to allow additional time as it pertains to your normal pace of travel.
Locating your respective origin bus stop can sometimes be challenging, because not all stops look the same. Some stops can be distinguished by a simple concrete pad or a sidewalk with a designated bus stop sign (like the one above), while others will have the designated sign – along with a bench or even a covered shelter. It is very important though that you see the designated sign, as in most cases, the bus operator will only serve a bus stop with the designated sign posted at the location.
You sometimes may see stray benches on the side of the road with no bus stop sign to be found. Often times, this is the case because a bus route no longer travels through the area or stops have been moved or consolidated. The benches themselves may not belong to the transit agency, but rather a third party, and thus you should not solely rely on looking for the bench. Always look for the designated bus stop sign first.
Once you’ve found the bus stop sign, carefully look at which route it serves. You always want to make sure that you’re catching the correct route. Once you’ve confirmed that this is your stop, simply wait for the bus to arrive.
Note: If your transit agency has a real-time tracking application, you may have the ability to type in the designated bus stop ID number located on the bus stop sign. This will pinpoint your location in relation to the bus route & vehicle that you wish to catch.
As the bus approaches your stop, you’ll want to step close to the curb, next to the bus stop sign and be prepared to board (please have your fare ready at this point for payment). To ensure that you’re boarding the correct bus, pay close attention to the headsign above the windshield. Many transit agencies have electronic (LED) headsigns that digitally display the route number (typically on the left side of the sign) and the destination. Some smaller agencies may rely on placards to show this information & such may be displayed in the windshield or along the side of the vehicle.
If you see that this is the bus that you want, simply motion to the bus operator (I typically hold my right arm and hand up to signal to the operator) to stop.
Now of course, if the bus that is approaching isn’t the one you need to board, step away from the curb and signal to the bus operator to continue along the route (I typically use my left arm to motion left-to-right repeatedly to indicate to the operate that “you’re not the bus I want to catch, keep going please). See the video below for an example.
During early morning or late evening hours – when it is dark outside, it’s helpful to wear bright clothing, as well as to carry a flash light or use the screen lighting from your cell phone to signal to the operator that you wish to board. If you’re using a flash light, please be careful not to shine the light directly towards the operator.
Once you’ve flagged down the bus that you need, just hop aboard…
…you’ll first want to pay for your fare as instructed. For those using cash to pay for a one-way fare or purchase a day pass (mag-swipe card) on board the bus, simply insert your cash into the designated slots on the farebox. There will be a slot for dollar bills & a separate slot for coins. You’ll want to insert the bills first before inserting coins. If you’re purchasing a day pass, you’ll want to tell the bus operator that you’re doing so before inserting money so that he or she can enter the proper code on the farebox.
If you’re using a tap-and-go card (i.e. Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s STAR Card in Jacksonville, FL, or the Flamingo Fares Card in the Tampa Bay, FL Area), simply proceed to the on-board validator and tap your activated card against it. Once you see the screen acknowledge that your card is valid and the fare was deducted, then you’re good to go! For mobile fare payment apps, simply follow the on screen instructions. Some apps will work with a corresponding on-board validator for validating your fare, while other apps will require that you show the bus operator your activated ticket on screen.
Once you’ve paid your fare, find a seat, and relax. If you brought your bike on board the bus (see Episode 4), you’ll want to sit relatively close to the front of the bus so that you can see your bike on the bike rack. Please keep in mind that the seats closest to the bus operator may be designated as “Priority Seating”, meaning that those using mobility aids (including wheelchairs), the elderly, & expectant mothers will have seating priority. You’ll want to offer these seats to the elderly & expectant mothers. If someone using a mobility aid boards, you may be asked by the bus operator to vacate your seat if you are seated in the “Priority Seating” area.
State & Federal guidelines require that all individuals using mobility devices – such as a wheelchair or an electric scooter chair/power chair – be properly secured via a four-point harness system. This system uses special harnesses to secure the mobility device so that it does not shift while the bus is in motion.
Once you’re properly seated, simply enjoy the ride! Some transit agencies now provide amenities on board buses – such as USB charging ports & complimentary WiFi. If you decide to use your mobile device to listen to music or watch a video, please use headphones, as loud volume can disturb others on board. Below is a listing of other general rules to follow while on board.
Since transit buses cannot stop as fast as most personal vehicles, it is very important to signal to the bus operator when you need to get off. Most transit vehicles will be equipped with a stop request system that involves either pulling a cord or pressing a button to signal to the operator that you need to get off at the next stop.
If you’re able to, please try to exit the bus via the rear door – if there is one. If you need to retrieve your bike from the bike rack, please inform the operator & exit out the front door.
Never try to step in front of the bus unless you’re retrieving your bike, and never cross the street in front of or behind the bus. As much as possible, use designated crosswalks instead. If no crosswalk is available, wait for all traffic to clear before crossing – BUT BEWARE, some municipalities have strict jaywalking laws that by which you’ll be issued a hefty fine by law enforcement if they catch you, so once again…as much as possible, use designated crosswalks.
If exiting at a transit center or other transfer point by which buses pull up right behind another, parallel to the walkway/sidewalk, do not attempt to walk between buses, as the operator might not be able to see you. This is extremely dangerous!
For our July Showcase photo, we continue our journey across the US. Where to next you ask?
This month, we head southeast to Miami, FL, where we have the largest transit system in all of Florida – Miami-Dade Transit. The above photo was taken by our South Florida regional moderator Carlos A.
Miami-Dade Transit was established in 1960 and oversees roughly 90 bus routes, 2 elevated rail lines, a people mover system, & paratransit services. The agency is currently planning to execute a major overhaul of its bus system & wishes to expand upon the current Metrorail elevated rail network. However, like many transit agencies across the globe – funding & political issues act as blockades at times when it comes to realizing the system’s full potential.
One of the biggest problems that has faced M-D DTPW is that its entire fleet has become vastly outdated, with buses & trains consistently breaking down, causing customer frustration throughout the network. Fortunately, this scene is being alleviated with new modern trains & buses, which are entering service throughout the remainder of 2019 & continuing through 2020. Once the fleet has been replenished, there could very well be a major expansion effort that follows.
Our South Florida regional moderator Carlos resides in the Miami area & regularly rides the M-D DTPW system. His photos also grace the Global Transit Guidebook website. Pretty soon, you’ll be seeing a dedicated section to the DTPW network – including a list of bus & rail routes, fleet page, & other information.
Now is the time to prepare for Hurricane Season
It’s that time again…June 1…the official start of Hurricane Season. Last year, we saw Hurricane Florence – which pummeled the Carolinas with catastrophic flooding, as well as Hurricane Michael – which devastated a portion of the Florida Panhandle. Michael was also the first Category 5 storm to strike the continental US since Andrew in 1992. With that said, the time to prepare for the next storm is NOW, as many weather experts predict that it will only be a matter of time before Tampa gets hit head-on with a major hurricane of category 4 or 5 status.
This year is projected to be roughly an average season; with 13 named storms, 5 of those becoming hurricanes, and 2 of those exceeding Category 2 strength, as forecasted by Colorado State University. Other entities have predicted similar forecasts and when combined, there could be anywhere between 10 and 16 named storms, with 4 to 9 of them becoming hurricanes, and 2 to 4 of them reaching or surpassing category 3 status.
Now, I don’t want to give out erroneous information regarding Hurricane preparation. So I’ve left that to the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, where they have a website dedicated to disaster preparation called Ready.Gov. I strongly encourage you to visit the site and make preparations before it is way too late.
For those of you who don’t have transportation and may not have friends/relatives that live in non-evacuation zones or out of town (in other words, this is an absolute LAST RESORT); HART and PSTA operate special services during evacuation periods to allow those who have limited evacuation options to be transported to a county-designated shelter.
Please be mindful that once a storm passes, normal bus service will not immediately resume. Emergency crews will need to first assess damage, clear roads, and restore power. Once it is safe enough to put transit vehicles back on the road, core routes will be gradually restored first. These are bus routes that serve major population centers and normally see 10 to 25-minute weekday frequency. Suburban routes will be gradually restored thereafter.
Should the Tampa Bay region be hit with a hurricane of any magnitude; once storm conditions begin to affect the area…you need to remain off the roads! High winds can send trees, tree limbs, power lines and poles, and other objects out into the roadways. Flooding becomes a major issue – especially along coastal areas. Vehicles are at great risk of being damaged by winds, flying objects, and flood waters. And above all – your safety, and the safety of your loved ones, could be placed at immense risk. It is simply NOT WORTH IT to be out on the roads once storm conditions have begun affecting the area.
All transit services will be suspended as soon as county officials deem that it is too dangerous to continue running buses.
Additionally, the Florida Highway Patrol has full authority to close down any, if not all five major bridge crossings in the Tampa Bay Area; the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Bayside Bridge, the Howard Frankland Bridge, the Gandy Bridge, and the Sunshine Skyway. On the Skyway specifically, whenever high winds (anything above 25mph, sustained) are present, the “High Winds” indicator lights will flash as you approach the bridge. FHP will begin shutting down bridges when sustained winds reach 40mph.
Please check with your county/municipality for detailed information on shelters, picking up sandbags, evacuation maps, and more. I have included links for each of the county government websites in the Tampa Bay Area. NOTE: This list does not include individual municipalities. Some municipalities may have specific information for their own residents regarding sandbag pickup locations, etc.
NOTE: Proper identification/proof of residency (i.e. state-issued driver’s license, utility bills showing address) are required when picking up sandbags.
Be safe out there!
For our June Showcase photo, we continue our journey across the US. Where to next you ask?
This month, we come back to my original home transit system – Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) in Tampa, FL – to showcase one of its newer additions to the fleet. No, it’s not the swanky new 2019 Gilligs, those will be profiled in a later post. Instead, I’m going to focus on the first batch of secondhand buses that HART has had during the past decade – the 2011 and 2012 40-foot suburban style Gilligs from Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT). Before I jump into the buses themselves, let’s take a glance at the HART system as a whole.
HART began back in 1981 as a countywide replacement to privately-operated service Tampa City Lines – which was originally parented by National City Lines. The agency started with roughly 20 or so local routes and a small handful of “Downtowner” express routes that converged into downtown Tampa. Over time, the system gradually expanded to include major portions of Hillsborough County, including Plant City, Temple Terrace, Carrollwood, & Ruskin.
In 2005 & 2017 respectively, the agency underwent significant service overhauls & optimizations to gradually shift away from the old hub-spoke system & towards a more gridded system that focuses on streetside transfers rather than formal hubs. With the possibility that a new funding source will finally be put to good use, the agency is gearing up for a major expansion over the next decade that would include doubling current bus service & possibly create new multimodal avenues throughout the county.
Currently, HART has roughly 200 buses in its fleet – but should have around 450 or so to effectively serve the needs of Hillsborough. As of May, 2019, 70 of those buses are powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), & there are plans to add battery electrics to the fleet in the coming years. In addition to the mainstay fleet, HART has acquired the 8 Gillig buses from Sarasota, as well as 6 Gillig buses from Orlando – marking the second time in 11 years that the agency has purchased secondhand buses.
So how are the ex-SCAT suburbans doing?
On November 13, 2018, #’s 1201X (now 1217) & 1202X (now 1218) were formally transferred to HART. Re-branding of the buses into the HART livery began shortly thereafter, followed by general preparation (installing the HART fareboxes, radios, etc.). 1218’s first day in revenue service with HART was March 5, 2019, with 1217 following suit on March 26, 2019. During the course of May 1 through 3, 2019 – after being delayed due to paperwork issues on SCAT’s end – #’s 1101X through 1106X (to be re-branded as simply 1101 through 1106) were transferred & are currently undergoing re-branding. I predict that these buses will be on the road by the beginning of September, though they could enter revenue service as early as mid August. All of the buses will primarily be assigned to Routes 60LX & 275LX – which serve Tampa International Airport. However, runs on Route 20X have happened & runs on the 360LX are not entirely out of the question either.
For our May Showcase photo, we continue our journey across the US. Where to next you ask?
This month’s destination is Jacksonville, FL, known to many as River City, as the mouth of the St. Johns River is just east of the city center. Jacksonville is among a handful of cities that I know of by which are completely incorporated into the county by which they’re located in. This means that no matter what point you enter Duval County, you also simultaneously enter the Jacksonville city limits. This also means that some services – such as police – operate as a combined countywide entity, rather than having separate municipal and county departments.
In 1988, the residents of Duval passes a gas tax aimed at funding various transportation needs within the county without continuing to rely on tolls. This allowed tolling points along the various tolled bridges and expressways to be eliminated. This, along with other organizational changes over the years allowed the JTA to take on the scope of not just providing public transit services, but also county-level roadway improvements [though some projects involve coordination with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)].
The JTA currently operates the Skyway monorail in Downtown Jacksonville, as well as 30 local bus routes, 7 shuttle bus routes, 4 express bus routes, and the First Coast Flyer BRT Lite network – comprising of 4 lines (one of which is currently under construction). The JTA also operates the St Johns River Ferry, the Clay Community Transportation flex van service, the Gameday Xpress football game shuttle during Jacksonville Jaguars home games, and Paratransit services (Connexion). Additionally, the JTA partners with other entities to provide Connexion Plus (private, same-day, door-to-door service), ReadiRide (on-demand ride-share style service), and the Nassau Express Select van service.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit Jacksonville on several occasions during the past two decades, but more recently, I’ve been able to hop on a few of the JTA local routes, as well as the First Coast Flyer Green, Blue, and Red lines. The Purple Line remains under construction, with a projected opening for some time in 2020. The bus depicted in this month’s photo was on the Blue Line. The JTA’s bus fleet comprises of all Gillig Low Floor models, with some newer buses possessing the BRT Plus styling. While most of the fleet is diesel-powered, there are a few diesel-electric hybrid buses operating. In 2014, JTA began transitioning its fleet to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), with its first batch of buses becoming operational in 2015. There are a total of 94 CNG buses in operation (out of a total of roughly 200 buses), with 43 of them being specifically branded for the FCF system.
Sometimes, you need time to re-focus on more important matters.
As the title implies, I will be taking some time away from publishing new blog posts to re-focus on updating existing content & pages on The Global Transit Guidebook website. This hiatus will begin on Thursday, May 2, 2019 and will end on Friday, June 29, 2019. The only exception to the hiatus will be on Saturday, June 1, 2019, when I will automatically publish my June “Showcase” photo post. Other than that though, there will be no new blog posts during this time.
Today & Friday (April 18, 2019 & April 19, 2019) are set to be very rough, rainy, & windy for much of the southeastern & east coastal US. Today, much of the southeast can expect heavy rain, gusty winds, & the possibility of hail & tornadoes. That threat moves to Florida & the east coast on Friday.
The very nasty weather is all thanks to a passing cold front that has been making its way through the US for the past week. As you get ready for your day, please secure all outdoor furniture & plan your commutes accordingly. Please do not travel unless it is necessary to do so, as there is a possibility of localized flooding, in addition to the above.
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