I promised earlier on that I would not leave out the six other counties that are covered by TBARTA. Well, I am going to commit to that promise by commenting on the increased bus service by Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
For quite a while now, SCAT has only ran service on weekdays and Saturdays, with most service ending in around 6pm. Some routes are so limited that one must wait 2 to 3 hours for a bus. This is especially prominent in rural areas of Sarasota County, where ridership is very low. In addition, SCAT has no express routes, creating a large void in the system.
However, ridership in the urban areas is rising, due to the rising gas prices. As a result, SCAT has recently responded by adding new evening service to some of the agency’s busier routes, and adding new service in areas where it is needed most. One of the new services is a beach trolley that runs from St. Armands, all the way to Anna Maria Island. This new service will be operated via a partnership with Manatee County Transit. The two agencies already cooperatively operate the Route 99 – Manatee/Sarasota County Connector.
In addition, there will be a new limited-express route serving several areas of south Sarasota, marking the first time that SCAT has operated such a route. The only other Bay Area transit agencies that have express routes are Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (2 routes) and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (13 routes).
Here are a few highlights from the SCAT website.
# Sunday service will now be offered on Route 6 (Beneva), operating every 90 minutes from 6:14 a.m.-11:33 p.m. Also, Route 12 (North Lockwood), which previously only had one run on Sunday, will now operate every 90 minutes from 7 a.m. – midnight.
# Route 18 (Longboat Trolley) will operate every 30 minutes Monday-Sunday from 5:30 a.m. to late at night. SCAT is partnering with MCAT to offer the trolley service from downtown Sarasota, to St. Armands Circle and Longboat Key to Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island.
# Route 12 (North Lockwood) will run every 30 minutes Monday-Saturday before 7 p.m., and every 60 minutes after 7 p.m.
# Route 11 (Siesta Key), Route 17 (Trail) and Route 19 (North Port via U.S. 41) will add evening trips.
# The new Route 40 (Webber Limited) will operate 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday from the SCAT Administration Office at 5303 Pinkney Ave., Sarasota, with limited stops on McIntosh Road between Proctor Avenue and Webber Street, and on Webber between McIntosh and Tuttle Avenue. The Route 40 bus also will stop at Westfield Southgate Mall and at SCAT’s Downtown Transfer Station.
# Route 21 (Englewood Loop) will operate Monday-Friday only, from 9:18 a.m. to 3:57 p.m. Saturday service will be discontinued.
# The Route 5 (Osprey) schedule has been completely revised. The Route 5 bus will leave the Downtown Transfer Station earlier to accommodate connections between Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the Sarasota Pavilion Transfer Station.
All of these changes took effect on June 14, 2008.
South Tampa – Routes 4, 19, 36, 85, and 89
First off, Routes 85, 87, 88, and 89 are all failing routes, with only a handful of riders per day. With the rising cost of gas, and the property tax rollback hurting HART’s budget, it makes a lot of sense to eliminate these four routes.
What will happen to the bus system in these areas?
Route 89 is the weekday connector for the South Tampa area. From an archived article that I dug up a few months ago, HART created this route back in 2005 to better serve the South Tampa area, while reducing service along MacDill Ave through Palma Ceia, formerly served by Route 17 (Route 17 was eliminated due to low ridership at some point in 2004 or 2005). Although the 89 connects Britton Plaza to the WestShore area, overall ridership has been very low. I say this based on my own observation, not bland statements from others. Many days that I used the 89, the bus was totally empty. It did not matter if I took the Lois Ave link or the MacDill Ave link, the bus would have little to no passengers. In 2006, HART considered eliminating the Lois segment of the 89 and redirecting the 85 to MacDill Ave as well…the effort failed. Then in 2007, frequency was reduced from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
Route 85 was also created in 2005, as a weekend-only service, connecting WestShore to MacDill Air Force Base via Britton Plaza. Although ridership was not high enough at the time to warrant a weekend extension of Route 36 to the base, ridership on the 85 is also dismally low.
HART is slated to replace the Lois Ave segment of the Route 89 with the current Route 4, the MacDill segment is slated for elimination. The 85 will be cut as well, with weekend service directly between WestShore and Britton Plazas pretty much unknown. Route 36 would then get a weekend extension into MacDill Air Force Base…the final schedule setup is unknown at this time.
Speaking of Route 4, this Downtown/South Tampa route is in a pretty odd pickle in of itself. I assume the Route 4 was among HART’s original routes and has seen a few changes over the years. Originally, the route ran down Dale Mabry (according to old HART press releases), through Palma Ceia and Hyde Park, and ending in Downtown…with 60 minute frequency. I am not sure if the Route 4 had 30 minute frequency at any point of its life. However, with the elimination of Route 17 in 2004 or 2005, the Route 4 was rerouted to MacDill Ave south of Britton Plaza and has not changed since.
The problem with South Tampa bus service is this…Palma Ceia does not need bus service, nor has the largely wealthy neighborhood really warranted the necessary riders for such service. Since Palma Ceia, and Hyde Park for that matter, are wealthier neighborhoods that are in close proximity to Downtown Tampa, many people see that it is better to drive to work, than to use the bus…even with rising gas prices. The Route 19, which has served South Tampa for years, basically serves the same purpose as the Route 4. The only difference is that the 19 serves Tampa General Hospital and the Port Tampa neighborhood. Port Tampa is mainly full of lower income families that cannot afford the sky high gas prices and must resort to using the bus. Recently, HART created late-night service for the 19, allowing these families and hospital workers from TGH and Memorial Hosptial, as well as employees in Hyde Park and Britton Plaza, to get home after 8pm, without sacrificing a lot of money for taxi service.
Palma Ceia is likely the main reason that the Route 17 was eliminated, the Route 4 runs as it is today, and why HART needs to reshuffle its bus system in South Tampa. With very few people using the bus in this wealthy neighborhood, it makes no sense for HART to keep spending its funds and gas on the 85 and 89, as well as the current Route 4.
Routes 87 and 88
Routes 87 and 88 are the two other failing connectors that are slated to be eliminated this year. The 87 serves Southshore and the 88 serves Town-n-Country. Now what I found out a while back was a failed effort by HART to bolster ridership in both areas. At one point, there were two SouthShore connectors and two Town-n-Country connectors. Both were created in order to increase ridership in both areas…and both efforts backfired.
To this day, ridership on the 87 and 88 continue to be dismal. As a result, HART will cut both routes and replace them with HARTflex service. What is HARTflex? HARTflex is basically flexible circulator service that run in select neighborhoods using smaller minibusses. Patrons would have to call ahead to use the service. Originally HARTflex was slated to begin in 2007 in Brandon, Town-n-Country, Carrollwood, Seffner, and Temple Terrace. However, issues such as the property tax rollback have postponed the launch until 2009. But HART is proposing to launch the first phase of this new service in SouthShore, replacing the failing Route 87. The Route 88 HARTflex replacement will likely go into service sometime in 2009.
Increased frequency on Routes 2 and 30
Now this is the good news. Route 2’s midday-weekday frequency would be increased from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. Route 2 is HART’s busiest route, traversing Nebraska Ave, and is slated to become a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) route in 2010, serving downtown and USF. Already, peak hour frequency is 15 minutes and weekend frequency is 30 minutes. Route 2 is as close to the “golden rule” of public transit than any other bus route in Tampa Bay.
The Route 30 serves Downtown Tampa, Kennedy Blvd, WestShore, TIA, and Town-n-Country. Though the Town-n-Country segment does not see a lot of riders, the segment south of TIA is bustling with riders headed into the WestShore area. HART proposes creating 15 minute service between the airport and downtown on weekdays, with 30 minute service on weekends. This increase in frequency would be a catalyst for the proposed second BRT route, that would serve the airport and East Tampa.
There are so many other changes that I would like to comment on, but other than the South Tampa realignment, the other bus routes do not affect me very much.
Since I began using the HART system in the fall of 2006, I have never seen any fare and service change that would be on such a grand scale. Well people, sweeping changes are coming…
According to HART’s website, such changes will include increasing the base fare for regular bus service by 25 cents to offset losses caused by the rising cost of gas. Next, many underused pass programs will be either realigned or eliminated. finally, underperforming routes will be shifted or eliminated, while frequency on busy routes are increased.
Here are the changes…
A few days ago, I noticed that HART’s route 89 connector was utilizing a minibus such as this. I thought at first, is this a joke?
No, it seems to be a permanent change for the route. Why? Gas prices?
Perhaps, why would HART need to continue running a 30ft Gillig bus on this route? Especially that the route sees only a handful of riders per day.
Yes, this stems off from very low ridership on this and several other routes in the HART system.
Specifically for the route 89, the bus travels through two wealthier neighborhoods, which most residents see no need to use the bus. Perhaps a South Tampa connector route such as the 89 is just not the right thing for the agency? Or maybe there is more to this?
If you haven’t rode in a HART bus lately, then you’ll notice some significant changes.
Plan Funds Transit Authority
By RICH SHOPES
The Tampa Tribune
Published: April 15, 2008
TAMPA – The transportation authority responsible for creating a mass transit plan for the Tampa Bay area is so cash poor it can’t hire an executive director.
Known as TBARTA — an acronym for Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority — the authority doesn’t have money to lease office space, pay an administrative assistant or hire even one transportation engineer.
But the funding situation would change dramatically under a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. His legislation would take millions of dollars from rental car surcharges now going to the Department of Transportation and divert the funds to regional transportation authorities such as TBARTA.
The authority represents Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, and offers one of the best chances to unite the region behind a single mass transit plan.
Galvano’s bill, which would take 80 percent of the surcharges and give them to the state’s transportation authorities, could bring $17 million to TBARTA in the first year. In addition, the surcharge could be used to secure $200 million worth of long-term bonds and help the authority qualify for matching federal dollars.
That windfall for TBARTA would come at a price for the Department of Transportation, which would lose millions of dollars earmarked for road projects in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and elsewhere across the region.
Because of that, the legislation has sparked a tug of war between transportation authorities and the DOT, which says the revenue loss would cause delays for vital road projects.
Losing out on the money would leave TBARTA in a difficult spot.
“It may mean that TBARTA languishes,” Galvano said.
The authority straddles two DOT jurisdictions, Districts 7 and 1. District 7 includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties. Of the $17 million in surcharge revenues TBARTA would get, about $15 million would come from those Bay area counties.
Don Skelton, secretary of the DOT’s District 7, said he hasn’t identified which road projects would be delayed but said the loss to the district could climb to $100 million over five years, or 2.3 percent of its $4.3 billion, five-year budget.
“That may seem like a small amount, but when you look at everything we have to do to maintain and operate our systems, bridge maintenance, the projects coming on line … it adds up,” he said.
House Outlook Better Than Senate
So far, the bill’s chances look good in the House. It sailed through two committees and awaits action in another before moving to the floor for a final vote.
In the Senate, the bill’s future is murkier. It hasn’t been taken up by any committees, an ominous sign with the session ending in three weeks.
Transportation agencies across the state are lobbying for the bill. The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, last week implored its 15,000 daily Tri-Rail users to send letters to senators.
Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said passage of the legislation would ensure $42 million to Tri-Rail and halt a possible reduction in service from 50 trains daily to 20.
The Tampa City Council passed a resolution last week backing the bills. A week earlier, the Tampa Bay Partnership sent e-mails to 350 business members to urge them to contact Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee.
“Without long-term funding, you just won’t be successful,” said Ron Pierce, director of the partnership’s government relations and community affairs committee. “Our priority is to come up with a funding source.”
Approved in June by Gov. Charlie Crist, TBARTA was formed not only to create a transportation plan – incorporating roads, trains and buses – but to carry it out.
But Crist vetoed a companion bill that would have paid for an office, executive director, administrative assistant and legal advice. The governor asked local agencies, not the state, to foot those bills.
Agency Tries To Find Cash
TBARTA has scrambled for cash ever since. The region’s five metropolitan planning organizations have pledged $5,000 each and the Tampa Bay Partnership, a local business group, chipped in $50,000.
Some local officials are proposing a compromise about where the rental surcharges should go.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who sits on TBARTA’s board, said the authority could help the DOT and still benefit by drawing down surcharge revenue as needed and returning the rest to the DOT.
In the first year, for example, the authority might use only $1 million of the $17 million.
“I would take a very conservative fiscal approach and use only those funds that we really need,” she said. “This money traditionally goes to the DOT’s work program, which is chronically underfunded, and so we have to be very careful with how we use that money.”
Galvano suggested the surcharges be used differently. The revenue could pay back bondholders, enabling the authority to issue as much as $200 million worth of bonds. Then the money could be cobbled together with a matching federal grant, he said.
TBARTA’s board hasn’t decided how it would use the surcharge fees.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan, a
TBARTA member, said he supports an “as-needed” approach like Iorio’s but said that at some point TBARTA might need to use more of the surcharge revenues for transportation programs.
“For now, I think it would be far easier to sell if we had a five-year phase-in,” he said. “The DOT’s five-year work program wouldn’t be immediately hit.”
Reporter Rich Shopes can be reached at (813) 259-7633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am hoping that TBARTA will get the funds it needs to try to unify Tampa Bay’s mass transit sytem. I am also hoping that the agency will gain much needed support from local governments and the general public within the next several months and years. What I would ultimately like to see from TBARTA is not only a comprehensive mass transit system, which includes rail systems. But also that the numerous bus agencies in the Tampa Bay area will be unified. This includes the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Pasco County Transit Authority (PCPT), The Hernando Express Bus (THEBus), Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT), and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT). Without funding and support, TBARTA will cease to exist in several years and we cannot let this happen. Otherwise we will continue to have a very dysfunctional transit system.
One of the main proposals for the future of west central Florida’s mass transit system is light rail. Though many incarnations have been brought up in the past. They’ve all been shot down due to financial overruns and government bickering. I would like to see within the next 10 to 15 years…at least a LRT line connecting Tampa International Airport to downtown Tampa.
Beyond that point, the LRT system would need to connect with northern and eastern Hillsborough County, as well as points in Pinellas County. This would set the stage for a more regional rail system that would connect Pasco County and points north, as well as Manatee/Sarasota Counties and other points south. Even Orlando could be part of this regional rail system.
But the foundations must be made first. That is, the LRT line between TPA Airport and downtown Tampa. Without this first and crucial link, I believe that it would be very challenging to get any rail lines built in the bay area. In the next few weeks, I will be materializing my transit map, which will show bus and rail lines throughout the multi-county area. Until this time, please feel free to share your transit ideas.
Note: This was the post that started it all! My blog was originally called the Tampa Transit Utopia Blog and focused primarily on Tampa Bay transit matters.
The Tampa Bay region of Florida is in dire need of a good mass transit system. But our government and financial burdens keep getting in the way. Well, here is the place where you can share your ideas about the future of Tampa Bay’s mass transit system. Whether it be a ferry system, light rail, monorail, bus rapid transit, or other motive.
DISCLAIMER: Despite what the name suggests. This discussion includes the following areas/counties OUTSIDE of the city of Tampa, Florida and Hillsborough County, Florida.
I hope to have a few blog posts and a social media presence up soon! Please don’t forget to follow and bookmark!