Category Archives: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

In a climate where sales tax referendums have failed, is “BRT Lite” the answer?

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There’s been a lot of movement in the transit realm again in the Tampa Bay Area, and it’s not necessarily just the discussion with Go Hillsborough. On the Pinellas side, a key transit project that was once a part of Greenlight Pinellas is back in the forefront, and hopes to be able to change people’s minds about the way they use and view public transit.

That project is known as the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Corridor.

Project Overview

The Central Avenue corridor in St. Pete has long been seen as one of the top transit corridors for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and currently has the popular Central Ave Trolley running along it. Some people will ask right off the bat, “why BRT along Central Ave, when you have a trolley already?”. The answer is very simple; the trolley is primarily aimed at tourists, though many residents and other commuters like to use it too (myself included). However, PSTA has been eyeing a faster, limited stop, way to get people from the beaches and into downtown St. Pete…and vice versa. The portion of Central Ave that runs east of 31st St N dwindles down from four  to two lanes, and isn’t able to support optimal bus service without bearing the risk of heavy congestion. On the other hand, 1st Ave N and 1st Ave S between Pasadena Ave S and downtown St. Pete are vital three-lane roads that currently function as one-way streets; 1st Ave N runs westbound and 1st Ave S runs eastbound. It is these two streets that will be used for a portion of the line. From 58th St N and westward, there are three divergent alignments that take shape. Two of them would continue along both of these streets to Pasadena Ave S and split off from there – one traveling down Pasadena Ave S and the Corey Causeway while the other continues along Central Ave over the Treasure Island Causeway. The third divergent alignment heads northward on 58th St N to 5th Ave N and Tyrone Blvd, crossing the Tom Stuart Causeway. You can see a better overview of all three route proposals via a Google Map that I created. I will be posting official maps from PSTA when they become available.

Project Features

Now, I stress that while some people may be looking at this project as possible “True” BRT model – with dedicated lanes, it is very likely going to instead be structured off of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)’s MetroRapid North-South Line, which opened in 2012 and operates in mixed traffic. This method of rapid transport has become known by some as “BRT Lite”, because it integrates elements of “True” BRT, such as stylized stations, bus queue jump lanes, and Transit Signal Priority (or TSP), but keeps buses in normal traffic lanes for much of the route. While this is a downer for transit advocates like myself, who want to see “True” BRT services be implemented sooner than later, the Tampa Bay Region simply does not have the infrastructure available to execute such lines – this will require many vital arteries to be reconstructed. So it’s better in this sense, and also on the cost front, to start out with “BRT Lite”, rather than go all in for a “True” BRT corridor. Upgrades to 1st Ave N and 1st Ave S for instance, can be done later on that would allow for dedicated bus lanes to be constructed.

One thing that we’re likely to see for sure out of this project is more Real-Time bus information integration. If funding allows, we will likely see dynamic Real-Time bus information screens at each station, something that HART was not able to accomplish with the MetroRapid North-South Line due to funding constraints.

Will this be a game-changer for transit in Pinellas?

There is no doubt that with the downfall of Greenlight Pinellas in 2014, that any kind of “BRT Lite” line will change the landscape for PSTA and the way that people commute throughout Pinellas. MetroRapid was already on the books when Moving Hillsborough Forward was launched in 2009 and subsequently failed in 2010. HART then made MetroRapid a top priority, knowing that light rail was out of their reach for the moment. However, PSTA must learn from the shortcomings of MetroRapid and how it isn’t running as efficiently as some would like it to, the latter by which I’ve discussed previously. Choosing the correct alignment will no doubt play a key role to the line’s success, and will definitely be key to determining other “BRT Lite” and Express routes in other areas of the county. Another possible game-changer, is a similarly planned line for State Road 60 between Clearwater Beach and Tampa International Airport, which I’ll discuss in another post, since this route could either turn out to be a “BRT Lite” line, or an ultra express route.

Is “BRT Lite” the answer for transit agencies?

Not really. Though it is a short-term stepping stone so-to-speak when it comes to building a more robust transit system, “BRT Lite” is not a cure-all for situations where “True” BRT or passenger rail could be more viable. However, in a climate where sales tax referendums are apparently fizzling out in Florida as of late, “BRT Lite” can become a win-win between transit supporters and advocates, and also fiscal conservatives who loathe any form of passenger rail.


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MetroRapid stop confusion continues, why HART needs to fix this ASAP?

Several months ago, I published a post that outlined concerns about HART’s MetroRapid system. Among those concerns, was the fact that MetroRapid stops are physically separated from local stops, which created a lot of rider confusion.

Unfortunately, to this day, HART still has not resolved this issue, and riders are still confused. In a hot Florida day, most people want to board a bus…ANY BUS! Some don’t care what bus they get on, as long as it is A BUS. If it is raining and storming outside, people are going to flag down the first bus they see. Unfortunately, instead of HART taking this matter seriously, they simply dismissed rider complains about the issue as an “Invalid Complaint” – See page 7 of HART Operations Division Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) presentation, which was presented to the HART Board during its September 8, 2014 meeting.

I’m very sorry HART, but this matter regarding bus stop confusion between local and MetroRapid needs to be taken very seriously. If people are voicing their dismay about this, they need to be listened to! Not thrown off to the side! Hillsborough County is gearing up for a second attempt at a sales tax referendum to improve county transit, which includes YOUR system, OUR system…I should say, because many of us Hillsborough residents use HART daily. Having to differentiate between a local stop and a MetroRapid stop should not be a responsibility that a transit customer has to take. That should be something that HART is able to resolve rather quickly and efficiently, without having to bust the bank. After all, HART boasted about the “time savings” of MetroRapid over Local Route 2 when the service first rolled out last May. If HART wants to keep the “time  savings” up to par, or even improve the flow of MetroRapid, I strongly suggest that HART look into merging local stops with MetroRapid stops.

Let me ask this, to put things into a different perspective? What about the out of town visitors, who don’t have more than a very basic idea of the HART system? Let’s say that I was coming from a city, where bus stops are able to serve all types of bus service provided by my local transit agency? Stops that can not only be utilized for local and express routes, but also circulator, Flex, shuttle, and even BRT. I know that there are at least several agencies out there that do this. Do you all expect these riders to be left to their own device when a MetroRapid bus passes them by on a local stop because local stops are for local buses only? And MetroRapid stops for MetroRapid buses only? Get it together HART! Seriously! If you all expect Hillsborough’s referendum to be placed onto the 2016 ballot…AND PASS…things like this have to be fixed! And soon, rather than later.

I can imagine that Sharon Calvert and the other transit critics have already taken note of this unresolved issue concerning bus stop confusion. Remember that your board member, Karen Jaroch, has a good relationship with Sharon. I have no doubt in my mind that she must be dismayed at how customer complaints like this just get dismissed for not being valid complaints. Unless HART wants to be the laughing stock of 2016, just as they were in 2010, and watch another referendum crash and burn, because people find out about these issues essentially being thrown into the trash bin, and then feel that Hillsborough doesn’t need an expanded bus system, or light rail, I strongly suggest that HART take another look at the issue regarding bus stop confusion along the MetroRapid corridor, and this time…please take it seriously.

HART staff members, if you are reading this post and have any questions about my concerns, please email me at hartride2012tampa@gmail.com

Thank you.

HARTride 2012

An additional note about the SouthShore Transit Circulator Study

If a sales tax referendum were to pass in Hillsborough County by 2016, we could ultimately see a MetroRapid corridor between Brandon and SouthShore, among other massive improvements by 2040! Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
If a sales tax referendum were to pass in Hillsborough County by 2016, we could ultimately see a MetroRapid corridor between Brandon and SouthShore, among other massive transit improvements by 2040! Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

As Zac wrote out in his post from Monday (3/10), the SouthShore Transit Circulator Study is aimed at improving mobility for residents in the SouthShore area, while maintaining an efficient connection to the rest of Hillsborough County.

I would like to take a few moments to point out one thing that this study encompasses. Whichever proposal outlined in the SouthShore Transit Circulator Study, that is chosen for service would be operated using whatever funds that HART has at its disposal. HART has stressed in this recent TBO.com article that implementation of any changes to the existing SouthShore network will have to wait a few years because a lack of funding does not currently allow HART to purchase very many new buses. In fact, the agency has been having trouble trying to keep pace with just replacing obsolete buses and, has actually been slowly losing buses since 2010 (for example; the 1999 fleet of buses that were retired back in 2011 still have not been replaced due to a lack of funds).

For any substantial improvements to be made to the current SouthShore system, beyond the scope of what the Circulator Study provides, a transit referendum, similar to the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, will have to be passed by Hillsborough County voters. Many will recall the many mistakes that were made with the 2010 Hillsborough referendum, and many county leaders are still reluctant to push forth for a possible 2015 or 2016 ballot measure. If a referendum was passed by 2016, and the added funds started flowing in afterward, HART would be able to add in the buses that it desperately needs to substantially improve services throughout Hillsborough. Whichever of the four proposals that are selected from the ongoing ShouthShore Circulator Study would be able to act as a starting point for further expansion that would be able to occur beyond 2025.

That further expansion, with the passage of a transit referendum, would undoubtedly bring further enhancements along the existing services/routes, as well as those implemented by whichever proposal that is selected from the Circulator Study. Now keep in mind that the study only projects weekday and Saturday ridership. This leads me to believe that Sunday service will not be included in the initial setup. If a transit referendum were to pass on the other hand, Sunday services could be added to the mix, which is something that I feel that the SouthShore area will need sooner than later. For example, Sunday routes could start running with 60-minute headways from 6:30am until 8:30pm, with room for further expansion thereafter if need be. In addition, several more local routes to SouthShore, as well as communities northward (like Riverview, Gibsonton, Brandon, and Valrico) would be introduced.

The passage of a transit referendum could also bring forth a dedicated MetroRapid (BRT) route from SouthShore to Brandon, and better express services to Downtown Tampa and even the USF area. Then somewhere between 2030 and 2035, light rail could be introduced along the SR 674 corridor, as well as portions of the US 41 and US 301 corridors. Light rail would then be able to connect SouthShore residents and visitors to a commuter rail line along I-75. The commuter rail line would be able to quickly shuttle customers from SouthShore to not only Brandon, Tampa, and the USF area, but also Bradenton and Sarasota to the south. All this could happen regardless of what develops with the High Speed Ferry plan.

With that said, regardless of what proposal/alignment is chosen from the SouthShore Circulator Study, HART is going to need the passage of a transit referendum to be able to further enhance existing services, expand its network, and purchase new buses. From what I’ve been hearing recently, if HART doesn’t receive new funds by the time its 2004-series buses reach retirement (which is 2016/2017), they will be faced with a massive dilemma of having to possibly slash services and hike fares in order to further maintain what they have. If a doomsday scenario was put out onto the table, it would possibly mean that late-night and weekend services would all be on the chopping block, and base fares would have to increase from the current level of $2.00 to possibly $2.50 or higher. It doesn’t have to be this way!

In closing, I wanted to make sure that all of our readers understand that while the SouthShore Circulator Study is great for the SouthShore area in terms of revitalizing a faltering neighborhood transit system, it is only a starting point. All of these enhancements and expansions can be done, but only if the funds are available for them. Without a dedicated funding source, like a sales tax, in place, SouthShore transit service will likely not be getting substantially better during the next 10 to 15 years.

Could MetroRapid already be having a fever?

And what I mean by that is, could HART’s new MetroRapid service already be faltering? It’s almost like a person having a high fever, which that in of itself is never fun. One simply cannot focus on things needing to be done when he or she is sick. With a bus route, it simply can’t perform well if its running with vast inefficiencies, like the placement of bus stops, etc. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing largely mixed reviews of HART’s new bus rapid transit system, and we haven’t even been given the first month’s ridership numbers yet! However, these reviews already give a somewhat grim synopsis of what could come if HART does not make key changes to the route soon.

Continue reading Could MetroRapid already be having a fever?

No new funding = Bare-Bones service

As you may have heard; HART and PSTA posted news last week of record ridership during the month of April, which continues to be an amazing trend despite the current state of the economy throughout the Bay Area.

However, I really have to make things clear about the reality of the current transit funding situation, because some people don’t seem to realize that you can’t have expanded transit service without money to fund those services. When I was reading comments on HART and PSTA’s Facebook pages, some people were asking why can’t we get more routes or buses? Again, if there is no funding available, then there is simply no way to get new buses or routes…it’s as simple as that.

Continue reading No new funding = Bare-Bones service

HART MetroRapid – It’s almost here!

Construction of the HART MetroRapid line is nearly finished!

During the past several weeks, HART has been working hard to install shelters at each of the MetroRapid stops, testing out its new, sleek, green and white buses, and making final preparations for the line’s opening (such as landscaping and lighting at the stations).

On Tuesday, May 28, 2013, HART will be opening the line to the public and offer fare-free rides for a two week period to help entice ridership and work out last-minute kinks with the system. Revenue service is slated to begin on Monday, June 10, 2013. The cost to ride the MetroRapid line will be $2.00, which is the same as the local fare. This alone should be able to entice riders to use MetroRapid, because they won’t have to pay a separate higher price (like the express routes) to use the service. Of course, if you purchase a day or month pass, you’re good to go as well!

Continue reading HART MetroRapid – It’s almost here!

Transit Roundup for the week of April 1, 2013

There’s been quite a lot going on this week in respects to public transit. Rather than creating 6 or 7 different posts, I’ve decided to list everything in one single post. Each tidbit of transit news is grouped by geographical region (or Focus Area) that I cover.

Continue reading Transit Roundup for the week of April 1, 2013

Changes coming to HART’s Marion Street Transit Center

Good Monday morning everyone!

I just want to highlight real quick some changes that will be affecting HART’s Marion Street Transit Center in northern Downtown Tampa.

Due to the ongoing construction of HART’s MetroRapid BRT system; several bus routes are having their loading bays reassigned. For instance; shelter M currently serves Route 4 – Palma Ceia/MacDill AFB. Soon, Route 14 will be sharing this shelter with Route 4, since both routes only operate on weekdays and departure times are only once every hour for both routes. Shelter assignments for Route 30 and the In-Town Trolley will also change. MetroRapid shelters will be set up at the northern-most bus loading bays, where PSTA’s express routes 100X and 300X currently stop at.

For a diagram of the revised shelter assignments, click here.

 

Have a great week!

HARTride 2012

Hillsborough County Commission votes to continue transit discussions

I have some wonderful news everyone! For those of you residing in Hillsborough County, Florida, the Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to continue discussions regarding public transit improvements!

The move allows county officials to explore various ways to improve the county’s infrastructure; including enhanced bus service and possibly a light rail line. In recent weeks, there has been immense pressure on county officials to restart talks regarding public transit improvements, especially with Pinellas County gearing up for a 2014 sales tax referendum. Many transit supporters see the Pinellas move as a chance to get Hillsborough on board and make 2014 as a regional vote for transit improvements.

Please stay tuned for further updates!

 

HARTride 2012.

Revised plans arise for a WestShore area transit hub

Greetings everyone!

As many of you know, the recent economic downturn has forced many transit districts to re-evaluate their current levels of service,  as well as future plans, based on the level of funding that is available. In addition, many districts are searching for new ways to fund their transit districts, but some scenarios bring up more challenges and questions than they do answers and solutions. In the case with HART in Tampa, HART currently must rely on property taxes to fund a large chunk of its transit operations, a source that has been dwindling during the past several years. Put on top of that, the recent economic downturn and  consolidation of the airline industry. Both of those factors have led Tampa International Airport to not only cancel its ambitious North Terminal expansion plan, but to also abandon plans to have an on-site transit hub for HART and PSTA buses, as well as any rail connections.

Instead, Hillsborough County officials are now exploring different options for a transit hub alongside the I-275 corridor. As many of you are well aware, the corridor is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction project that will allow for additional capacity. I mentioned in a previous posting that future plans for the interstate also include “Managed Lanes” and possibly either a light rail or commuter rail line down the median. There’s a rendering that you can view through my Facebook page of one option that is being considered along Cypress St & I-275. Regardless of where the final location may be, the transit hub would have an airport connection via a people mover system that is similar to what is already set up at the airport, as well as other airports throughout the world.

Tampa isn’t the only city looking into such an option. In fact, Miami just recently constructed an off-site transit hub that has a rail connection to Miami International Airport and their facility has become a model for others to consider. However, any intermodal center in the WestShore district is several years away and will likely hinge on any new funding avenues being opened. In my next post, I will be going more in-depth as to what Hillsborough County officials are doing to slowly revive rail talks and how the advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay is helping to make that happen.

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012