Category Archives: Transit 101

Monthly transit tips, how to use transit, and other helpful stuff!

Transit 101 – Episode 2 – Understanding a transit schedule

Transit 101 Cover 1

In my second episode of Transit 101, I’ll go over how to understand bus and train schedules. This is key to planning out your transit trip efficiently, especially if you’re making connections to other transit lines during your trip. Despite the technological advances that have made transit usage much easier (such as OneBusAway), many customers wind up falling back onto the paper timetable for reference.

System Map.
PSTA System Map cover.

If you’re new to transit, it is often very helpful to first examine the transit agency’s system map – so that you can have an idea of where you are traveling to and which routes to use. Transit system maps can vary greatly by transit agency. Probably one of the most detailed set of system maps I’ve seen thus far is from the New York City MTA.

A SunRail schedule timetable and travel guide. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
A SunRail schedule timetable and travel guide. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Although the appearance of schedule timetables greatly vary by transit agency, the principle structure is largely the same across all agencies and modes. Schedule booklets and brochures typically include a map, showing where the bus or rail route goes to, and corresponding transit connections at each major time point.

Looking at the Weekday section of the schedule timetable for HART Route 5.
Looking at the Weekday section of the schedule timetable for HART Route 5.

Schedule timetables themselves provide the direction the bus or train is travelling, along with the names of major time points (typically intersections, landmarks, or designated stations), and the scheduled times that the bus or train is to depart from that time point. Some agencies even display layover points, by which both arrival and departure times are displayed for the layover point.

Depending on the transit agency – timepoints can be lettered (like HART) or numbered (like the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, or JTA, in Jacksonville, FL)

A close-up view - noting the Span of Service (in this case - Weekday), Route number and destination/corridor name, time points, and beginning runs.
A close-up view – noting the Span of Service (in this case – Weekday), Route number and destination/corridor name, time points, and beginning runs.

At first glance, a transit schedule may look intimidating, especially to a new rider. The more trips and time points there are on a schedule, the more confusing things can get. All of the transit districts that I’ve been on have paper schedules (as well as online timetables) that are pretty straightforward if you have a good idea of where you’re going to. However, these timetables may mean nothing for a new customer unless he or she knows how to use it.

One thing that I’ve always kept in mind when traveling via transit, is to know where you’re going before you leave. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are several ways to plan out your transit trip, including via the internet! It always helps to know where the closest bus stop is to both your origin, and your destination, as well as to know which time points your bus stop falls in between. You always want to allow sufficient time to arrive at the bus or rail stop so that you do not miss your trip.

For example, let’s say that you live right off 40th St in Tampa, just south of Busch Blvd. Since this intersection is a time point on the HART Route 5 schedule, it’s not too difficult to pinpoint when the bus is scheduled to arrive. However, you want to be at the bus or rail stop/station no later than 5 to 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure.  If you need to purchase tickets from a ticket vending machine or staffed ticket booth, then you should arrive at the stop/station no later than 20 to 25 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. If the closest transit stop/station is quite a walk away from where you are, you will need to build in sufficient time to get to the stop/station. Inclement weather situations will require even more time to travel to and from the transit stops.

If you happen to have a smartphone, there are many apps that will help you to locate your closest transit stop/station and pinpoint which transit lines serve them, as well as predict when the next bus or train is to arrive. While I am going to go further in-depth into smartphone apps for transit in a separate blog post, it is to note that more and more transit agencies are implementing GPS tracking for their vehicles so that knowing when your bus or train will arrive involves a lot less guesswork.


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Transit 101 – Episode 1 – Planning your transit trip

Transit 101 Cover 1

Note: This post was originally posted on February 10, 2014 as part of the Transit 101 blog series. I am re-launching this series so that I can proceed with posting episodes that were never previously posted.


Today, I’m launching my inaugural posting of my Transit 101 series. If you have not had a chance to read on my introductory post, please take a moment to do so. Thank you!

In this first episode of Transit 101, I would like to go through the various ways that you can plan your public transit trip! Unlike the 1990s, where most people would have had to call their transit district or visit a customer service center, the advent of technology has made planning a transit trip so much easier! Many transit districts even allow you to purchase transit passes online, and some are now coming out with mobile apps to allow you to purchase transit passes on the go! I’ll go more in-depth into fares in a later episode.


So without further delay, let’s take a look at the ways you can easily plan your transit trip. I’ll be going through each method in detail in a moment.

  • Google Maps’ Transit Option
  • Smartphone Apps
  • Trip Planning via Telephone
  • Visiting a Customer Service Center

Google Maps’ Transit Option

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My fictional character, Jeremy Riddle (above), loves to surf the web. When it comes to using public transit, the first place he goes to is Google Maps. Many transit districts have partnered with Google by providing their GTFS data, which allows customers to easily map out where they want to go, and how to get there via transit…all in one interface, and at no cost to the transit district!

In fact, the following transit districts have already partnered with Google to provide this wonderful service to their customers!

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) – Tampa, FL
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) – St. Pete/Clearwater, FL
  • Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) – Sarasota, FL
  • Central Florida Area Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX) – Orlando, FL
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) – Norfolk/Hampton, VA
  • Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) – Chicago, IL
  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York (MTA) – New York City, NY
  • Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) – Paris, France
  • Public Transportation authorities in Manila, Philippines

Although Google Maps has provided a transit option for a few years now, the entire interface has been redesigned with additional features to further help you with planning your transit trip in a snap! A couple of the newest features are the Schedule Explorer option, and the addition of real-time departure times for some transit districts.

Let’s take a glance at Google Maps. Click on the images for a closer look.

The Google Maps interface was recently updated with new features. Some features retained from the old version was good ol' Pegman (lower right-hand box).
The Google Maps interface was recently updated with new features. Some features retained from the old version was good ol’ Pegman (lower right-hand box).

There’s a couple ways you can plan your trip with transit. You can either type in an address in the search box on the upper-left hand corner of the map, or simply select a bus stop. Bus stops are indicated by the blue “bus” logo. In transit systems that have rail services, corresponding “train” buttons will show. Please keep in mind that you have to zoom in a bit for these buttons to show.

Blue transit stop logos show up when the map is zoomed in.
Blue transit stop logos show up when the map is zoomed in.

Clicking on a bus or rail stop will show you what services are available from that stop, where they terminate at, and in many cases, will show what times a particular bus or train departs from the selected location.

Now, notice the small circles next to each departure time? Those circles indicate that real-time information is available for those particular trips. HART is one of several transit districts to allow real-time GTFS data to be transmitted to Google.

A bus stop showing departure times for HART bus routes 4 and 19.
A bus stop showing departure times for HART bus routes 4 and 19.

At locations that show a bunch of routes, you’ll see the following.

The Marion Transit Center and connecting bus routes. Note that MetroRapid North-South is given the route designation of 400.
The Marion Transit Center and connecting bus routes. Note that MetroRapid North-South is given the route designation of 400.

I believe at one time (before the recent update), you could click on the individual routes to see what times each bus departed. However, this functionality seems to have been temporarily disabled.

Now, let’s say you want a step-by-step guide of your transit trip. Just like turn-by-turn driving directions, Google Maps allows you to view your transit itinerary step-by-step. Simply click on a bus or rail stop button, then select the “Preview Steps” link to open up something like this…

Step-by-step transit directions!
Step-by-step transit directions!
Use the directional buttons to scroll through each step. To exit the preview, just click "Exit Preview".
Use the directional buttons to scroll through each step. To exit the preview, just click “Exit Preview”.

Now, let’s do a quick “to” and “from” using the search box. For this demonstration, I’ve chosen the USF Tampa Campus as my origin, and the Rivergate Tower at 400 N Ashley Dr in Downtown Tampa as my destination.

Whether you type in an address into the search box, or just select a transit stop on the map, you’ll always have the option to fetch directions to or from the selected point on the map.

It's always pretty cool to have an interactive map!
It’s always pretty cool to have an interactive map!

Now, by default, when fetching directions to or from a particular point on the map, driving directions will be selected. You’ll want to choose the transit option bu selecting the “bus” tab. Bike and walking options are also available for those who like to walk or bike from place to place. For longer-range travel, an airplane option is available (I haven’t tried that latter option yet).

Any request to fetch directions on Google Maps automatically defaults to the driving directions option.
Any request to fetch directions on Google Maps automatically defaults to the driving directions option (car icon).
Vola! The transit directions option!
Vola! The transit directions option!

Using the transit directions option on Google Maps is pretty straightforward. Just like how Maps plots out the best route for you to take when you drive, Maps also plots out what is the best bus and/or rail route to take to your destination. Please keep in mind that several options may be available to you.

Notice the link on the bottom of the left-hand box that reads “More Options and Times”? Click on it! It will take you to the Schedule Explorer option.

The Schedule Explorer allows you to customize your transit trip!
The Schedule Explorer allows you to customize your transit trip!

Something that I really like about the new Google Maps is the Schedule Explorer Option! This allows you to customize your transit trip by entering a departure time that is best for you, then selecting which routes would best suit your travels.

The top pane shows what routes are available to you based on the departure time and date you selected. Below this pane is step-by-step directions on getting to your destination (walking to the bus or rail stop, the routes you selected, any applicable transfers, and reaching your destination), as well as a map. To return to the map view, select the “Full Map View” button on the right.

GM8
A full view of what’s below the route option pane.

In transit districts with rail services, additional options are available by clicking the “Route Options” button below the route options pane (just above the map).

This pane allows you to further customize your trip by selecting options with the fewest transfers or least walking distance.

Additional Route Options.
Additional Route Options.

And that’s not all! I could probably spend hours going through the different route possibilities for the HART system alone. If you want to try things out for yourself, just head on over to Google Maps now!


Google Trip Planner module on transit district websites.

Google Trip Planner PSTA 1
Some transit agencies have a Google Trip Planner module on their websites. This is the PSTA.net homepage.

Some transit agencies , like PSTA, have a built-in Google Maps module on their websites. In these modules, you would enter an originating and destination address, then specify the date and time that you wish to depart/arrive. You will then be directed to the Google Maps website for the results.


Smartphone Apps

With the advent of Smartphones, comes numerous apps designed to help plan and navigate your transit trip. While I will go into detail regarding Smartphone Apps in a separate post, I thought that it was important to at least mention what apps exist. Please note that these apps are created and operated by third parties and not the transit agencies themselves.

OneBusAway

Transit App

Mapnificent


Trip Planning via Telephone

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Although Google Maps is by far the fastest and easiest way to plan your transit trip, I understand that there are people that either don’t have access to a computer and/or the internet, as well as those who prefer to use the telephone rather than the internet. Don’t worry! Pretty much transit districts still have their telephone lines open, and they are still staffed by customer service representatives during the week. In addition, many transit districts are able to provide an automated interface (or IVR – Interactive Voice Response) through their InfoLine phone system to provide transit scheduling information 24/7!

Below, I’ve listed the InfoLine phone numbers for each transit district that I’ve covered through blog posts and through my Transport sections. Please note that calls to the InfoLine after hours may be routed directly to the agency’s transit dispatch center.

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).
    • 813-254-4278.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm and Weekends from 8am to 5pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 5pm.
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
    • 727-540-1900.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm, Saturdays from 7am to 8pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4:30pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4:30pm.
  • Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT).
    • 941-749-7116.
    • Hours of operation are not currently available.
  • Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
    • 941-861-5000.
    • Hours of operation are not currently available.
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
    • 757-222-6100.
    • Staffed Monday through Friday from 5am to 7pm, Saturdays from 7am to 7pm, and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. Also staffed on most major holidays from 9am to 4pm.

Visiting a Customer Service Center

The Marion Street Transit Center in northern Downtown Tampa
HART’s Marion Transit Center has a staffed Customer Service Window during selected hours Monday through Saturday, and some holidays.

Some customers would rather speak to someone in person about planning their transit trip. That’s perfectly fine! Most transit districts still provide customer service centers by which customers can pick up schedules and speak with a customer service agent face-to-face. And while hours will vary depending on the district and day of the week, most customer service centers are typically staffed at least Monday through Saturday, with some districts being able to provide Sunday and Holiday hours. Please keep in mind that some districts close down their customer service operations on some holidays like Thanksgiving.

Below, I’ve listed locations of customer service centers for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, and Hampton Roads Transit. Please keep in mind that hours are subject to change, and up-to-date information can be accessed through the district’s website.

  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).
    • Marion St and University Area Transit Centers.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 7am to 5pm. Closed on Sundays.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 5pm.
    • HART at City Hall is open from 11am to 1pm Monday through Friday. Closed on weekends and holidays.
  • Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).
    • Williams Park Customer Service Center.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 8am to 4:30pm.
    • Grand Central Station.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
    • Park St Terminal.
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
    • Pinellas Park Transit Center (at Shoppes at Park Place)
      • Staffed Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 5:15pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.
      • Staffed on most major holidays from 8am to 4pm.
  • Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
    • Hampton and Newport News Transit Centers.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 6am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. Closed Sundays. Holiday operation may vary.
    • Silverleaf Commuter Station.
      • Staffed Monday through Friday from 5am to 9pm. Closed weekends and holidays.

Regardless of what method you choose to to plan your transit journey, please always keep in mind to have everything planned out prior to leaving for the bus or rail stop, and always arrive at the stop at least five to ten minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time. If inclement weather should arise, please arrive at your stop at least ten to fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time.

If you happen to come across anything that is incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible and I will correct the information. I always strive to make sure everything is up to date.

An Introduction to Transit 101

Hi everyone!

I’m about to begin a new blogging series called Transit 101, which will provide my readers with helpful information on using public transit. While these posts are specifically targeted at new public transit customers, long-time riders can also benefit from the information that I’ll be blogging about throughout the next few weeks.

Before I begin my first post, let me briefly explain how I got the idea for Transit 101. During the past couple months, I’ve received email inquires from people who are relatively new to the Tampa area. They’ve asked me how can they get around using public transit? And while I answered their inquiries to the best of my ability (remember folks, I’m not affiliated with any public transit district), I knew that these wouldn’t be the last such inquiries that I would receive.

With these inquiries in mind, I began to wonder how would I be able to help new transit customers get around? With transit ridership continuing to rise, I know that many of transit riders out there are relatively new to the system and are just learning to find their way around town via transit. Although I’m very fortunate to have a public transit district (HART) that has a transit system training program for new transit customers, I suspect that not all transit districts are able to provide such services due to funding constraints.

I’ll explain how such a program works in one of my Transit 101 posts, but to provide a basic idea of what this particular service is about; HART’s Travel Training Program allows new transit customers to be paired with a HART staff member who walks the customer through each step of using the area’s transit system; from planning a trip, to understanding schedules, to making transfers. These programs are very, very helpful, but not everyone is aware of them, so please be sure to ask your local transit district if they offer such services.

With that said, I hope that you will be able to find my Transit 101 posts to be very helpful! My first topic will be about planning your transit trip, and I hope to have the first post up by the middle of next week! If you have a suggestion for a future post, please feel free to drop me a line via the Contact Page!

Enjoy your day!

HARTride 2012

New Blogging Series Coming in December! Transit 101!

Before I go on a brief blogging hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to let my readers know of a new blog post series that I will be starting up in December, called Transit 101!

The Transit 101 series will be dedicated to new public transit customers and will provide helpful tips to make your public transit commute better! Such topics will include, but will not be limited to, the following:

  • How to ride the bus/train
  • Understanding transit fares
  • Understanding bus/train schedules
  • Bikes on Transit
  • Travel Training Programs (many transit districts provide travel training programs to assist new customers in becoming familiar with riding transit)
  • Transit terms (every transit district is different in the way they classify routes, services, etc.)
  • Lost and Found
  • Safety and Security
  • And much, much, more!

Each post will have a general overview as to what the said topic is about. Then I’ll go over how the topic relates to public transit as a whole. If there are differences between how each transit district does things, I will then distinguish each district’s policies and procedures on the matter being discussed. Additionally, I’ll have a page set up with links to various computer and mobile transit apps, like OneBusAway!

I plan on publishing my first Transit 101 series post on Tuesday, December 2, 2013! After the initial post, I plan on posting a new topic each week as time allows. If you have an idea for a Transit 101 post, please let me know through the Contact Page!

With that said, enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday! Be safe!

HARTride 2012