Friday Rewind – Reflections on HART’s West Tampa Transfer Center

Friday Rewind New 1

With only a week left before Hillsborough Area Regional Transit launches its Mission MAX system restructuring, I wanted to take a few moments to provide a personal reflection on the West Tampa Transfer Center. HART will be closing down the center permanently after Saturday, October 7, 2017 in favor of having an on-street transfer along Dale Mabry Hwy at Tampa Bay Blvd.

Tampa Bay Center Mall

The former bus bay on the former Tampa Bay Center property in 2006. Credit: HARTride 2012 (Public Domain).

While the current West Tampa Transfer Center will barely be 10 years old when it shuts down for good, the general transfer point has been around for much longer – perhaps even before the inception of HART in the early 1980s. During the 1980s, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s premier shopping destinations. The mall opened in 1976 and was anchored by Sears, Burdines (which was later absorbed by Macy’s), and Wards (which opened in 1979 and was originally known as Montgomery Ward). During the early and mid 90s, my family took me to Tampa Bay Center on a regular basis and I was constantly wowed by the bright, open atrium, eloquent fountains, and the glass elevator by the food court.

Interior of the Tampa Bay Center mall and its vast atrium prior to the grand opening. Click on the image to view the source website.

The Original Transfer Hub

Like many transit systems across the nation, many of HART’s early transfer points were situated at shopping malls, and Tampa Bay Center was no exception. Several canopies were set up near the Wards entrance to the mall and Routes 7, 11, 14, 15, 32, 36, 41, 44, & 45 all traversed the spot at one point or another. The original Route 11 was axed during the 2005 system restructuring, and Routes 14 & 15 were removed from the transfer hub. Route 44 was merged into Route 45 in 2007. Route 11 will make a return in 2019, but will not serve this section of West Tampa – instead serving the Main St corridor and International Plaza.

Brochures for Routes 7, 14, & 36. Scan by Orion 2003.
Maps of Routes 7, 36, & 39 as they were during the late 90s/early 2000s. Scan by Orion 2003.
Route 14 still follows this route, but the Tampa Bay Center leg was eliminated sometime in the early 2000s, likely to improve efficiency. I’m sure the downfall of the mall also contributed to the decline in public transit in that area. Scan by Orion 2003.

Relocating the Hub

As parts of the Tampa Bay region boomed, shopping preferences changed. Various demographic shifts and retail cycles, along with some misfortune during the 90s, ultimately led to the closure of Tampa Bay Center. By 2001, most shoppers and retailers were drawn to either the WestShore Business District, Brandon, or Citrus Park. Wards had gone out of business entirely – along with many other chains that have demised over the decades.

Sears was the final tenant to leave Tampa Bay Center, moving over to the former Dillards spot at WestShore Plaza. Dillards vacated WestShore Plaza to join the then-new International Plaza in 2001. The land that Tampa Bay Center sat on was then sold to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their new facility, and demolition of the mall commenced shortly thereafter. The HART transfer center canopies and large sections of the parking lot were the only relics left of the former mall.

The West Tampa Transfer Center looking east from Himes Ave.

With Tampa Bay Center gone for good, HART was left to ponder where to relocate its West Tampa bus hub. Many options were explored and likely included parcels in West Tampa, Drew Park, and even near WestShore. However, a parcel on the northeast corner of Himes Ave and Ohio Ave was eventually chosen for the new hub. The facility would include five sheltered areas for seamless transferring, plus a street-side stop on northbound Himes Ave for the northbound Route 36 buses, restrooms for both customers and employees, and vending machines. A ticket vending machine was added in 2013 to allow customers to purchase passes without having to make the trip to downtown.

Aspirations Never Realized

It was originally envisioned that the West Tampa Transfer Center would become a launchpad for expanded operations towards WestShore and Temple Terrace. Two additional bus bays were constructed just north of the central building to stage buses. The northernmost bay was constructed to eventually accommodate a 60-foot articulated transit bus should the East-West MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit line be built. Longer-term plans discussed the possibility of adding a light rail corridor along Himes and Dale Mabry.

One of the additional bus bays at the WTTC – designed to handle an articulated transit bus.
The WTTC would have been served by MetroRapid East-West. The future of the line itself is uncertain due to funding constraints.

Not Really The Best Location

One of the good things about the old Tampa Bay Center Mall was that it was right across the street from the old Tampa Stadium (later called Houlihan’s Stadium). What is now Raymond James Stadium replaced Tampa Stadium during the late 90s. While having the WTTC next to the old mall property was good for customers in the sense that they didn’t have to go too far from the old stop to access the new one, the major sore spot was that stadium events forced the hub to shut down due to traffic and security concerns. Buses would have to stage along St. Isabel St by MacDill Ave during stadium events. This procedure inconvenienced many customers who didn’t want to walk extra blocks to get to their bus.

The temporary staging area on St. Isabel St, behind St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital.
I’m sure not a lot of people liked seeing this banner during stadium events.


The route 36 Southbound stop.

While an immediate closure of the WTTC wasn’t on my mind prior to the announcement of Mission MAX, I knew that there was a good chance that the WTTC would not survive beyond 15 years due alone to the fact that it kept having to close during stadium events.  I always thought that it would make more sense to have a transfer point along Dale Mabry because the highway rarely ever shuts down completely unless there is a major traffic incident or if the event at Ray Jay is significant enough to warrant a complete closure of the highway. Himes, on the other hand, is always closed during stadium events.

Another reason why I believed that the WTTC would not last much longer is the fact that transit agencies are gradually moving away from having fixed hubs and are transitioning to a more grid-based system where transfers are done at major intersections. HART made a major shift towards a grid system in 2005 and Mission MAX aims to get the system another step closer to a true grid. I fully realize that HART management back in the early 2000s was different and perhaps leadership back then had a different view of the system than current leadership does. I just never agreed that the current spot for the WTTC was the best place for a long-term transfer hub and believe that the funds to relocate the hub could have been better spent on a more robust location that would have provided a sound footing for expansion down the road.

While we cannot change the past, we can look forward to the future – and that is what HART is aiming to do with Mission MAX.  While many of the changes that will become effective on October 8, 2017 were contentious amongst many riders, I can say that the decision to close the WTTC for good was a good decision.

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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

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 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.

November (early) Friday Rewind – Looking back at HART MetroRapid’s first few months of service

Friday Rewind New 1

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I will not be publishing any blog posts on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Additionally, there will be no social media activities on Thursday, and such activity will be limited through the weekend. And because I’m treading lightly this holiday weekend, I’ve decided to publish this month’s Friday Rewind post a couple days early! For this edition, let’s take a look back at my blog post from July 8, 2013, which was about some concerns I had about HART’s MetroRapid service.

Below is a snippet of the original post, you can read the full post here.

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.

Many newspaper and magazine articles that were published right around the debut of MetroRapid largely provided us with a positive outlook of what MetroRapid could be. And I stress just that…could be. Yes, there are always going to be the first day/first week jitters, just like students heading back to school after relishing in the long summer break. However, the reality is, if you have a group of people complaining week after week that the route doesn’t run right, and nothing has been done to address some of the issues that are allowed to persist, then something simply isn’t right. Based on what people have been saying, let me go ahead and outline some of the major issues that I strongly believe that HART must address and resolve NOW! Not five months down the road.

Since this blog post was published, I’ve received clarification from HART on a couple of matters, and the scheduling inefficiencies have since been resolved. Let’s take a look at the four main topics that I previously addressed in my post.

  • Confusion between HART Local and MetroRapid stops/shelters
  • Lack of Ticket Vending Machines at some stations
  • No posting of a route schedule or the route number for MetroRapid
  • Transit Signal Priority

Confusion between HART Local and MetroRapid stops/shelters

Now, this matter may not be resolved right away just because of how the MetroRapid line is running now. However, I still think that some stops should be consolidated in the future to reduce rider confusion. Honestly, there isn’t much more I can write about this topic for the moment, so let’s move onto the next one.

Lack of Ticket Vending Machines at some stations

One day, I was having a discussion on my Twitter feed about Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) along the HART and HRT (Norfolk, VA) systems. When I brought up the subject that only selected MetroRapid stations were equipped with TVMs, HART pointed out to me that the decision was made to only equip certain stations due to the high costs of installing TVMs. Now, for me to recall the exact dollar amounts would mean that I would have to dig through my old tweets, which I won’t do. But the principle of the matter is, as long as HART doesn’t have the funding needed to do things like install additional TVMs along the MetroRapid corridor, then there is only so much they can do with the funds they have in the meantime.

No posting of a route schedule or the route number for MetroRapid

This issue has been resolved since some scheduling tweaks took place back in August for MetroRapid. All trips have been streamlined to run every 15 minutes between the UATC and downtown, and the oddball 10:55am trip from downtown has been switched to 10:45am. Additionally, a couple time points were removed from the MetroRapid schedule, and the downtown portion of the route runs along Morgan St instead of the heavily congested Marion St. I strongly doubt that HART will put MetroRapid back onto Marion St until the traffic signal cycles can be modernized.

Another concern that I pointed out in my previous post was in regards to a lack of a full schedule timetable on, as well as schedule booklets. Although I’m not sure about schedule books (I haven’t rode the HART system since MetroRapid began service) but I can tell you that HART has posted a full timetable on since the August mark-up. You can see the full schedule here.

One issue that still remains is that the internal route number of 400 still isn’t as visible as I and a few others would like to see it. Perhaps this will change in 2014.

Transit Signal Priority (TSP)

TSP along the MetroRapid corridor is what it is folks. Nothing more to say here.

Ridership remains strong

Now, for some awesome news regarding MetroRapid! Since its June revenue launch, MetroRapid ridership has been strong, despite a few bumps in the road in the beginning (things like rider confusion over bus stops, etc.). During the month of October alone, MetroRapid ridership was just over 55,000! As we approach 2014, I have a better feeling than I did back in July that MetroRapid will be a glowing success to HART’s bus system!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

HARTride 2012

Record August, 2013 Ridership for HART and PSTA!

Good Monday morning everyone! I have some great news to report, although I am reporting this rather late. As always though, it’s better late than never.

Despite continued reductions in local, state, and federal funding, public transit ridership continues to rise! For Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), the month of August was definitely no exception.

HART-PSTA ridership Aug 2013

During the month of August; the HART bus system posted total ridership of 1,268,962, and the PSTA bus system posted a total ridership of 1,258,540. These numbers continue to be phenomenal, as more and more people are choosing public transit to get to where they need to go!

On average, daily bus ridership on HART is now at around 49,000, while PSTA’s average daily ridership is now at around 44,000. While these figures are great, please keep in mind that weekend ridership is generally lower than weekday ridership. Typical weekend ridership can be about half the weekday numbers.

HART’s MetroRapid and PSTA’s North County Connector services are leading the way with excellent growth!

August’s ridership numbers can be reinforced by the rise in popularity of two relatively new bus services. In Hillsborough County, HART began its new “lite” version of Bus Rapid Transit, known as MetroRapid, in May of 2013. In Pinellas County, PSTA launched its own version of HARTflex, called the North County Connector, in December of 2012.

HART’s MetroRapid service allowed for new bus service in the Tampa Palms area, including Hidden River Corporate Park, and PSTA’s North County Connector provided for new transit connections in Oldsmar, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, East Lake, and Countryside, as well as connections to HART’s Northwest Transfer Center in Town-N-Country, creating a fourth cross-county connection. Both of these services will eventually assist in the creation of even more local and express bus routes throughout both counties.

Growth on both HART’s MetroRapid North-South Line and PSTA’s North County Connector services have been exceeding initial expectations! In August, HART reported an increase of 24.2% along the MetroRapid corridor, from its revenue service inception in June to August 31. PSTA meanwhile, reported a ridership increase of 21% between July and August alone! These numbers clearly show that both of these services will further enhance the well-being of both districts for many months (and hopefully years) to come!

Of course, I’m not quite finished yet, cause I have even more awesome news! Both HART and PSTA will be enhancing bus services come later this fall, all thanks to cost savings realized by cutting out unnecessary expenses! Later this month, I will be blogging about what exactly was cut out of their budgets and how both districts are using the money they saved to restore services that were previously cut due to budget cuts, as well as to enhance busy bus routes.

Enjoy your Monday!

HARTride 2012

HART Service Changes for August 19, 2013

Note: July and August has proven to be a very difficult time for me due to some personal matters, and I have had to suspend almost all of my blogging activities until September. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) is enacting schedule and/or routing changes to the following routes on Monday, August 19:

*Route 9 – 15th St: Two weekday evening departures will be added for each direction. The last northbound trip will leave the Marion Transit Center at 8:45pm and the last southbound trip will leave the University Area Transit Center at 9:00pm. Currently, weekday service ends at 7:45pm and 8:00pm respectively.

*Route 37 – Brandon/NetPark: One weekday evening departure will be added for each direction. The last eastbound trip will leave the NetPark Transfer Center at 8:05pm and the last westbound trip will leave the Westfield Brandon Mall at 9:05pm. Currently, weekday service ends at 7:05pm and 8:05pm respectively.

*Route 47LX – SouthShore/Downtown Limited Express: Running times for the first northbound trip will be adjusted in order to improve connectivity to other routes at the Marion Transit Center.

*Route 400 – MetroRapid North-South: To improve efficiency within the downtown Tampa area, HART will be re-aligning the downtown portion of the route to run along Morgan St, instead of the Marion St Transitway. Additionally, running times will be adjusted for both directions, and the Nebraska/Columbus and Nebraska/Fletcher timepoints will be removed from schedules, etc. to help improve efficiency. What’s that? HART has a schedule timetable up for MetroRapid North South! This was something that I addressed in my blog post from June. Let’s hope it will be a permanent fixture on the HART website!

For detailed schedules, click here.

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.

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