Journeys Afar – San Francisco, 2019 – Part 1

Off to the wild blue yonder again…



In this third episode of Journeys Afar, I will begin showcasing my recent trip to the west coast – San Francisco, CA to be exact! While I didn’t think that this particular trip would happen so soon, I’m glad that I was able to embark on it when I did – as it was almost 20 years ago that I made my last visit to this part of The Golden State.

Like my 2017 New York City excursion, I aimed to utilize as much public transportation avenues as possible – including during my departure from & arrival back to Tampa. While I originally planned on using the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) network to connect to Tampa International Airport the day of my departure from Tampa, I needed to tend to some tasks in Tampa beforehand, so I wound up departing from my family’s residence there instead of my residence in St. Pete.

On the flip side, it was a good thing to begin my journey in Tampa because I was able to follow a very similar path to TPA Airport as I had done back in 2017 when I visited NYC. Thus, I’ll be able to do a comparison of my bus rides on board the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) network back then versus this time around. For those of you who aren’t aware, HART underwent a massive route optimization project in late 2017 called Mission MAX & it dramatically changed how many of HART’s routes operate today.


HART to the Airport

An illustration showing the HART bus routes that I rode to Tampa International Airport on October 23, 2019. Click on the image for a closer look.

For my HART bus journey, I made sure to have exact change available for a $4.00 1-Day HARTride pass the day prior to. I chose to postpone purchasing any Flamingo Fares products on their app until I returned because I would otherwise lose out on a week of usage. However, once the full Flamingo Fares tap-&-go card program rolls out (hopefully next year), you’ll have the option of purchasing a reloadable card so that you don’t have to worry about wasting a transit pass if you happen to go out of town.

Now, like my NYC trip, I made sure to select my flights very carefully so that I could utilize transit to get to & from the airport without risking missing the check-in window if my buses fell behind. Additionally, because Mission MAX caused some less busy segments to be separated off their busier counterparts, I was no longer able to leave for the airport as early in the morning as I would have liked. One example of the changes made during the Mission MAX route optimization project is described in next section.

Before I move on however, I want to point out that unlike my NYC trip, I did carry a bit more baggage – so I already had in mind that because of the amount of clothing that I would need to bring, that I will need to use my rolling suitcase. That suitcase would then need to be checked-in at the airport. As I will describe later though, there is a convenient option in many cases that can allow you to check-in quickly & save you some time if you’re coming off the bus.


Route 17 to Britton Plaza

# 1514 at Marion Transit Center back on 11/21/15. This is a 2015 40′ Gillig Low Floor CNG bus.

South Tampa bus service was significantly changed due to Mission MAX. Route 4, which had limited ridership, was completely eliminated, while lesser used segments of the 19 & 36 south of Britton Plaza were split off onto other routes. The 17 designation, which was once used for a north-south local route between MacDill Air Force Base & the old Tampa Bay Center Mall via MacDill Ave during the 90s, was reused for the former 19 segment that served Manhattan Ave between Port Tampa City & Britton Plaza. The WestShore Blvd branch of the 19, meanwhile, was also eliminated due to limited ridership. The segment of the 36 south of Britton was integrated into the cross-county 360 Limted Express route that runs between MacDill & the JC Handly Park-N-Ride complex in Bloomingdale.

Like my NYC trip, I was making Check-In posts through my HARTride 2012 page.

While HART kept the overall span of service for Route 19 the same (with exception to the adjustment of early morning & early evening trips, the elimination of trips that ran through 12-midnight, & the addition of an earlier morning trip on weekends), the 17’s service span is from 6:00am until 10:00pm, with buses running hourly on all service days. This meant that the earliest bus I could take from the Port Tampa City area would leave at about 6:25am. Because of some final tasks that I needed to take care of prior to my departure, I opted to take the 7:25am departure, which arrived at Britton Plaza on time at 7:46am. Traffic on Manhattan Ave & Euclid Ave was fairly light, which contributed to an on-time arrival.


While at Britton Plaza

Even though I had about 15 minutes before my Route 36 bus arrived, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t venture off to Publix & then risk missing my connection, so I decided to stay put at the on-site bus shelter. During my wait, I encountered one of the HART Flex cutaway vans & several other HART buses that were running on the 19 or 360LX. I also spotted one of the PSTA buses that was assigned to the 100X. It’s been quite a while since PSTA retired its 2003-series MCI coaches that were originally used for the 100X & the 300X. Even though no replacements were ever purchased, the buses on the 300X have been modified to include on-board luggage racks – similar to the ones used on board airport-bound buses in NYC.


Route 36 to Dale Mabry Hwy @ Kennedy Blvd

# 1404 arrives at the Britton stop, though the operator was a tad late departing. This is a 2014 40′ Gillig Low Floor diesel bus.

One of the fleet changes that I haven’t quite discussed in detail when it comes to the HART network is the small fleet of six 2014-series 40′ Gillig Low Floor diesel buses. These buses were acquired in mid 2018 from what used to be TranStar out of Orlando, FL.

TranStar did a lot of charter bus business throughout Central Florida, but probably its biggest contract was with Walt Disney World – where they operated cast member shuttles throughout the parks. I learned in late 2017 that TranStar lost the opportunity to continue its contract when Disney decided to operate the shuttles through another avenue. TranStar declined & went out of business shortly thereafter, possibly due in part to the lost business. I’m sure the company racked up a lot of debt as well by which it could not get rid of.

The 2014 diesel buses are similar to those of HART’s former 2004 diesels in the sense that they do not posses “frameless” windows & use similar seating. While these buses did have to have some added TLC upon their arrival – #’s 1402 through 1405 have run pretty well. #1406 was recently sidelined due to a blown transmission & #1401 has yet to enter revenue service.

Despite a slightly late departure (scheduled time was 8:00am, but the operator pulled up to the platform at 8:03am), the bus arrived at the intersection of Dale Mabry Hwy @ Kennedy Blvd on time (at 8:14am). Once again though, traffic was relatively light so that contributed to an on-time arrival.

In regards to Mission MAX, as I mentioned earlier, the 360LX took over the portion of the 36 that ran south of Britton Plaza. This meant that the Dale Mabry Hwy corridor south of the plaza suffered a major reduction in the span of service. Prior to the reshuffling, the first outbound 36 trip to Carrollwood from MacDill AFB was 5:30am, with the first bus to MacDill leaving Britton as early as about 5:45am at one time.

Now, the first 360LX round trip leaves Britton Plaza for MacDill at 6:55am, arriving at the Kingfisher St Burger King at 7:30am, then arriving at Britton at 7:45am to head to Brandon/Bloomingdale. Also, the 360 operates hourly all week (whereas the 36 runs every 30 minutes on weekdays with hourly weekend service), with no service north of Britton on Sundays (thus the first Sunday departure to MacDill is at 6:00am).

One last note; with the MAX changes, the 19, 33, & 36 all interline on weekends. Interlined bus & rail routes are common across transit agencies & occur when two or more bus routes are set up in a manner by which assigned buses change into one another’s routes at a common terminating point instead of simply turning around & reversing direction on their respective individual routes. So a bus starting out at the Marion Transit Center as a 19, will become a 36 at Britton Plaza, then will become a 33 at the Fletcher Ave @ Dale Mabry Hwy transfer point. That bus will then terminate at the University Area Transit Center (as the 33 does not serve the Hidden River Park-N-Ride Lot on weekends), then reverse course back to Downtown Tampa via South Tampa & Carrollwood. I generally dislike interlined bus routes because if a bus runs behind schedule on one route, it’s run on all three routes in this case will be detrimentally impacted.


Route 30 to Tampa International Airport

Bus Hub & Rental Car Center

# 1026 at Britton Plaza on Route 19, taken by Carlos A. on 9/20/15. This is a 2010 40′ Gillig Low Floor diesel bus.

While my bus rides have gone well up until this point, I knew to expect delays due to it still being rush hour. I exited # 1404 & crossed Kennedy Blvd quickly so that I could snap the above photos. Afterwards, I decided to head east, instead of west, to the westbound Route 30 stop on Kennedy Blvd by Sterling St. When I went to NYC, I used the westbound stop by Church St. However, being that the two stops are about the same distance from the intersection of Kennedy & Dale Mabry, I thought to just go ahead & use the Sterling stop so that I would not have to cross Dale Mabry.

My check-in while waiting for my Route 30 bus.

While waiting for # 1026, I noticed that the wait time was increasing due to a delay along the route in downtown Tampa. Knowing that my flight was not until 11:42am, with boarding call commencing at 11:12am, I had plenty of time to make it to the airport if the bus broke down or something. Fortunately, it did not.

However, the bus did arrive about 6 minutes late (scheduled arrival was 8:26am, but the actual arrival was 8:32am), so this meant that the airport arrival was about 8:45am, instead of the scheduled 8:38am. Upon arrival, I immediately headed into the Rental Car Center complex & took the elevator to the main level where the counters & SkyConnect station are located.

Looking down Kennedy Blvd towards Himes Ave.

The overall routing of the 30 has changed quite dramatically over the past two years. With Mission MAX, the segment between Tampa International Airport & the Northwest Transfer Center in Town-N-Country was separated, leaving the 30 to serve between the airport & the Marion Transit Center in Downtown Tampa only. Frequencies were kept at 30 minutes all week, with overall span of service remaining unchanged.

Initially, the cross-county Route 60LX made runs between Brandon & NWTC, taking over Route 30’s northern segment. Due to customer feedback, the 60LX was truncated to the airport & has since only operated between the airport & Brandon (with Sunday service only serving MTC & the airport). The segment between the airport & NWTC is now served by Route 35, which has 30-minute weekday frequency & hourly weekend service. The 60LX by comparison, operates hourly all week.

The second major change to Route 30 was made just this past summer, with buses traversing the WestShore/Cypress Point portion of Cypress St & serving the Social Security Administration office along the State Rd 60 frontage road in both directions. This change was done to help restore some of the service lost when Route 10 was eliminated during MAX.



Tampa International Airport

Checking-In at TPA Airport

The TPA Airport Bus Hub shortly after opening in late 2017.

So when I blogged about my 2017 NYC trip, the TPA Airport Rental Car Center & SkyConnect were not yet finished, so I rode the old Route 30 to the first floor, north (Red) side arrivals drive to get off at the airport terminal stop. Since the opening of both the Rental Car Center & its adjoining public bus hub, along with SkyConnect, a total of 6 bus routes serve TPA Airport – instead of just HART Route 30 as it was before. Today, you can catch HART Routes 30, 32, 35, 60LX, & 275LX to the airport during all days of the week. On weekdays, you can also take PSTA Route 300X to the hub.

So remember at the beginning of the post where I mentioned that I would discuss an easy way to check in your bags at TPA Airport while saving time? Well here it is! Remote Bag Check! You can find this area at the southern end of the main level of the Rental Car Center, tucked between the elevator banks to the bus hub & the rental car counters (facing northward towards the SkyConnect station).

While this service is primarily geared towards those who are renting cars at the airport, it does wonders for public transit users as well. In many cases, you can check into your flight, print your boarding passes, pay any applicable bag fees, print your luggage tags, & bring your bags over to the check-in scales to be weighed & then transported onto a special conveyor that whisks your checked luggage straight to the main terminal, then your respective airside concourse for screening & loading onto the plane – all in one convenient location!

Now…let me caution you, because I did say many cases. First off, only domestic flights can be checked in at this location, & secondly, only selected airlines allow for such remote check-in. So if you fall outside of this category, then you’ll need to take the SkyConnect train to the main terminal & then take the escalators to Level 2 for check-in. However, for those who do fall into this category, Remote Bag Check at the Rental Car Center saves you the time & hassle of going down to Level 2 in the main terminal for check-in. It certainly did for me! Once I was completely checked in & dropped off my rolling suitcase, I grabbed my carry-on bags & immediately proceeded for the SkyConnect train to the main terminal.

With Check-In finished, it’s time to head to the concourse!

Traversing the airport

Level 3 of the main terminal as it appeared in early 2017. During this time, the east & west ends of the main terminal building were undergoing renovations – leaving the central portion of Level 3 to retain the mid 2000s look.

In addition to the Rental Car Center & SkyConnect, many other vast improvements have been made at the airport. This included a complete transformation of the Main Terminal’s 3rd level, which houses various shops, eateries, & the shuttle bays for the airside concourses. The airport also underwent a complete revamp of its dining & merchant options, which allows for a nice selection of both local & national brands.

Main Terminal Level 3 after completion of renovations. All of the central retail “boxes” were dismantled to give the floor a more open-air feel. This configuration also allows for quicker assembly & disassembly of merchant spaces.

Because I was able to use the Remote Bag Check option at the Rental Car Center, my time traveling through the main terminal was only about 10 minutes. I hopped off the SkyConnect train & proceeded to the escalators to Level 3. From there, I headed immediately to the Airside F shuttle bay – though I did pause for a moment at a nearby seating area to ensure that my boarding passes were secured. During my walk through the main terminal, it was definitely nice to see all of the shops & eateries completed. While I did want to grab something quick to snack on before my flight, I decided that the best option was to get over to Airside F & clear security first before I did so.

Upon arrival at Airside F, I quickly went through security (though I forgot to empty out my plastic water bottle that I brought from home, so the screener flagged me for that) & had a look around. Just after clearing security was a display honoring those in our military who earned the Medal of Honor. This display was sponsored by American Airlines, which happened to be the same airline that I embarked on for this trip (as well as my 2017 NYC trip).

The Medal of Honor display at the Airside F lobby area (after clearing security).

With the revamp of the shops & eateries, I was very delighted to see what had taken the place of what used to occupy parts of the main terminal & the airsides. For instance, the Airside F lobby area following security, used to house an express version of Chili’s & I believe some sort of newsstand. Now the spaces are home to local retailer Bay to Bay & The Cafe by Mise En Place, which is a scaled down version of its mainstay restaurant in Tampa (along the Grand Central area of Kennedy Blvd). What really caught my eye however was the presence of illy Caffe, an Itallian-based cafe serving illy-branded coffees, as well as pastries & sandwiches. I wound up grabbing a Spinach & Feta Cheese sandwich & an orange juice from the cafe before sitting down in the adjacent seating area – both of which were right next to Gate 78 (where I’d be boarding my flight at shortly).

By the time I had gotten my food & sat down, the time was 9:45am. I still had almost an hour & a half before my flight would board, so I took this time to consume my sandwich & juice, as well as surf the web & social media. TPA Airport has provided complimentary WiFi access for everyone who traverses the airport complex & for this, I’m very grateful for. Just a decade ago, if an airport that you were travelling through offered internet access – you likely had to pay for it. That’s the experience I had back in 2009 when I traveled through a couple different US airports while en-route to & from Belgium.

My last HARTride 2012 Page check-in post before I boarded my flight.
Looking towards the western end of Airside F as I waited for boarding call.

Part 1 Wrap-Up

Two final notes before I wrap up this post. First, if you want to learn more about the different things that I’ve mentioned in this post, please feel free to select any of the links below.

Second, I’m going to point out that I purchased a bag online a few months ago that has been a vital part of my travels. The merchant is called ebags & the bag that I wound up purchasing is called the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible. This bag is extremely convenient for airline travel as a carry-on item & has many convenient pockets for clothing, important documents (such as your passport), & even a laptop computer! I’ve used this bag several times during my intercounty bus travels, but this was my first time using it for airline travel. I will tell you right now, that this bag is absolutely awesome! I love it!

Be sure to check out their site routinely, as they do hold some good sales.


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Legalese | Disclosures

Introducing – Journeys Afar


While I’ve written several Transit Tourism type posts during the course of the past several years, I never really had a name for the series. But now I do!

Journeys Afar will take you on a documented journey along my out-of-town trips by which I’m able to utilize public transportation. Such posts will include re-launches of my 2013 trip to Norfolk, VA & my 2017 trip to New York City, as well as my more recent visits to Jacksonville, FL & San Francisco, CA.

Be sure to look out for my first Journeys Afar posts in the coming weeks – beginning with a re-launch of my first & second NYC 2017 posts, followed by my first SFO 2019 post.


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Transit Tourism – New York City Transit Excursion 2017 – Part 5

In Episode 5 of my Transit Tourism series documenting my recent trip to New York City, I will be discussing my first journey aboard the (1) and (W.) subway lines though Manhattan.

Note: When I type in the W in parenthesis to indicate the (W). Line, WordPress changes that to its (W) logo. As a result, I’ve had to make a couple minor changes to prevent this. Unfortunately, this means, you’ll see periods in places where they shouldn’t be. I apologize for any confusion.


Travel Log

After getting settled in my hotel, I wanted to relax a bit since I had arrived in Manhattan a bit earlier than planned. However, I had to be just southeast of Midtown by 4:00pm, so time was of the essence. I could use any extra time that I had to charge my phone somewhere – like Starbucks.

#6696 – 2007 Orion VII Diesel-Electric Hybrid – passing 106th St and Broadway.

While walking down to the 110th St station for the (1) Train, I managed to capture bus #6696 passing by on Broadway. This is one of many Orion Bus Industries model VII diesel-electric hybrid buses that the MTA possesses. A vast majority of the MTA bus fleet is diesel powered, though diesel-electric hybrid and CNG fleets currently operate. There is even a lease order of battery electric buses on the horizon – using both Proterra and New Flyer made buses. And by the way, Orion was one of the bus manufacturers that was acquired by New Flyer in recent years, resulting in the Orion made buses ceasing production. Today, New Flyer only manufactures the Xcelsior line of 35 and 40-foot buses.

Upon arriving at the 110th St Station, I noticed that complimentary Wi-Fi was available. Over the past several months, the MTA has been installing Wi-Fi routers at each of the stations to provide a better customer experience. Efforts are also being made to allow 4G cellular service available throughout the massive maze of tunnels.

“110” indicator on the station’s pillar. Pretty much all NYC subway stations have tiling or signage along pillars and pylons indicating the station name.

Each station has its own unique characteristics – including tiling. Stations that were built during the early 1900s typically have ornate, classical style tiling, whereas stations built during the mid 1900s have more of a mid century look. Stations built between the 1960s and 1990s feature architecture that was common during that respective time period, and anything built after the 1990s have a sleek, modern look.

Old ticketing booth.

If you’re lucky enough, you may enter an older subway station that has relics from yesteryear left over. Old ticketing booths for instance, may still be intact, though they may not be used for purposes such as vending. At some stations, restrooms have been converted into retail shops, where one can grab a snack or a newspaper.

Ornate “110” indicators grace the station’s walls. These decorations date back to the station’s opening.

110th St is also known as Cathedral Pkwy, hence the references to both.

Each of the stations along the numbered lines (except the 7) have digital countdown clock displays that tell customers when their train will be arriving. Along the lettered lines and the Staten Island Railway, LCD displays are being installed to achieve the same purpose.

Digital dot countdown clock display.

Sample graphic (by HARTride 2012) illustrating the countdown clock display along the lettered lines.

As the countdown clock above shows, there was only about a minute before my train towards the heart of Manhattan was slated to arrive. I took this time to take the station photos that I’ve showcased in this post thus far, and while I did take some video footage, I did not have enough time to film the train’s arrival this time.

A packed (1) Train heading to South Ferry via Times Square.

Once the train arrived, I stepped aside to allow arriving customers to disembark, then I entered what was an already packed train. Since the PM rush was approaching, I could totally understand why the trains would be crowded at this time.

To note; nearly all of the trains that operate along the (1) are older R62 and R62A railcars, which are the oldest operating subway railcar fleet for the numbered lines. The modern R142 & R142A trains operate along the (2), (3), (4), (5), & (6) lines, with their rebranded counterparts – the R188 (most being converted R142As) – operating exclusively on the (7). Two sets of R62As continue to operate along the (7), but for how much longer I do not know.

Just getting off #2279 at Times Square – 42nd St.

Navigating the Times Square – 42nd St Station, which lies just a stone’s throw away from the famed intersection of Broadway, 7th Ave, and 45th St, can be a bear. If you don’t really know where you’re going, you can get lost. Fortunately for me, all I had to do was follow the signs to the (N), (Q), (R), (W). platform.

Station signage.

Follow this corridor to the (N), (Q), (R), & (W) trains, as well as the 42nd St Shuttle.

The “Times Square Mural” on the mezzanine level. The 42nd St Shuttle platform is in the background.

While traveling to the Broadway Line platforms for the (N), (Q), (R), & (W). Trains, I snapped a photo of the Times Square Mural on the mezzanine level near the 42nd St Shuttle platform. It’s truly a wonderful mural, depicting a train traveling through a futuristic city. The work was created by Roy Lichtenstein and commissioned by the MTA’s Arts for Transit program.

Okay, now to the (W). Beyond this section of the mezzanine was the stairways to the Broadway Line platforms. I needed to make sure that I was getting onto the correct platform so as to not head uptown by accident.

Signs to the Broadway Line platforms.

Tile mosaic next to the staircase to the Broadway Line platforms.

Left for the (Q), right for all others…

Pillar signage. Notice how the lower sign does not include the (W)? This sign was probably installed in 2010 when the (W) was axed due to budget cuts. I doubt the MTA will be replacing these signs anytime soon since the larger signs have all been updated.

Now some of you may be asking, where exactly was I going? I was heading to the Cooper Union for a presentation. Since the (N) & the (Q) go express down Broadway and do not serve the 8th Ave station, I needed to catch either an (R) or a (W). train to get to my destination. Since the (W). was restored back in December, 2016, I wanted to have at least one ride on the line – especially being that I didn’t know how long the presentation would last. If it was something that would keep me at Cooper Union past 9:00pm, then there may not be an opportunity to catch the (W). to Whitehall St – South Ferry due to it ending service during the 9:00pm hour.

It took maybe about 8 minutes before the (W). arrived. While waiting, I saw (Q) Express train & an (R) Local train stop at the station. I wasn’t so much looking for photos of the (Q) & the (R) because of the time crunch. I can always do some bus fanning outside Cooper Union if I had extra time. Once the (W). train did arrive, I was on my way again! The train wasn’t really crowded at all, unlike the (1) train that I boarded earlier, and the trip went without incident – all smooth sailing to 8th St!

The (W) has arrived!

On board the (W).

To close this post, let me mention the types of railcars that travel along the Broadway Line. The (Q) primarily uses newer R160A & B trains, while the (R) primarily uses the older R46 trains. The (N) & (W.) use a mix of older R68 & R68A trains & newer R160A & B trains. However, uncommon occurrences do happen – where an R68 or R68A may spring up on the (Q) or even more rare…on the (R).

Do you like what you’ve been able to read so far? Let me know by commenting on this post. I will have Episode 6 up in a week hopefully. In the meantime, please keep a watchful eye on tropics, as we still have some time to go before November. It looks like we may be seeing a Tango dance between Jose & Maria this weekend. Putting anything even remotely funny aside though, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Irma & Maria. I have many friends who have relatives and friends in the Caribbean and it really breaks my heart to see the devastation left behind by these storms.


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Transit Tourism – New York City Transit Excursion 2017 – Part 4

It’s now time for Episode 4 in my Transit Tourism series, documenting my recent trip to New York City. In this episode, I will document my arrival to New York’s LaGuardia Airport and my journey on board New York MTA’s M60 Select Bus Service bus line to Manhattan.


Travel Log

Despite my tight connection in Washington D.C., I was able to board my flight to New York City without issue and the flight was very smooth. I even handed a note to one of the flight attendants for the excellent job he did (I also listed my website address on the note so he could check out the great things that I post).

On approach to LaGuardia Airport, with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

Once on the ground, it was a little bit before the plane was able to taxi to the gate due to the massive construction project occurring at LaGuardia. The entire terminal complex is undergoing a modernization and expansion project that will ultimately reduce some of the congestion at the complex and create a better experience for passengers. There is currently building pressure from many in the NYC region to utilize Rikers Island (which the prison on the island is slated to close permanently several years from now) as a launchpad for another expansion of LaGuardia, allowing for a less constrained runway pattern than what exists today.

Inside Terminal C at LaGuardia Airport.

Navigating LaGuardia’s Terminal C wasn’t too much of a challenge since it is relatively small compared to Terminal B, which is the mainstay terminal. As you can see in the above photo, Terminal C primarily serves Delta. so hence the banners and blue wall tones. Tampa International Airport’s Airside E also primarily serves Delta.

Signs to the baggage claim.

Once down at the Baggage Claim level, I searched for the Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) for the New York MTA so that I could obtain my MetroCard. I decided to purchase a 7-day Unlimited Ride card because I did not want to spend a ton of money refilling the Pay-Per-Ride card over and over. I felt that the 7-day card would be the better value even though I was only in the area for five days.

Got my MetroCard! I’m ready to roll!

Since I didn’t have any checked baggage, I was able to immediately head out to the curb to locate the MTA bus stop. I had to be really careful to board the correct bus, since the Q48, Q70, & Q72 also stops at LaGuardia. Route Q70 is also a Select Bus Service route, dubbed as the “LaGuardia Link” and connects customers to the 61st St – Woodside subway station for the (7) Train and the Long Island Rail Road.

Nova LFS Artric #5856, ready to depart.

In addition to making sure I boarded the correct bus; because the Select Bus Service bus lines have off-board fare collection, there is an extra step that I needed to take. I went to the TVM by the bus stop and noticed an SBS Fare Validator Machine next to it. I inserted my MetroCard into the validator and picked up my receipt. When you board an SBS bus, you will need to keep your ticket receipt with you at all times, as ticket inspectors will board buses at random to weed out fare evaders. Fare evasion at the MTA will result in a hefty fine, so it’s best to make sure that you’ve paid your way before boarding.

A screenshot of MTA bus #5296, which I rode to Manhattan. The MTA uses a branded version of OneBusAway called “MTA Bus Time”.

Before my trip to New York City, I downloaded the MTA Bus Time Smartphone App so that I could track which buses were coming my way and at what times they would arrive. The MTA uses the OneBusAway interface to power MTA Bus Time.  You can download the app from the Apple App Store (iPhone) or the Google Play Store (Android), App information can be found on the MTA website.

I also posted regular updates to The Global Transit Travel Log Facebook Group during my trip, including which buses and trains I was on. It was a pretty cool experience being able to let my group members know where I was along the MTA system. In addition, I also posted check-ins on my HARTride 2012 Facebook Page.

On board bus #5296.

Once my bus arrived, I boarded and greeted the bus operator. I also noticed that even the SBS buses have fareboxes, though there is a sign covering it that notifies customers that fares are not collected on board the bus. The reason that all buses have fareboxes, regardless of whether they are SBS or not, is because any SBS bus can be easily rebranded into a regular local bus at any time. However, many of the SBS buses that serve LaGuardia are equipped with luggage racks, which make it easy for customers to stow away luggage without blocking the aisles.

M60-SBS Map. Click on the image to view the full schedule.

The M60-SBS operates pretty frequently, with 10 to 12 minute frequency during the day on weekdays. Buses run less frequent on weekends, holidays, and late-nights.

Bus #5296 at Morningside Heights in Manhattan.

The ride along the M60-SBS was just a little over an hour due to construction along the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, which traverses over the East River, Wards Island, and Randall’s Island. During my trip, I was able to pull up my hotel information, post to Facebook, and film a short video – which you can watch below. Once I arrived in the Morningside Heights district, I was only blocks away from my hotel – as well as the (1) Train to the heart of Manhattan.

It only took me about 10 minutes to walk from the M60-SBS terminating stop to my hotel. Once inside, I waited about 15 minutes for the person ahead of me to check in. Once I was checked  in, I was able to drop my bag off in my room and get a feel for the environment I was staying in for the next four nights. Although the Morningside Inn is not a top-of-the-line hotel, they have a cozy atmosphere with friendly staff and affordable rates. Each room has LCD TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi access, and comfortable beds, as well as ambient lighting. Many of the rooms also have a mini fridge, which allowed me to walk to the nearby markets to grab a quick snack or drink. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Manhattan without breaking the bank, and not wanting to go the Airbnb route, I highly recommend staying at the Morningside Inn.


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Transit Tourism – New York City Transit Excursion 2017 – Part 3

With Hurricane Irma now past us, I am gradually resuming my normal posts. With that, it’s about that time that I continue my series on my recent trip to New York City. In this episode, I will briefly describe my layover in Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, as well as why you’ll likely never see me on board a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) subway train.


Travel Log

So in departing from Tampa, everything was smooth sailing! My flight departed on time and had no issues whatsoever. The only downside was that WiFi service on board the plane was not complimentary like some airlines. However, I made due with scratch paper and a pen to conjure a fictional bus schedule on, so it wasn’t all that bad.

Preparing for taxi and takeoff from Tampa International Airport.

Upon arrival in Washington D.C., I didn’t have a whole lot of time to take photos of the terminal or really get a good glimpse of the complex being that I only had about 45 minutes to connect between terminals for my flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport (my flight arrived at 11:10am and my connecting flight began boarding at 12-noon). I also needed to grab a quick bite to eat for lunch, so each second counted.

Inside Terminal C of Reagan National Airport.

Despite the relatively small footprint of the existing terminal, getting from one terminal to the next was bit more challenging then I thought. My arriving flight was in Terminal C and my connecting flight was in Terminal B, right across the tarmac. However, to get between terminals, one would have to exit into the main terminal area, and then go through security again to enter the adjoining concourse. Now since each airline is pretty much self-contained at their respective terminal, crossing from one terminal to another doesn’t happen as much. However, American Airlines is the only airline at the airport that has a presence in both Terminals B and C, so you can see how this can become a problem.

American Airlines Shuttle Bus, #AA269 (35′ ElDorado National EZ-Rider II).

Fortunately, AA realizes this conundrum and provides a complimentary terminal connection shuttle so that its passengers can quickly get between Terminals B and C without having to exit and re-enter through security. This cuts down on connection time and lessens hassles. While locating the gate area where I could catch the shuttle was a bit hard to find, once I got down to the shuttle boarding area, the rest of my time at Reagan National was a breeze! The shuttle bus ride only took about 3 minutes to complete and I was able to snag a quick lunch at one of the Asian eateries in Terminal B. After my meal, I proceeded to the boarding area, as there was only a few minutes left before the next boarding call.


Scanning OneBusAway

While I mainly use the OneBusAway smartphone app in the Tampa Bay region for HART and PSTA, the app does work in Washington D.C. for the WMATA Metrobus system, as the agency uses OBA for bus tracking. The desktop interface in fact, is the “Enterprise” version that HART, PSTA, and the New York MTA use. WMATA brands its bus tracker as “busETA”.

So while eating lunch, I tried to capture a couple of WMATA’s bus routes on the OBA app. However, my signal wasn’t very strong and I was only able to screenshot a bus traveling on Route 23B, which traverses nearby the airport. The bus fleet number indicates that the bus that was shown in the screen capture is a 2015 New Flyer XN40 (40′ CNG). WMATA’s bus fleet comprises of New Flyer buses, as well as some Orion and NABI buses (the latter two were purchased by New Flyer).

WMATA Metrobus Route 23B. Click on the image for a closer look.

Now looking at the schedule on WMATA’s website, the 23 is actually split into three segments: A, B, & T. Each segment serves specific parts of the line during specific trips. If you’re not careful with which trip you’re boarding, you may end up missing your connection or having to transfer to another segment to complete your trip.


The Dreaded Metro (Subway)

While the New York City Subway has its many downsides, I’m always willing to risk my commute there because I love the NYC transit system too much to allow problematic commutes stop me from capturing awesome photos and experiences. However, the D.C. subway system has had some recent problems that have proven to be too much for me to want to endure – specifically several fires that weren’t handled very well (most notably the fire incident at L’Enfant Plaza). In addition, WMATA’s subway railcar problems seem to be worse off than NYC’s. Until WMATA gets its act together, I’m very wary of stepping aboard a subway train in D.C.


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Journeys Afar – New York City, 2017 – Part 2

And we’re off…!



I originally published this post back on 06/23/2017 as part of my blog post series about my 2017 New York City trip. However, I was unable to previously complete the series because of how I structured the first several posts (which is briefly discussed in my first post). Without further ado, here’s Part 2 of my 2017 NYC trip.

Note: This was written prior to HART enacting the Mission MAX route optimization project, so some references to the HART network in this post no longer point to the current network. Additionally, the two staff members originally mentioned in this post have since left HART. Sandra Morrison now works at the Florida Aquarium as their Director of Communications. You may follow her on Twitter, @spintotampabay.


In Part 2 of Transit Tourism – New York City Transit Excursion 2017, I am going to document my departure out of Tampa. Now, usually, my trips to Tampa International Airport aren’t much to write about – mainly because of the fact that Tampa Bay’s transit system is so inadequate. It’s even more pitiful when a world class airport like Tampa’s, is only served by one bus route – Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Route 30. Now, It’s been envisioned for a while to have a small transit hub on Tampa International Airport property, but previous plans fell through due to budgetary constraints and changing climates in the airport’s expansion plans. Fast forward to the present, and the airport is undergoing the largest expansion project ever to date. In the coming months, I’ll be making another update to my Tampa International Airport page – which will include photos of the terminal as of May/June 2017. Phase 2 of the airport expansion will include accommodations for HART buses to layover by the Consolidated Rental Car Facility – which would end the practice of buses going through the terminal loop roadway. Customers would instead get off the bus at the rental car center and take a SkyConnect train to the main terminal.

Whether you reside in Town-N-Country or South Tampa, HART Route 30 gets you to Tampa International Airport with 30-minute service seven days a week!

Travel Log

Now, to get back to the purpose of this post; instead of having my mom drop me off at the airport, or taking a taxi (the latter which costs a lot more than what I wanted to spend on transportation), I decided to take HART from my mom’s house in South Tampa to the airport via Routes 19, 36, & 30. Route 19 currently operates every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on weekends between Port Tampa City in South Tampa and Downtown Tampa’s Marion Transit Center. The 19 also serves Britton Plaza, Memorial Hospital, the Hyde Park district, and Tampa General Hospital. Buses south of Britton Plaza currently split into two segments, running roughly every hour; Manhattan Ave and WestShore Blvd. Route 36 currently traverses Dale Mabry Hwy and Himes Ave between South Tampa via Britton Plaza and Carrollwood by Fletcher Ave. The 36 runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on weekends. Finally, Route 30, which serves the airport, runs along Kennedy Blvd from Marion Transit Center to WestShore Blvd, passing by WestShore Plaza and International Plaza malls before arriving at the terminal. Buses continue onward to the Northwest Transfer Center in Town-N-Country, and operate every 30 minutes all day, all week. Under HART’s system reorganization plan, all three routes are slated for major revisions.

While it’s not necessarily easy to get to the airport via transit given the fact that Tampa Bay’s transit system is so inadequate, it is not necessarily impossible either if everything falls into place just right. While planning out my trip to New York, I heavily took transit accessibility into consideration and chose a flight out of Tampa that would not be so early in the morning by which I wouldn’t be able to use the bus to get to the terminal, but also not so late in the day by which I would not be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple during the same day. I also wanted to ensure that I would be able to connect between the airport in New York and wherever I was staying. The itinerary that I ultimately chose for my flight to New York was one by which the flight out of Tampa would depart at 8:30am and arrive in Washington D.C. (Reagan National Airport) by around 10:45am. My connecting flight out of D.C. would then depart at 12-noon and arrive at New York’s LaGuardia Airport by 1:30pm. This allowed me to plan my bus rides from South Tampa to TPA Airport in a manner by which I would enjoy seamless connections and relatively light traffic on the roads. Even though I had to get up early the morning of May 9, I was more than ready to head out that morning to catch my bus and flight. Best of all, I didn’t have to worry about parking fees or taxi fares, or having a family member drop me off. I left my car at my mom’s house, purchased a 3-day Flamingo Fare via the Flamingo Fares Tampa Bay App, and was able to relax and post on Facebook while on the bus. Below is an illustration showing the HART buses I took.

An illustration showing the HART bus routes that I rode to Tampa International Airport on May 9, 2017. Click on the image for a closer look.

Now before I go into each route, I will go ahead and clear something up that I know some of you will ask me. I purchased a 3-Day Flamingo Fare because I used HART on May 7 and May 8, in addition to May 9. I did this for two reasons; first, so that I would not have to hassle with locating parking in Ybor City or Downtown Tampa, and second, so I wouldn’t have to pay for each bus ride or purchase three separate day passes. May 7 happened to fall during the 2017 RiverFest, which was held along the Downtown Tampa RiverWalk. This family-friendly event featured food, entertainment, and all sorts of activities for everyone to enjoy! As with many Downtown Tampa events, parking is always a challenge, so I parked my car at Britton Plaza and took the 19 to Downtown to check out the festivities. On May 8, I parked in Downtown near the Marion Transit Center and took Route 8 to the HART Ybor City offices for a sit-down discussion with Sandra Morrison – HART’s Public Information Officer, and Marco Sandusky – HART’s Senior Manager of EEO and Community Programs. During our meeting, we discussed HART’s planned restructuring and what suggestions that I had in regards to various routes that are slated to be changed. We definitely had a wonderful discussion and I look forward to future transit conversations with them.


Route 19 – Manhattan Ave Branch to Britton Plaza

My journey to New York kicked off at around 4:00am. My duffel bag and backpack were ready to go the night before, and all I really had to do was get ready for the day ahead. Once I was all set to go (about 5:05am), I double checked my backpack for my boarding passes and then walked over to the bus stop. I managed to arrive at the bus stop just shy of 5:20am, which was the time that the first Route 19 bus to Downtown would depart from Port Tampa City. HART bus #1602 (a 2016 40-foot Gillig Low Floor CNG) arrived on time, and I was able to board without any issues with my Flamingo pass. I took my seat near the front of the bus and enjoyed the fifteen-minute ride to Britton Plaza. The bus actually arrived at the plaza a couple of minutes early, so I was able to have a little extra time at the plaza to eat my egg sandwiches that I prepared the day before. During my wait for Route 36, I saw Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus #2309 pull in, the last 2003 Motor Coach Industries (MCI) coach that was still in service for Route 100X. PSTA has slowly been phasing out its ten 2003 coaches since 2015 due to their age and rising cost to maintain them. Until funding avenues can be found for replacement coaches, standard Gillig Low Floor buses are being used as fill-ins for the 100X and 300X. My feeling is that PSTA may eventually purchase a fleet of 40-foot Gillig Low Floor suburban style buses that offer high-back reclining seats and luggage racks. Such buses are currently used at Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) for their Route 100X service. #2309 was pulled from service after May 19, 2017, and is awaiting official retirement.


Route 36 – Dale Mabry Hwy to Kennedy Blvd

HART bus #1004 (a 2010 40-foot Gillig Low Floor Diesel) arrived at Britton Plaza at approximately 5:50am. I quickly boarded and took a seat towards the middle of the bus. My ride was quite enjoyable, just like my ride on Route 19, with little traffic on the roads to delay the bus. While I was concerned that at least one trip would go haywire somehow, that fortunately did not happen. The ride on the 36 in fact, only took about nine minutes and the bus arrived at the stop on Dale Mabry Hwy at Kennedy Blvd on time. The clock had just struck 6:00am as I got off to cross the intersection and proceed to the Route 30 westbound stop.


Route 30 – Kennedy Blvd to TPA Airport

The walk to the Route 30 westbound stop along Kennedy Blvd by Church St took me about ten minutes. Once at the stop, I had until about 6:25am before the Route 30 bus arrived. During my wait, I saw the South Tampa Flex van (#4505) pull up and pick up a passenger. She was the only person to board the van and was the only passenger on board the van when it left. Both the Route 19 and 36 buses had only a handful of passengers on board, which was typical for an early morning trip. Buses typically don’t begin to crowd up midway through the route until around 6:30am, though the Route 36 bus did have a few more passengers on board than the 19 bus did. When #1215 (a 2012 Gillig Low Floor Diesel, which replaced 2000 Gillig Low Floor Diesel #2005) arrived, the bus was pretty crowded, so I was only able to take a seat after a standing passenger at the front of the bus got off a few stops down Kennedy. The bus continued to fill up with passengers until it was almost standing room only. During the fifteen-minute bus ride to the airport, I browsed the web and also posted a few things to Facebook. Like many transit agencies, HART buses are equipped with complimentary WiFi access to allow passengers to browse the web and social media without eating up their data plans. When I got off at the TPA Airport stop, which is located on the north (or Red) side of the Baggage Claim area, the clock read 6:38am, another on time arrival for HART!


Traversing TPA Airport

It took me only a few minutes to walk from the Baggage Claim level to the Shuttle level. For those unfamiliar with TPA Airport’s unique layout (only Orlando International Airport possess a similar layout to Tampa’s), level 1 of the main terminal (also known as the Landside Terminal) is for Baggage Claim. Level 2 is Ticketing and Check-In (of course I checked in online since I was not checking any bags in), and level 3 is where the shops, restaurants, and airside shuttles are located. Boarding and deboarding of planes take place at the airsides, by which passengers will take a people mover shuttle between the main terminal and the airside. SkyConnect will be a people mover line as well – connecting the main terminal to the southeast parking garage and the rental car center. To learn more about TPA Airport, you can visit their website. Also be sure to check out Orlando International’s website if you plan on flying into City Beautiful soon.

Once I arrived at the shuttle station to go to the airside (about 6:45am), I noticed that only one shuttle per airside was in service. During the construction process at the terminal complex, each airside is operating one shuttle instead of two. This is to allow modifications to be made to each of the shuttle bays. In the case with Airside E, both shuttle bays will be relocated so that more space can be made for shops and restaurants. Once the work wraps up next year or so, both shuttles will return to service at each airside. And by the way, the shuttle trip only takes about a minute to complete, which is very convenient versus airport terminals that follow a more traditional layout with long concourses. Security screening wasn’t too bad either and the lines weren’t terribly long. Every time I enter an airport to catch a flight, I’m always concerned that security screening will take a long time. However, on my last fight to New York in 2011, the lines weren’t very long either. At most, it was only about fifteen minutes. By the time I arrived at my gate, it was 7:00am – an hour of relaxation before boarding call!


I will continue my journey to LaGuardia in Part 3 of the series. However, I am going to also talk about the transit system in Washington D.C. and why I’m wary of ever using it. I will also talk about the shuttle buses at Reagan National Airport, so please stay tuned!


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Journeys Afar – New York City, 2017 – Part 1

Off to the Concrete Jungle…



I originally published this post back on 06/20/2017 as part of my blog post series about my 2017 New York City trip. However, I was unable to previously complete the series because of how I structured the first several posts.

Under my original plan, I laid out up to 60 different posts regarding the trip & my various transit sightings & rides – which proved to be too time consuming to do. As a result, I halted the series after Part 5 was published & spent several months as to how to carry forth future posts.

Now, with my 2019 San Francisco trip completed, I wanted to re-launch the NYC series under my new project called Journeys Afar. This project will roll in all of my out-of-town travel logs into a creative format that I can convey to my readers.

So without further ado, here’s my original post – but in the new WordPress format.


It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a Transit Tourism post, and I really haven’t been able to get this series off the ground due to other priorities. However, I’m sure that many of you have seen at least one photo or video of my recent travels through New York City, and I want to be able to share my experiences with you. I’ve actually taken three trips now to the Big Apple – one in April of 1997, the second in March of 2011, and the third – and most recent one – in May of 2017.

My 1997 trip was for a family wedding, and I truly enjoyed being able to spend time with them and also do a lot of sightseeing. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos documenting my transit rides from 1997 because the camera that my father was carrying got lost during our trip, and thus 95% of the photos we took had vanished forever. I can tell you though that we rode the (7) train between Flushing – Main St and Times Square – 42nd St quite a lot. It was our main avenue between Queens and Manhattan since my dad didn’t want to battle the busy Manhattan traffic all the time. Back in 1997, the famed “Redbird” trains – dating back to the 1964 World’s Fair and before – were still running along the (7). It would not be until a year later that the New York MTA would announce that all of the “Redbirds” would be replaced by sleek, modern R-142 and R-142A railcars.

Looking towards the waterfront skyline of Jersey City, near Exchange Place, in March of 2011.

In 2011, I made a return trip to New York City via Newark to visit my family and to do another round of sightseeing. Since most of my stay was devoted to family time, I didn’t place a huge emphasis on transit fanning, and thus did not take a lot of photos of the buses and trains. I was, however, able to ride the (6), (J), and (R) trains through lower and midtown Manhattan, as well as take the PATH Subway from Exchange Place into Manhattan, and also ride a New Jersey Transit bus from Manhattan to Fort Lee, NJ. You can find my 2011 transit photo collection (though a small one) on my Facebook Page. I will have those same photos copied over to the website as I build my New York City Transit sections.

So what brought me back to New York City this year? Well, to keep things short; my stepfather travels on business a lot and he had a flight voucher that he was no longer going to use, so he offered it to me. I then pondered, what destinations could I use the voucher for? It didn’t take me very long to decide on the Big Apple, and why not? I was originally not planning on traveling to New York again until around 2020. But with the South Ferry Loop closing down by July in favor of the “newer” rebuilt station, I wanted to make sure that I was able to photograph a piece of New York City Transit history before it gets riddled in graffiti. Since I wanted to be close to the transit action in Manhattan, I decided to stay at the Morningside Inn, located on 207th St in the Morningside Heights district of Manhattan. The district sits between the Hudson River and the northwest section of Central Park and is just a stone’s throw away from Columbia University. The district also serves as the western terminus for the M60 Select Bus Service line from LaGuardia Airport, and one can easily transfer over to the (1) train via the 103rd St or 110th St (Cathedral Pkwy) stations.

Overlooking the Verrazano Narrows Bridge – connecting Staten Island to Brooklyn. I took this photo as my plane was on its final approach to LaGuardia Airport in May of 2017.

In addition to spending some time with my relatives in NJ again, I made sure to make visits to the Bronx Zoo, the World Trade Center memorial park, and also the New York Transit Museum. I also managed to make two trips to Coney Island (though I did not stay there for very long). Overall, my trip was very enjoyable, even though it was shorter in duration than my 2011 trip (my 2011 trip included six full days whereas my 2017 trip only included three full days). However, I was able to accomplish quite a bit in the course of four days, including the above, plus rides on the (1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (B), (F), (G), (J), (L), (N), (Q), (R), (W), and (Z) trains, plus the 42nd St Shuttle in midtown Manhattan. In addition, I took a ride on five MTA bus lines – the Bx12-SBS, the Q44-SBS, the M60-SBS, the M72 Crosstown, and the M79 Crosstown – as well as a round trip on the PATH Subway between 33rd St and Newport (formerly known as Pavonia-Newport).

If you’d like to see all of the transit lines that I’ve traversed during my three trips to New York, please view the map below. In the coming weeks, I will be putting forth subsequent episodes detailing segments of my 2017 trip and what I was able to observe.

You’ll see in the map that I’ve documented all transit lines that I’ve been on, including ones during my previous two trips. The neat thing about Google Maps is that you can customize the map (through the Google My Maps interface) by drawing lines and such, and then adding in different layers. I especially like the layers because you can show which ones you want to view, so if you only want to view the lines I took during my 2017 trip, you can simply uncheck the boxes for my 1997 and 2011 trips.


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PSTA Adventures – Episode 1 – Transit fanning with Transit509 and YoBusDriver

PSTA Adventures Episode 1

This week, I am beginning a new transit fan series called PSTA Adventures. This series will focus on my periodic trips around Pinellas County using the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (or PSTA) bus system.

Back Story

Living in St. Pete has provided me with an immense opportunity to be able to use public transit regularly again!
Living in St. Pete has provided me with an immense opportunity to be able to use public transit regularly again!

Before I go in depth into my inaugural post, I would like to first provide some background as to why I am beginning this particular series at this time. I know that some of you will probably want to ask me, “Why not start something like this on the HART bus system?”. The answer is very simple; I now reside in St. Petersburg and am aiming by the end of the year to reduce my dependency on a car. I made this cross-bay move from South Tampa to be closer to my day job – which is situated in the Carillon Business Park. I lived in South Tampa since 1991, but have had to deal with long and strenuous commutes since 2010 – many of which were exceeding 45 minutes in each direction. Now my work commutes are no more than 15 minutes each way, which dramatically cuts down on fuel consumption.

My goal is that by the end of the year, I will be purchasing a folding bike – yes, a folding bike – to be able to further decrease my car usage and be able to use public transit more regularly. I am very much interested in folding bikes because, 1) they are a space saver – especially for those (like me) who live in a relatively small apartment unit, and 2) because transit agencies are gradually taking notice of folding bikes and are allowing them to be brought on board the bus or train – given that the bikes are folded up properly before boarding, and that they are kept clear of aisles and doors. I am very happy to say that both PSTA and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (or HART) both allow folding bikes on board their buses. Just be sure to adhere to what I just mentioned, or the operator will be giving you unpleasant looks when you board. I don’t want to see you get into any trouble because you didn’t properly fold your bike or your bike was blocking an aisle or door.

With this said, let’s begin our journey on board PSTA!

Preparations

PSTA GO Card.
PSTA GO Card. (Select the photo for a larger view)

Since April of 2014, my fellow transit blogger and friend Zachary Ziegler – known to many as Transit509 – had been considering another visit to the Tampa Bay Area. His first visit was back in 2012, where he was able to hop aboard the HART and PSTA bus systems with former HART bus operator Jason Eames – also known as YoBusDriver. In fact, you can read Zac’s previous post about his experience on the PSTA system by going on over to his website, transit509.com. Shortly thereafter, Jason wrote up his own post at his blog, which I also encourage you to read. Both of these posts will give you some good insight as to what they experienced on their previous PSTA bus adventure and will serve as a precursor to the post that I am presenting to you today.

As Zac’s itinerary was confirmed, we began to talk about which bus routes we wanted to travel on. Because both Zac and Jason had seen the Park Street Terminal in Clearwater on their last trip, they thought it would be best to focus this trip on the routes that serve Williams Park and the Grand Central Terminal – both of which are located in St. Petersburg. This plan I definitely did not mind, since I myself had seen the Park Street Terminal several times, and have already taken some photos of the buses that were laying over at the moment. Plus, I had not seen the Grand Central Terminal in person yet, so this would be a perfect opportunity to do so.

When the morning of our bus adventure finally arrived, which was Wednesday, August 12, 2015, I drove on down to CVS Pharmacy to pick up a one-day PSTA GO Card, which is the mag-stripe bus pass that PSTA uses. HART names their bus passes HARTride Passes, which is partially where I got my blogger identity from. PSTA began a partnership with CVS back in 2013 by which CVS would be able to sell certain Go Cards at regular price. In fact, many transit agencies work hard to strike up such agreements with merchants; both national chains and locally-owned businesses, to allow transit pass/card sales so that customers have more choices and flexibility on where they can purchase their next bus or train fare. PSTA and HART currently have similar agreements with many Amscot locations, as well as other select check cashing vendors, gift shops, and other local merchants. I highly recommend that you check with your transit agency to see if they sell transit passes/cards at third party locations.

Meeting Up and Breakfast

Arriving at my bus stop.
Arriving at my bus stop.

You can find the "Real Time" panel at each PSTA bus stop.
You can find the “Real Time” panel at each PSTA bus stop. (Select the photo for a larger view)

Being that it was a weekday, we knew that many bus routes would be operating at their peak during the morning hours. Route 74, which runs nearby where I live, operates on a 20 to 30-minute headway during the weekdays, but runs more sporadically on weekends. Route 74 currently connects the Indian Rocks Shopping Center to the Shoppes at Park Place via Park and Gandy Boulevards. The route then takes a turn onto MLK St N to connect to the Gateway Shopping Center (known to many locals as Gateway Mall, as the open-air shopping complex was once the site of a traditional enclosed shopping mall). The route then travels down 77th Ave N and 16th St N towards Williams Park in downtown St. Pete. The Route 74 trip that I was able to take was set to arrive at my bus stop at about 7:37am, by which required me to leave my apartment no later than 7:05am, being that the stop was about a 15 minute walk down the road leading to Gandy Blvd.

As I walked towards my bus stop, I periodically checked the time by which my bus was scheduled to arrive. For this bus adventure, I heavily relied on PSTA’s “Real Time” system, which debuted back in 2012. This GPS based bus arrival and tracker system is extremely useful to many customers, and the same interface is currently used by Sarasota County Area Transit in Sarasota, FL, the Chicago CTA in Chicago, IL, the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority in Williamsburg, VA, just to name a few. If you want to check out “Real Time” for yourself, simply type ridepsta.net into your web browser’s URL bar.

Upon arriving at my bus stop, I saw a westbound Route 74 bus passing by – a 2006-series 40-foot Gillig Low Floor, #2601. These buses are very similar in nature to the 2006-series 40-foot Gillig Low Floor buses that HART has. While the interior seating layout and styling vary, the bus fleets are similar to that they both feature “frameless windows”, meaning that the exterior window panes are squared instead of oval. I tried to get a good photo of it, but a sign was in the way. Nonetheless, I decided to keep the photo, which you can see on my Facebook Page, and soon on the PSTA section of my website. By the time that the westbound bus had passed, there was only about 7 minutes left before the eastbound bus would arrive to take me to Gateway Mall, so I took this opportunity to take a few more photos of my surroundings.

#10104 arrives at my stop!
#10104 arrives at my stop!

The eastbound bus that I wound up boarding was one of the 35-foot 2010-series Gillig Low Floor BRT-style hybrids, #10104. Since their debut in 2009, PSTA’s hybrid-electric bus fleet – which are branded as “The Smartbus” – have been steadily growing. In fact, the hybrid fleet has gone from the agency’s initial purchase of 24 buses from 2009 to 61 buses as of July, 2015, that’s about 30% of the agency’s roughly 200 buses that are currently on the roster. While 2016 presents a huge challenge for PSTA, as a federal grant that previously went to purchasing the hybrids is no longer available, the agency is still heavily committed to exploring buses that use alternative methods of propulsion. The agency hosted back in May of 2015, a demo of the Proterra Catalyst battery electric bus, and more recently on August 31, 2015, a demo of the Complete Coach Works ZEPS Electric Bus; the latter of which Zac has previously blogged on. Zac has also blogged on the BYD (Build Your Dreams) Zero-Emissions transit bus, which will demo at PSTA’s headquarters on September 14, 2015.

#2208 on layover via Route 4.
#2208 on layover via Route 4. (Select the photo for a larger view)

It did not take long for the bus to travel to Gateway Mall – only about 10 minutes to be exact – and the bus still was able to arrive relatively on time. Being that I had about 15 minutes to spare before Zac and Jason were scheduled to arrive via Route 100X from Tampa, I took a few photos of the bus loading bays along 77th Ave N. I then went into Office Depot to purchase a portable cell phone charger, which I did at the strong advice of my fellow transit photographer and blogger Anthony Nachor. I’m very glad that I made the purchase because I was able to intermittently charge my phone so that I was in-turn…able to take photos through most of my transit adventure. By the time that 8:00am had arrived, and the doors to Office Depot had opened, Zac and Jason had already arrived, thinking that my bus had arrived later than usual. With that said, it only took me three minutes to get in and out of Office Depot, allowing us a couple of minutes to transfer to the 8:05am eastbound Route 59 trip towards downtown St. Pete.

For breakfast, I suggested that we stop off at Trip’s Diner, which was along the way on MLK St N. I previously had breakfast and lunch there and the food is quite good at reasonable prices. While we were waiting for our food to be served, we talked about various topics – both transit and non-transit related, as well as prepared our cameras and phones for the adventure ahead. We all found it very fascinating that the table that we sat at, specifically the tabletop, had an engraved map of Busch Gardens that dated back to its opening in 1959. Yes, a lot of things have changed with Busch Gardens Tampa since its opening, let alone since my arrival in Tampa Bay back in 1991.

Downtown St. Pete

Waiting to board the Central Ave Trolley to Pass-A-Grille.
Waiting to board the Central Ave Trolley, #823, to Pass-A-Grille. (Select the photo for a larger view)

After breakfast, we caught the eastbound Route 59 (bus #2112, a 2001-series 40-foot Gillig Low Floor) to Williams Park, which serves as the downtown St. Pete bus terminal. Bus shelters currently line three sides of the park (the south, west, and north ends), allowing for seamless transfers to adjoining routes while simultaneously allowing one to catch a glimpse of the central amphitheater and other public commons. The east end meanwhile is currently used for street-side metered parking. While at the park, I managed to capture a few photos of various buses that had stopped for layover, as we had several minutes to spare before our connection to the Central Ave Trolley was to depart.

One thing that I will point out is that PSTA operators shut down their buses during layovers and shut the doors if they step away from the bus. I think that this is good thing since there may be a few people out there who may have ill intentions. Bus thefts have indeed happened before, you just might not always hear about them in the news.

Another thing to note is that for the past several years, PSTA has been trying to work out a plan with the city of St. Pete to eventually vacate Williams Park, in order to open the park back up to general public use. Yes, the park is a public space, but some residents don’t want to visit because it currently attracts the homeless, loiterers, and those who want to stir up trouble in the city. It’s an unfortunate thing when it comes to bus terminals in general, and I do wish for the current situation to get better. As of May, 2015, PSTA intends to move out of Williams Park by February 1, 2016 and will gradually shift its downtown routes into a grid pattern, where bus transfers are done at street corners. It is unclear if the customer service center at the north end of the park will remain intact.

CAT and Pass-A-Grille

Ah, the beach!
Ah, the beach! (Select the photo for a larger view)

Following our brief layover at Williams Park, we boarded Central Ave Trolley bus #823 for a ride down to Pass-A-Grille, which serves as the trolley’s western terminus. The trolley was created several years ago to seamlessly connect tourists and residents between downtown St. Pete and St. Pete Beach. Upon the route’s initial success, PSTA decided to make the trolley line a permanent fixture to the system, replacing Route 35. The entire route is operated by yellow 35-foot Gillig Low Floor Trolley Replica buses, all of which are either 2008 or 2009 models that utilize diesel-electric hybrid technology. Unlike the hybrid “Smartbuses”, you won’t see a tank across the roof, as some of the systems are able to be contained within other sections of the bus. After all, having a hybrid tank on the roof of a replica trolley bus would pretty much destroy the charm of the bus right off the bat.

One thing that I noticed about the replica trolley buses that PSTA uses is that they use standard transit seats instead of the charming replica trolley benches that HART’s In-Towner trolley replica buses use. I think that the use of standard transit seating on board the trolley replicas destroys the charm of these buses and almost makes the buses completely pointless to even use. While I am unsure as to why PSTA made this move, I fully respect their decision.

#922 was our return trip back to St. Pete.
#922 was our return trip back to St. Pete. (Select the photo for a larger view)

In regards to the route itself, the Central Ave Trolley is the only PSTA bus route to utilize a fare zone system. If you board the bus going westbound, you pay your fare when you exit. If you board the bus going eastbound, you pay the fare as you enter. The segment between the St. Pete Pier and Sundial St. Pete (formerly known as BayWalk) is a fare free zone, meaning that you don’t pay a penny if you board and de-board in this area. The segment between Sundial and the Grand Central Terminal is considered a $1.00 fare zone, and the segment west of Grand Central is considered a #2.00 fare zone. So let’s say that you are like me, and you boarded the bus in Williams Park and de-boarded in Pass-A-Grille; you’ll pay the $2.00 fare as you exit the bus. While it is not odd to see transit systems use a fare zone system, as many agencies across the globe use them, the Central Ave Trolley appears to be the only transit route in Tampa Bay to use this type of fare structure.

Another characteristic of the trolley line is that in Pass-A-Grille is that trips alternate between 8th Ave and 1st Ave. Schedules are marked with an “X” beside specific trips, indicating that those trips run along 1st Ave. We happened to be on a trip that ran along 1st Ave.

Upon arrival to Pass-A-Grille, we paid our fare and headed across the street to the beach side eatery, where we grabbed some ice cream, something to drink, and took a few photos of the coast. The weather was just perfect for a nice swim, but none of us were planning on being in the water. While our time at the beach was short-lived, only about 30 minutes before we headed off on the trolley back towards downtown, being able to get a glimpse of the beach definitely allowed me to relax and also stir up some conversation with Zac and Jason.

Back to Grand Central and Downtown

Looking at the bus bays at the Grand Central bus station.
Looking at the bus bays at the Grand Central bus station. (Select the photo for a larger view)

Heading back towards downtown St. Pete, we decided to take the Central Ave Trolley to the Grand Central Terminal, which opened in 2002 and was originally called the Central Plaza Intermodal Terminal. What is unique about this bus terminal is that it was constructed as a circle, rather than a linear complex that many bus terminals across the globe are designed to be as. While the terminal is pretty sleek and modern, it does pose a huge downside…which is that buses have to go in reverse for a few moments in order to pull out of the bus bay. In fact, I saw several instances by which one bus was very close to another as it backed out of the space. On the other hand, the terminal was constructed with two entry and two exit points so that buses don’t have to go all the way around just to enter or exit the complex. There is also a customer service center at the complex, as there is also one at Williams Park, the Park St Terminal, and the Pinellas Park Transit Center (Shoppes at Park Place), which make it convenient for customers to purchase passes and ask questions to transit staff.

#12101 at Williams Park after completing its run on Route 79.
#12101 at Williams Park after completing its run on Route 79. (Select the photo for a larger view)

After spending some time at Grand Central, we decided to hop on the southbound/eastbound Route 79 to return to Williams Park. There I was able to take a few more photos of the buses laying over along the park, as well as discuss which routes we would conclude our adventure with. Since the cross-bay express routes stop service by 7pm, it was important for Jason and Zac to be able to head back into Tampa in time to be able to make their necessary connections at the Marion Transit Center. I don’t think they had any plans to stick around Pinellas through the evening rush.

Up to this point in our journey, I noticed how the bus schedules do not display the direction that the bus is traveling (i.e. Northbound, Southbound, etc.), but instead only read the final destination. I think that this is very confusing to a customer and that PSTA should look into adding this into their schedules, as many transit agencies I’ve used (including HART) already do so. Also up to this point, all three of us were periodically tweeting our activities on board the bus, and were trying to see if we could stop by the PSTA Facility. After a while, we were told by PSTA staff that we could stop by after 2:00pm. So at some point, we decided to head northward in that direction.

Northward Bound

Looking at a LED board that displays arrival times for each route serving Gateway Mall.
Looking at a LED board that displays arrival times for each route serving Gateway Mall.

From Williams Park, we took Route 4 up to Publix by 4th St N and 38th Ave N for lunch. Route 4 is among PSTA’s busiest and most frequent routes during the weekdays and Saturdays; running every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on Saturdays. On Sundays, the route runs more sporadically, roughly every hour from the 7am hour through 5pm. Now since we were traveling on a weekday, we knew that we could catch Route 4 very easily compared to some of the other routes that only run 30 minutes during the weekday. After having our sub sandwich lunch, we continued northbound on Route 4 towards Gateway Mall, where we transferred to Route 59 going northbound/westbound. We then made a pit stop at the PSTA Facility off of 34th St N and Scherer Dr to see if we could meet with the wonderful staff to discuss our transit adventure.

The PSTA Facility at sunrise. Taken June, 2015 by HARTride 2012.
The PSTA Facility at sunrise. Taken June, 2015 by HARTride 2012. (Select the photo for a larger view)

Now unlike some transit agencies, there is actually a transfer platform on 34th St N, just outside of the PSTA Facility. This platform serves as a transfer point for Routes 11 (weekdays only), 52, 59, 97 (weekdays only), and 98 (weekdays only), and is equipped with several bus shelters and restrooms (both for customers and for operators). Beyond the transfer platform is the headquarters facility for PSTA, which broke ground in 2003 and opened in 2005. The two story administration/operations building, along with its various maintenance/garage facilities, allow all of PSTA’s operations and maintenance tasks to be done in one location, as opposed to having two facilities that dated back to the 1970s and 80s. The former St. Pete division facility was built when the Central Pinellas Transit Authority (or CPTA) and St. Pete’s municipal bus service merged in 1982, and the Clearwater division facility dated back to the formation of CPTA (if not earlier).

#2105 at the 34th St N transfer platform.
#2105 at the 34th St N transfer platform. (Select the photo for a larger view)

While at the PSTA Facility, we had a chance to sit down and talk about transit-related matters with Ashlie Handy – who serves as PSTA’s Media Liasion – and Alissa Kostyk – who serves as PSTA’s Social Media Coordinator. Among the topics discussed were creative ways that PSTA could reach out to the masses, including Millennials, through Social Media initiatives. I think that is always great when transit agencies are able to reach out to both current customers and prospective customers via Social Media, because they are able to grab a wider audience than they are able to through traditional methods such as TV and radio ads. Such ads nowadays are pretty costly to produce and it can be time consuming to gather the necessary resources needed for that ad. Social Media campaigns on the other hand don’t necessarily have to be expensive to be able to gain a wide reach.

To note, this isn’t my first time to the PSTA Facility. I had the opportunity back in June to visit for the Proterra electric bus demo, where I met Alissa and PSTA’s Director of Communications, Cynthia Raskin-Schmitt, for the first time. I’ve also attended a couple of public meetings and workshops at the facility since that demo was held, and hope to be able to attend many more as I begin to plan out how to use PSTA on a regular basis. I also attended yesterday’s BYD E-Bus demo at the facility, which I will discuss my experience in a future post.

Solo Dinner Trip to Clearwater

The Suncoast Beach Trolley prepares for departure.
The Suncoast Beach Trolley prepares for departure. Note that these are 2007 Gillig Low Floor diesel replica trolleys. (Select the photo for a larger view)

As with all great things, the journey must eventually come to an end. After our meeting at the PSTA Facility, Zac and Jason decided to begin their journey back to Tampa via Routes 11 and 300X, and I certainly did not want them to miss their connections, as the evening rush was approaching. We managed to take a few more photos, including a few group photos, before we parted ways. Wanting to continue my leg of the adventure on board PSTA, I decided to take Route 52, which runs along a section of East Bay Dr, towards Clearwater.

While on board the East Bay Dr section of Route 52, the bus became filled to standing room only and stayed that way through the 49th St N segment of the route. It was not until we had passed through Largo that many of the passengers began to de-board. Two of the passengers on board seemed to be long time friends who had not seen each other in a long while. They conversed for about fifteen minutes before arriving at their stop. Before getting off, they exchanged phone numbers, hoping to be able to meet up again soon. It’s always a wonderful thing when you have friends on board your bus!

Upon arrival at Clearwater’s Park St Terminal, I snapped a few photos of the buses laying over there. It is to note that the Park St station was PSTA’s first transfer station, which was constructed in 1983. While the facility is largely antiquated, it is equipped with LED boards that display bus arrival information, restrooms (for both customers and operators), and a customer service window. There are currently long term plans for PSTA to replace the transfer center with a newer and modern facility, but I am not sure when that might happen, or where the new facility will be located.

For dinner that night, I decided to walk on over to Tony’s Pizzeria & Ristorante on Cleveland St. While Cleveland St serves as downtown Clearwater’s “Main Street” district so to speak – and is home to the lovely restored Capitol Theater – the area has suffered greatly from a general decline in tourist traffic ever since the fixed-span Memorial Causeway bridge was built, and all beach traffic was rerouted onto Chestnut and Court Streets to the south. Having a family member that previously owned and operated a business in a downtown area, I know how important it is to patronize locally owned businesses. After all, with my dinner consisting of a delicious baked Calzone, I know that I would be back to that particular restaurant for dinner in the future.

Return Home and Conclusion

Route 18 southbound (#12102) at the Park St Terminal in Clearwater.
Route 18 southbound (#12102) at the Park St Terminal in Clearwater. (Select the photo for a larger view)

With the day nearly over, I headed back to the Park St Terminal to catch Route 61 to the Indian Rocks Shopping Center. This was the second to last trip of the evening with a relatively empty load. In fact, I was the only passenger on board from the time the bus passed East Bay Dr to the final destination. It’s not uncommon for later evening buses to not have many passengers on board, but it is also not a surprise to see tons of passengers boarding at certain points along the route due to service winding down for the evening. One thing to note about Route 61 is the amount of zig zagging that it does. This is mainly due to the some of the lower income neighborhoods the the route serves, including the segment between Ridge Rd and Vonn Rd. On my particular trip for some reason, the operator missed the turn onto 8th Ave SW to connect to Ridge Rd. It was not until the bus had reached Ulmerton Rd that the operator realized that he had missed his turn.

Upon arrival at the Indian Rocks Shopping Center, I transferred over to Route 74 for my ride home. The bus filled up rather quickly along the route and many passengers boarded and de-boarded at the Shoppes at Park Place. As the bus approached my stop, I began to feel a bit tired, but knew at the same time that I had to make my final 15 minute walk back to my apartment. I certainly wasn’t going to fall asleep right on the bus, especially it being one of the final trips of the evening. As I stepped off the bus and began my walk back home, I thought about how awesome of a day it was to be able to ride the bus around Pinellas County with Zac and Jason. I certainly hope to be able to do it all over again, but with different routes in mind. Hopefully that will be the case for our next bus adventure…whenever that may come.

So in conclusion, Episode 1 of this PSTA bus adventure wound up being a bit more than what I expected, considering that we were able to make a stop at the PSTA facility. While I wished we could have gone on a few more routes, I fully understood that we were on a limited schedule. I know that I will have many more opportunities to explore the various PSTA routes and destinations as time progresses. In fact, I am already planning out Episode 2 of this series as I finish this one up. The “South Florida Transitfan”, Carlos A. Arganda, told me recently that he is planning a trip to Pinellas County real soon, and he has expressed interest in wanting me to join him for an adventure on board both PSTA and HART. So be sure to look out for Episode 2 in the coming weeks!


You’ll notice that on many of my photos, I now have a copyright stamp. This is to lessen the risk of my photos being used without permission, although there will be photos that will be designated for the Public Domain.


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