Journeys Afar – San Francisco, 2019 – Part 2

Ready for takeoff!

In this fifth episode of Journeys Afar, I will continue my adventure out to the San Francisco Bay Area. For both my originating & return journeys, I opted for flights that would take me to the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX area. I first had the opportunity to traverse DFW Airport back in 2002 & 2003, & during both times there was a lot of construction going on. What is known today as Skylink, was still under construction at the time, & Terminal D was also being built. So thus, I wanted to get a glimpse of what the airport looks like now. I do regret not allotting myself a bit more extra time on my return trip to spend at the airport because otherwise, I would have had time to get photography of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail & Trinity Metro TEXRail (commuter rail) platforms.

I’ll begin this post briefly discussing my departure from TPA Airport, followed by my layover observations at DFW Airport. Later, I’ll go into my arrival at SFO Airport & end with my journey into the heart of the city of San Francisco.

Departing from Tampa

Heading down the ramp to the plane!

Boarding call for my first flight – American Airlines # 1351 – began at about 11:10am, with the plane (a Boeing 737-800) pushing back from Gate 78 on time at 11:42am. The overall boarding process went without any major issues & I was able to sit comfortably in my window seat (I love window seats on the plane by the way) during the entire flight. I will point out however that the blue bag that I mentioned at the very end of Part 1, I wound up checking that in at the gate counter. The reason was due to it being a full flight & there was no more overhead bin space to fit the bag in. Therefore, I carried my other backpack with me – which was compact enough to fit under the seat in front of me.

Looking out my window as the plane is about to be pushed back from the gate.

For those of you who wish to watch, here’s video footage of my departure from Tampa.

Layover at Dallas-Fort Worth

Hello Dallas!

My flight arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport at 1:25pm Central Time (pretty much on-time). However, I received an alert through the American Airlines smartphone app that my connecting flight to San Francisco (# 2083) was delayed by 30 minutes (the originally scheduled departure time was 2:50pm CT, but it was pushed back to 3:20pm CT). This delay was due to the plane originating from another city before flying into Phoenix, AZ & getting delayed there. While this delay theoretically bought me a bit more time to explore parts of DFW Airport, I still needed to make sure that I arrived at my connecting gate on time.

Here’s the footage of my arrival in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Walking up the ramp from the gate.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot had changed at DFW Airport since my last pass-through in 2003 – namely the opening of the Skylink automated people mover system. Being that I had some extra time to spend before I needed to be at my connecting gate, I decided that I would go ahead and catch a quick round trip between Terminal C & Terminal A – the former by which both my arriving flight & departing flight were located at.

One of the first things I noticed when I exited the gate area was that there was a 7-11 convenience store in Terminal C. For a moment, you would not think that a convenience store chain would open a store inside a bustling airport – but believe it or not – the need for such a store is there. In fact, the chain recently opened a location inside the Westfield Brandon Mall in Brandon, FL, so seeing this location at DFW Airport doesn’t feel weird at all.

The 7-11 at DFW Airport sells many of the same items that you’d see at a 7-11 just around the corner in your neighborhood – including pizza slices, cold prepackaged sandwiches, hot dogs, chips, coffee, & sodas.

So you’re probably wondering if I have any past photos of DFW Airport from my previous pass-throughs. Unfortunately, I don’t – as my time spent there was with family & I didn’t have a camera on me to snap photos with. That’s okay though, because I took the opportunity to get new photos & should I pass through this airport again in the future, I’ll have those to help expand my overall collection.

After locating my connecting gate, it was time to check out Skylink.

After taking a moment to glance at the 7-11, I immediately proceeded to locate Gate C15, where my connecting flight to San Francisco would board later. It didn’t take me too long to find it, so once I did, it was time to head upstairs to the Skylink station to take a quick ride to Terminal A & back.

All of the terminals (except Terminal D) are “C” shaped, with Terminal D being more of a “K” shape. The on-site Grand Hyatt hotel is located at Terminal D – which serves as the airport’s international terminal. The Skylink system connects all five terminals together so that passengers aren’t having to exit & then re-enter security (especially in the case of Terminal E, which isn’t connected to the others by a sky bridge). The network utilizes a fleet of Bombardier Innovia 300 automated people mover (APM) trains that comprise of paired sets (2 cars per train).

Train # 024 pulls into the station.

Knowing that I had only a limited amount of time before I needed to grab a quick bite to eat, then proceed back to Gate C15, I made my trek to Terminal A very short. The good thing is that trains come around in both directions pretty frequently (roughly every 2 to 3 minutes during the day), which is comparable to TPA Airport’s SkyConnect, as well as the Main Terminal to Airside shuttles.

Inside train # 024. This train was quite crowded. Train # 020 going back to Terminal C was even more crowded.

While DFW Airport has a lot of different dining options, knowing time was limited before boarding call began at 2:50pm (CT), I settled on getting a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal at McDonalds at Terminal C, which was not too far from Gate C15. Once I got my food, I went back to the gate area & consumed my food before boarding began.

Once I was finished with my lunch, I had a brief opportunity to go onto the 3rd-party TransSee website, which allows you to track transit vehicles across a number of US & Canadian transit agencies, & see which buses were running on the Trinity Metro (Fort Worth) DASH circulator – which debuted a few months ago, as well as the midday/PM Molly Trolley, which is another circulator. Both routes connect to specific areas within or near Downtown Fort Worth & offer frequent departures – with the DASH beginning service during the 9am (CT) hour & the Molly starting up around lunch time. Both services operate during the PM & early evening hours, with the DASH running extended night service on weekends. The mainline difference between the DASH & the Molly is that the Molly uses 29′ 2015 Gillig Low Floor replica trolleys, while the DASH is specifically designed to use battery electric buses. The DASH therefore uses 35′ 2019 New Flyer Xcelsior battery electric vehicles (the XE35).

While DART has real-time tracking capabilities, their interface currently does not display vehicle fleet numbers, so there was no point in me doing anything on that end.

With boarding call commencing at 2:50pm (CT), it was once again time for me to prepare to leave. With the ongoing delay, it was projected that I would arrive in San Francisco at about 5:00pm (PT) as opposed to the original scheduled time of 4:30pm (PT). At that point however, I would be happy if I was able to catch my BART connection & still get to downtown San Francisco on time. Knowing that trains depart the SFO Airport station every 15 minutes via the Yellow Line, I knew that there was a possibility of me missing the departures at 4:41pm & 4:58pm respectively, thus the 5:15pm trip would be my “fallback” trip to be able to arrive in downtown on time.

Now, you’re probably wondering, why am I concerned about arriving in downtown San Francisco at a specific time? Well, only because I previously arranged a dinner meetup with both Anthony N. – friend & fellow transit enthusiast/advocate, as well as one of my cousins who resides in the Bay Area. I wanted to make sure that I was able to arrive at the San Francisco Ferry Building for dinner no later than 7:00pm (PT).

Here’s the footage of my departure from Dallas-Fort Worth.

Overlooking the Rockies.

Arrival in San Francisco

Hello San Francisco!

Here’s the footage of my arrival in San Francisco.

My flight touched down at San Francisco International Airport at about 4:55pm Pacific Time. As soon as I got off the plane, I proceeded to the baggage claim in Terminal 2, where Anthony was already waiting for me. It took me only a few minutes to walk from the gate area to the baggage claim, but like all flights – it takes a while for the bags to come off the plane and onto the baggage carousel, so this was no different.

Once I arrived at the baggage claim, I greeted Anthony & waited for the baggage carousel to begin operation. Once I was able to claim my checked baggage, we immediately proceeded to the in-house BART station. Like Dallas & Tampa, SFO Airport also has an automated people mover system, which is called the SkyTrain. The SkyTrain connects all three domestic terminals, the international terminal, the rental car center, the two parking garages for the international terminal & the in-house BART station that is located in parking garage G (international terminal parking). Because time was of the essence however, we opted just to walk through Terminal 3 to the BART station, instead of waiting for the AirTrain.

Walking through the ticketing area of Terminal 3.

While walking through Terminal 3, I couldn’t help but notice how kinda dated parts of the ticketing area looked, even though the terminal went through a major overhaul almost a decade before. Despite this, both Terminals 2 & 3 looked pretty impressive overall. I didn’t have the chance to explore the other terminals due to the lack of time, nor did I take too many photos within the complex.

Looking at the entryway to the corridor connecting the BART station to Terminal 3. The AirTrain trackage is above.

As we made our way through the passageway connecting Terminal 3 & the BART station, I was kinda surprised how lightly used it was. I’m sure it sees a lot more people during certain times of the year, but that day it was nearly empty!

The SFO Airport BART station.

Upon arrival at the SFO Airport BART station, the time read 5:35pm (PT), which meant the train that was due to depart for downtown San Francisco, & then terminating in Pittsburg, at 5:41pm (PT) was due to arrive soon. Despite being so pressed for time in order to make it to this trip, everything was going smoothly. Because Anthony gave me his spare Clipper Card, which is the regional tap-&-go fare payment system – & the only method of fare payment accepted for BART, I did’t have to worry about purchasing a new card, which in-turn saved me the minutes that could have otherwise cost us this departure.

Station signage. Note how there are three tracks. The center one was closed off & is only used when needed.

Taking the BART Yellow Line

At about 5:37pm, a 9-car “oldie” railcar pulled into Track 3 of the station. These railcars comprise of the original individual cars that were manufactured during the 1970s, when the BART system first opened, as well as cars that were manufactured during the late 1980s & mid 1990s. The original trainsets are known as the “A” & “B” cars, with the “A” cars featuring sloped cab ends, while cars manufactured in the 80s & 90s are known as the “C” cars.

The “A” & “B” cars were both manufactured by Rhor Industries, which was later absorbed into what is today United Technologies Corp. The “C” cars meanwhile were done in two sets by two different manufacturers. The “C1” batch was manufactured by globally renowned railway vehicle manufacturer Alstom, while the “C2” batch was built by Morrison–Knudsen, which did a lot of building & rebuilding work for the New York City subway system fleet during the 80s & 90s.

While I was hoping to catch one of the new next generation Bombardier trains to downtown San Francisco, the “B” car we boarded had to do, because staying behind for a new train would cause us to be late for dinner. Because of this, I will save discussing further about the next generation trains for a future episode.

Here’s a glimpse into my ride along the BART Yellow Line.

As the train made its way through South San Francisco, everything was going pretty well. Our train was not at all crowded for the time being, but Anthony informed me that because it was still the height of rush hour, that the train would begin to crowd up once we got to the Daly City station – which was the terminating points for the Green & Blue Lines.

The train certainly began crowding up at Daly City.

And Anthony was right! Once the train arrived at the Daly City station, tons of customers began to board. It was the same thing as we traveled up the corridor closer to downtown. It would not be too long before it was standing room only on board the train.

At about the point by which the train pulled into the Glen Park station, the train’s operator announced that we’d be experiencing a delay due to a disabled train at the Embarcadero station. This was not a good sign – as we might not make it to downtown by 6:40pm (PT). I quickly texted my cousin to inform him that we’d be running a bit behind due to the delay – & did so before I lost signal in the tunnel.

This brings up the mainline downside of BART. While it was originally conceived to connect multiple regions throughout the Bay Area, it relies too heavily on a single trunk line with only 2 tracks – especially through San Francisco. So thus, when delays occur due to a disabled train or other incident, the delays quickly spread to the entire network with no other metro style rail options available. At least in New York, if one set of lines went down (let’s say the 1/2/3 trunk line at 42nd St), you’d at least have an opportunity in most cases to shift over to the A/C/E or N/Q/R/W trunks.

From Glen Park to about 24th St/Mission, it was stop-go traffic, as crews were working diligently to get the disabled train pulled from service. In case the situation was not resolved in time, Anthony was ready to execute his backup plan to have us exit at the Civic Center station & head upstairs to take a MUNI Metro (light rail) train to Embarcadero.

Once we passed 24th St/Mission, the train was completely stopped & held in place for about a good 5 minutes before the conductor came back on the intercom to give us an update. It was going to be just a bit longer for the disabled train to be moved out of service & service patterns to be restored. The conductor continued to give us updates roughly every 3 to 4 minutes until the situation had cleared & we’d be moving again. It was about 6:20pm when our train began to resume normal movement & despite the delay, we’d be able to make it to the Embarcadero station without executing the backup plan.

Dinner at the Ferry Building

After exiting the Embarcadero station, I notified my cousin that we had arrived in downtown & were heading to the Ferry Building. It turned out that he was running a bit behind schedule as well & would meet us at the building. For the moment being, Anthony & I needed to walk a few blocks up Market St to get to the building. As we were making our way there, we spotted one of the MUNI (San Francisco Municipal Railway) hybrid electric-diesel buses, # 8893, parked on the side, ready to head onto its next run. Shortly thereafter, electric trolleybus # 5781 passed by. Both buses are New Flyer Xcelsior models – the XDE40 & XT40 respectively. The former fleet range from 2013 to the present, while the trolleybuses range from 2014 onward to replace the aging Electric Transit (Skoda) & New Flyer models that had been on the road since the late 90s.

Once Anthony & I arrived at the Ferry Building, we went inside to take a brief look around, as well as walk up to the waterfront. Inside the main corridor of the building, I noticed a classic split-flap display showing the various ferry departures. These types of signs are commonplace in many public transport facilities worldwide, though some have been recently replaced by LED boards or LCD TV screens. The split-flap displays inside the main hall of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in fact, were recently replaced with LCD panels.

After strolling for about 4 minutes, we went over to one of the in-house restaurants – Gott’s Roadside. Anthony specifically recommended Gott’s for its delicious burgers & shakes, & I simply could not resist! In addition, my cousin had dined there before as well, so it was a win-win for all of us!

Heading to my hotel

After spending about an hour conversing with Anthony & my cousin, as well as consuming our dinner dishes, it was time for us to part ways. It was getting close to 8:00pm (PT) & I needed to make sure that I didn’t miss the check-in window at my hotel, which that window closed at 9:00pm (PT). Since I still had my bags with me & no longer felt like hopping on a transit route to the hotel I was staying at, I decided to hail an Uber. Now, I’ve used Uber several times as part of the Direct Connect partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but this would be the first time I would use the app outside of Pinellas County.

My Uber trip screenshot. Some information has been removed from the graphic for security reasons.

Once I summoned my Uber ride, it took about 10 minutes for the driver to arrive at my location. The ride itself took about 7 minutes & the driver was very friendly. Upon arrival at my destination, I quickly checked into the hotel & proceeded upstairs to my room on the 2nd floor.

Outside the Hotel North Beach on Kearny St, just blocks away from the Transamerica Pyramid.

The overall atmosphere of Hotel North Beach was reminiscent of my stay at the Morningside Inn in New York City back in 2017. Both establishments are housed in older buildings with separate common area bathrooms that can be utilized by any of the hotel guests.

By comparison, the lobby area of Hotel North Beach was much more spacious than Morningside, but in terms of the “budget” room that I had at both establishments, the features were nearly the same (small closet, dresser, ambient lighting). Morningside had LCD flat screen TVs in every room, where North Beach did not (North Beach had traditional mid 2000s tube TVs). My room at North Beach also had an in-room sink & desk whereas my room at Morningside did not.

The nice thing about Hotel North Beach was that it was right next door to a donut shop & bakery, so I wouldn’t have to go too far for breakfast the next morning – especially being that I would be transit fanning for the entire day with Anthony & some of his friends. The hotel is also situated nearby several bus lines, so it was really easy to get to & from the hotel via transit.

My last page post of the evening.

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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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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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Journeys Afar – New York City, 2017 – Part 3

…to the skies!

I originally intended to publish Part 3 of my 2017 NYC trip series back in July of 2017, but some personal obligations & hurricane season both got in the way, so thus this part was not published until 09/11/2017.

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 in DC

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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