July is here! Meaning that we’re halfway through 2018, and Summer is well underway. As many of us prepare for the July 4th holiday here in the US, some may not be aware that Hillsborough Area Regional Transit enacts its summer, 2018 service changes today. Among those changes are new Routes 48 and 275LX, but also the discontinuation of Route 51LX and the In-Towner Trolley services.
The selection of July’s Photo of the Month could not be anymore perfect when it comes to paying homage to a trolleybus service that has been in existence in Downtown Tampa since its people mover line was dismantled in the early 2000s. The line was supposed to have been part of a larger system – like Miami’s MetroMover – but failed to gain any traction. Thus what was originally known as the Uptown-Downtown Connector was launched as a replacement service.
Over the years, HART has made various changes to how the trolleybus lines operate – from routing and scheduling, to fares and vehicles, to gauging who’s riding each day. Over time though, ridership was somewhat limited and by 2007, began to really falter. An evening and weekend segment through Hyde Park (Route 98) was axed, and then the Downtown Tampa loop (Route 96) was reduced to weekday peak-hour service only. Through it all, two iterations of a riverside service (Route 97) came and went.
As the overall transportation landscape in the urban Tampa core changes to host more on-demand services such as Uber and the Tampa Downtown Partnership-operated Downtowner shuttle, it remains to be seen as to whether the area will get a true, frequent circulator service. Some like myself argue that such a service is needed to quickly get people from Hyde Park and West Tampa into Downtown and Channelside, and thus supplement the future TECOline Streetcar extension towards Tampa Heights. Questions also remain as to whether HART will take over the Downtowner shuttle, which is currently being discussed.
The June “Photo of the Month” is Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus #1720, which is one of ten 2017-series 40′ Gillig BRT Plus CNG transit buses that the agency received last year. This purchase was made possible thanks to a Federal Transit Administration grant that was awarded to the agency. From what I understand, the agency is trying to apply for the same grant this year to fund additional bus replacements for 2019. Such replacements will allow HART to phase out the aging 2005 and possibly 2006 transit buses – which were brand new when I began riding HART back in 2006. How time sure flies! I miss the new bus smell on the 2005 and 2006-series buses.
Each month, I post a photo to be showcased here on the website, as well as on my Social Media channels. Please feel free to contact me if there is a transit photo that you would like me to showcase as part of my “Photo of the Month” series.
May’s “Photo of the Month” showcase is New York City Transit #5618, which is either a 2002 or 2003 New Flyer D60HF articulated transit bus. These buses were originally designated as the D60 prior to the manufacturing of low floor buses and are also known by their nickname, the “Galaxy”. I got to ride one of these buses along the M79 “Crosstown” route in Manhattan prior to its conversion to Select Bus Service (BRT Lite). Upon the conversion, the D60HFs were immediately replaced by newer Nova LFS and New Flyer Xcelsior articulated models.
Like many older transit buses, the D60HF is no longer being manufactured, as New Flyer only produces its Xcelsior low floor line of transit buses. The remaining buses are being replaced by such newer buses, as well as newer model Nove LFS articulated units. It won’t be much longer before there’s only a handful of these buses left in service, so I know of many transit enthusiasts who are trying to get their final batches of photos, videos, and bus rides in before 2018 comes to a close. Like many retired bus fleets in the New York City metro region, I expect one or two (maybe three or four) units to be preserved by the New York Transit Museum and perhaps a few other units preserved by other transit museums.
Can you believe that it’s been 10 years since I began blogging about public transit? I sure can’t! It almost seems just like yesterday that I put together The Tampa Transit Utopia Discussion and began to express my feelings and thoughts about public transit in my region and beyond. So what exactly have I done in these past 10 years when it comes to blogging about transit? Well, let’s take a quick look.
Besides all of the blog posts and content pages that you’ve likely seen, I’ve taken a trip to Belgium & France, a trip to Norfolk & Virginia Beach, two trips to New York City, & several trips to Orlando. I’ve also been able to decrease my dependency on a car and take transit much more often than I used to, which allows me to take stress off my aging and increasingly unreliable car. In addition, I’ve been able to utilize a variety of transit modes – including local & express bus, shuttle & flex van, light rail, commuter rail, monorail, funicular, and subway.
You can see in the collage above just some of the buses and trains that I’ve had an opportunity to ride on or at least photograph. I’ve enjoyed many combined rides on board Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT), Pasco County Public Transportation (PCPT), SunRail, LYNX, Votran, StarMetro, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), and many others.
So what is my favorite transit system? Well, that’s a tough one. I would say PSTA is my favorite, with the New York City MTA being a very close second. PSTA is my favorite not only because it’s my home system, but because they’ve been able to make a lot of improvements over the past 10 years – despite the failure of the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas sales tax referendum. The MTA is my second favorite because I was able to get to so many destinations in the New York City region without having to jump into a car – all despite the hardships that commuters face each day on the buses & subway trains.
While HART will always have a place in my heart, I feel that local government is neglecting transportation in Hillsborough County to a point where it’s almost unbearable to use transit there, & it’s really sad that it’s come to this point. When you have too many people who think that transit is only for the poor & disabled & thus don’t think it’s worth it to fund the system unless you’re able to leverage blowing tons of money into interstate highway widening with nonsense toll lanes, it’s really sickening to be honest. Transportation should not be a partisan political football – period, and for that reason, I’ve been able to gradually increase my transit advocacy – including through my No Tax For Tracks Truth Page Presents – Away with Tampa Bay Next Facebook Page.
So what will the next 10 years bring? Well, more transit photos, videos, stories, and other content, as well as more involvement in transit advocacy. I also hope to be able to embark on a few more travels – including round 2 in Europe, round 3 in Tallahassee, round 4 in New York City, as well as possible trips to Miami, Jacksonville, & San Francisco. I also fully intend to keep my site around for at least another 10 years & am trying my best to execute an expansion that I’ve been planning for the past several months. My day job has been quite busy as of late, so it hasn’t allowed me to do as much updating as I would like.
Before I close out this post, I want to say thank you to all of my visitors & group members, as well as all those who have provided support & contributions to my site over the past 10 years. I also want to thank the many members, moderators, & administrators at SkyScraperCity for giving me inspiration to launch what is now The Global Transit Guidebook, & for continuing to support my endeavors along the way! Without your support, I would not be able to do what I do today. Thank you!
After taking a few months hiatus, the “Photo of the Month” showcase is back with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus #1721. This is one of ten 2017 40′ Gillig Low Floor buses that the agency purchased using funds from a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant, adding to a 15-bus order that the agency already placed back in 2016.
Besides continuing HART’s trend of replacing older diesel buses with compressed natural gas (CNG) ones, this fleet (which ranges from #’s 1716 through 1725) was the first to feature the sleek BRT Plus styling that Gillig has provided its customers for the past few years. The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX), Palm Tran, and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) are the three other Florida transit agencies that have these styled Gillig buses in their fleets.
The Gillig BRT Plus design differs from their regular BRT design in the sense that the sleek roof faring stretches across the entire length of the bus, instead of just having curved front and rear ends.
If you’ve noticed, my November “Photo of the Month” has lingered a bit longer than it should have. That’s because I’m not posting a new photo for December. Instead, I’ve created a collage of photos that I’ve taken this year, although it is not inclusive of all of the transit adventures that I’ve embarked on.
With that said I invite you to be on the lookout for my 2017 “Year End Roundup” post, which will summarize the many transit-related happenings for 2017 as well as what to look forward to for 2018. I will have the post up by December 31, 2017.
For my November “Photo of the Month”, I bring you one of Tampa’s replica streetcars – an open-air “breezer” car that was built by Gomaco Trolley, #1976.
Back when Tampa’s original streetcar operated, many of these “breezer” trains flourished throughout the city and its inner suburbs, bringing hundreds of passengers from as far north as Sulphur Springs to as far south as Ballast Point Park. Other cities like San Francisco operated similar trains on their streetcar lines, and San Francisco continues to operate replicas of their original streetcar trains throughout the city (some preserved originals come out during special events as well).
It’s October, which means…Halloween is just around the corner! To celebrate the ghoulish day, I thought I would bring back the Purple People Eater bus, or what I called the HART 2005 & 2006 buses back when they were painted in a purple scheme. This scheme was brought upon to promote the agency’s express routes and also signaled the end of the HARTline era from the 80s and 90s. While the colors of the buses have changed from purple to blue, the overall scheme was kept. The bus pictured above is #2504 as it traversed Route 19 in South Tampa.
With only a week left before Hillsborough Area Regional Transit launches its Mission MAX system restructuring, I wanted to take a few moments to provide a personal reflection on the West Tampa Transfer Center. HART will be closing down the center permanently after Saturday, October 7, 2017 in favor of having an on-street transfer along Dale Mabry Hwy at Tampa Bay Blvd.
Tampa Bay Center Mall
While the current West Tampa Transfer Center will barely be 10 years old when it shuts down for good, the general transfer point has been around for much longer – perhaps even before the inception of HART in the early 1980s. During the 1980s, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s premier shopping destinations. The mall opened in 1976 and was anchored by Sears, Burdines (which was later absorbed by Macy’s), and Wards (which opened in 1979 and was originally known as Montgomery Ward). During the early and mid 90s, my family took me to Tampa Bay Center on a regular basis and I was constantly wowed by the bright, open atrium, eloquent fountains, and the glass elevator by the food court.
The Original Transfer Hub
Like many transit systems across the nation, many of HART’s early transfer points were situated at shopping malls, and Tampa Bay Center was no exception. Several canopies were set up near the Wards entrance to the mall and Routes 7, 11, 14, 15, 32, 36, 41, 44, & 45 all traversed the spot at one point or another. The original Route 11 was axed during the 2005 system restructuring, and Routes 14 & 15 were removed from the transfer hub. Route 44 was merged into Route 45 in 2007. Route 11 will make a return in 2019, but will not serve this section of West Tampa – instead serving the Main St corridor and International Plaza.
Relocating the Hub
As parts of the Tampa Bay region boomed, shopping preferences changed. Various demographic shifts and retail cycles, along with some misfortune during the 90s, ultimately led to the closure of Tampa Bay Center. By 2001, most shoppers and retailers were drawn to either the WestShore Business District, Brandon, or Citrus Park. Wards had gone out of business entirely – along with many other chains that have demised over the decades.
Sears was the final tenant to leave Tampa Bay Center, moving over to the former Dillards spot at WestShore Plaza. Dillards vacated WestShore Plaza to join the then-new International Plaza in 2001. The land that Tampa Bay Center sat on was then sold to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their new facility, and demolition of the mall commenced shortly thereafter. The HART transfer center canopies and large sections of the parking lot were the only relics left of the former mall.
With Tampa Bay Center gone for good, HART was left to ponder where to relocate its West Tampa bus hub. Many options were explored and likely included parcels in West Tampa, Drew Park, and even near WestShore. However, a parcel on the northeast corner of Himes Ave and Ohio Ave was eventually chosen for the new hub. The facility would include five sheltered areas for seamless transferring, plus a street-side stop on northbound Himes Ave for the northbound Route 36 buses, restrooms for both customers and employees, and vending machines. A ticket vending machine was added in 2013 to allow customers to purchase passes without having to make the trip to downtown.
Aspirations Never Realized
It was originally envisioned that the West Tampa Transfer Center would become a launchpad for expanded operations towards WestShore and Temple Terrace. Two additional bus bays were constructed just north of the central building to stage buses. The northernmost bay was constructed to eventually accommodate a 60-foot articulated transit bus should the East-West MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit line be built. Longer-term plans discussed the possibility of adding a light rail corridor along Himes and Dale Mabry.
Not Really The Best Location
One of the good things about the old Tampa Bay Center Mall was that it was right across the street from the old Tampa Stadium (later called Houlihan’s Stadium). What is now Raymond James Stadium replaced Tampa Stadium during the late 90s. While having the WTTC next to the old mall property was good for customers in the sense that they didn’t have to go too far from the old stop to access the new one, the major sore spot was that stadium events forced the hub to shut down due to traffic and security concerns. Buses would have to stage along St. Isabel St by MacDill Ave during stadium events. This procedure inconvenienced many customers who didn’t want to walk extra blocks to get to their bus.
While an immediate closure of the WTTC wasn’t on my mind prior to the announcement of Mission MAX, I knew that there was a good chance that the WTTC would not survive beyond 15 years due alone to the fact that it kept having to close during stadium events. I always thought that it would make more sense to have a transfer point along Dale Mabry because the highway rarely ever shuts down completely unless there is a major traffic incident or if the event at Ray Jay is significant enough to warrant a complete closure of the highway. Himes, on the other hand, is always closed during stadium events.
Another reason why I believed that the WTTC would not last much longer is the fact that transit agencies are gradually moving away from having fixed hubs and are transitioning to a more grid-based system where transfers are done at major intersections. HART made a major shift towards a grid system in 2005 and Mission MAX aims to get the system another step closer to a true grid. I fully realize that HART management back in the early 2000s was different and perhaps leadership back then had a different view of the system than current leadership does. I just never agreed that the current spot for the WTTC was the best place for a long-term transfer hub and believe that the funds to relocate the hub could have been better spent on a more robust location that would have provided a sound footing for expansion down the road.
While we cannot change the past, we can look forward to the future – and that is what HART is aiming to do with Mission MAX. While many of the changes that will become effective on October 8, 2017 were contentious amongst many riders, I can say that the decision to close the WTTC for good was a good decision.