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.
Showcasing another photo from my recent (May, 2017) trip to New York City this month, I want to delve a bit into the New York MTA’s Select Bus Service.
Select Bus Service (or SBS) is considered a premium transit service and operates similarly to HART’s MetroRapid in Tampa. Uniquely branded buses are used along each route, which comprises of limited stops and specially designated shelters, as well as off-board fare collection. Each SBS stop has ticket vending machines where you can purchase a MetroCard and then validate for use on the SBS line. Once your card is validated for use on the SBS line, a paper receipt will print. You’ll want to keep this receipt handy at all times, as ticket inspectors will board buses at random to combat fare evaders (and believe me, fare evaders are NOTORIOUS for boarding SBS lines).
The above photo shows one of the newest buses in the NYC MTA bus fleet, some of which are used for SBS lines. #5997 is among the many 2016 New Flyer diesel Xcelsior articulated buses that are assigned to the Q44 SBS line, which connects the heart of Queens to the Bronx Zoo. These buses are equipped with complementary Wi-Fi access and USB charging ports so that you can sit back and relax while your device charges. I took full advantage of both features – to charge my phone so that I could take photos along the (7) train later, while being able to post my trip adventures on Facebook.
While I previously had plans to publish a quarterly “newsletter” of transit happenings from across Florida, those plans are currently on the back burner due to other obligations. However, I am aiming to re-launch the series sometime in 2018.
For the month of August, my photo contributor Dion M. took this neat photo of two Cincinnati Metro Transit buses passing each other near the heart of the city. Cincinnati Metro Transit in Cincinnati, OH still operates a line of Gillig Phantom high floor transit buses, though they are slowly being replaced by newer low floor buses.
The Gillig Phantom was once a powerhouse transit bus for many mid sized transit agencies. Because many transit agencies now favor low floor buses (due mainly to low floor buses being more wheelchair accessible), Gillig stopped production of the Phantom in 2008. The only Tampa Bay Area transit agency that still operates Gillig Phantom transit buses is Manatee County Area Transit.
For the month of July, I head back to my original home transit system – HART – to capture #1211 at the Marion Transit Center. #1211 is part of a batch of fourteen buses that were purchased by HART in 2012. The first twelve – #’s 1201 through 1212 – were assigned for the MetroRapid premium bus service, while the last two – #’s 1215 and 1216 – were ordered to replace #2005 and #2015 (both 2000-series buses) respectively. In 2015, #1212 was re-wrapped and placed into service on local and express routes as a fill-in until the 2015 and 2016 bus fleets arrive. As of July, 2017, #1212 remains in local/express service and there is no word if the bus will return to MetroRapid. There is currently speculation within the transit community that HART’s upcoming 2017 buses may replace a few 1200s on MetroRapid, specifically #’s 1720 throguh 1729, which are set to be delivered at the end of the year. If this is the case, then we could see more 2012-series buses be re-wrapped for local/express service.
During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been planning out my next website update. I’m roughly a year behind on posting PSTA and HART bus photos, there hasn’t been any major website expansion for even longer than that, and there hasn’t been a whole lot in new blog posts either. Truth to be told, I’ve been really busy with other priorities and I am just getting back to being able to tend to the Global Transit Guidebook.
What you will see in the next few weeks will be pretty significant, and some of the changes have already been implemented.
- Updating of PSTA, HART, MCAT, & SCAT photos.
- Adding a Northeastern U.S. Transports section, starting off with the New York City MTA and my recent travels to the city.
- Building the East Central Florida and Florida Panhandle sections.
- Updating all website graphics so that each page has the same look.
If you hover your cursor over the main navigation bar at the top, you’ll see under the Transports tab, that the NE U.S. section is already there, along with the New York City MTA page. I will add a second subsection regarding New Jersey Transit, the PATH Subway, and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail later this year. I’ve also updated the navigation graphics on the homepage and Transports page to reflect what you will see on other pages. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns, or would like to contribute material to the site.