Category Archives: Friday Rewind

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

Friday Rewind New 1

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


Tampa Bay Center Mall

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

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

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

The Original Transfer Hub

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

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

Relocating the Hub

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

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

The West Tampa Transfer Center looking east from Himes Ave.

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


Aspirations Never Realized

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

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

Not Really The Best Location

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

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

Demise

The route 36 Southbound stop.

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

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

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


Please be sure to bookmark my website: hartride2012tampa.wordpress.com | Contact Me.

You can also find me on Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | YouTube

Legalese | Disclosures

Advertisements

FRIDAY REWIND – 2013 visit to Norfolk, VA

Friday Rewind New 1

Two years ago this month, I took a trip to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA to visit relatives and to embark on my first ride along a light rail line. In this Friday Rewind post, I will reflect back on my experience in Hampton Roads and how the area is pushing for more transportation choices,

In many respects, Norfolk, VA is very similar to Tampa, FL. Both have similarly structured bus systems that utilize Gillig transit buses, and both transit districts; HART and HRT, are facing the same budgetary issues when it comes to maintaining what they have, as well as trying to expand service wherever they can. Both cities have also had old style streetcar systems in the past, both of which were later dismantled. One key difference though, is that Hampton Roads does not have the type of street grid that Tampa Bay has. Most streets in Virginia Beach for instance, are spider web type, which means that roads either radiate around a central point or zig zag in multiple directions. This makes it much harder to run buses, especially routes with are crucial for employment centers. Another difference is that Norfolk has been able to build its starter light rail line, something that Tampa has been vying to do for many years, and may finally have a real chance of modernizing its heritage streetcar system in the coming years.

Reflections Tour

Now, let me take you through what I was able to experience while in Norfolk last April…

Train #401 departs towards downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
Train #401 departs towards downtown Norfolk. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

Ballentine Blvd

I first parked my car at the Ballentine/Broad Creek Park-and-Ride Lot, just next to the Ballentine/Broad Creek LRT Station. My original plan was to actually use the Military Hwy Park-and-Ride Lot, but I ended up wanting to go just a bit closer to the Norfolk State University Campus, where I could feel the historical charm of the entire city of Norfolk. These two Park-and-Ride lots are two of the four that Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) provides to its customers to allow them to use light rail to get to downtown, instead of hassling with city parking. The other two lots are located at Harbor Park (next to the Harbor Park Stadium) and the Newtown Rd terminus.

Once at the LRT station, I purchased a one-day GoPass that would allow me to ride the bus system and the LRT. I then snapped some photos of the surrounding area as I waited for the next train to arrive. The train shown in this photo arrived just as I walked up to the station. The next train arrived about 15 minutes later. Since this was a Saturday that I rode the train,the frequency of trains was at every 15 minutes.

Heading into downtown

Once onboard the train, I quickly took in the sights of the urban landscape and the sounds of the train rolling along, with automated announcements guiding customers to each station. I’ve noticed that the sound that the Siemens S70 LRV trains make as they pull in and out of each station is very similar to how the Alstom/Bombardier MF 2001 subway trains and Citadis LRV trains in Paris sound like as they arrive and depart. I also liked how sleek, clean, and modern the trains are, as I’ve always been fascinated with modern buses and trains. There are only a handful of light rail lines in the US that still use older, non-articulated types of LRV trains. One of those lines I’ve learned is located in Buffalo, NY. Actually, their system is an LRT/Pre-Metro line, which I’ll profile in a future post.

The track as it meanders through downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
The track as it meanders through downtown Norfolk. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

MacArthur Square

Once getting off the train, I quickly took in the sights and sounds of the heart of downtown Norfolk, specifically MacArthur Square. This wonderful urban space includes green space that surrounds the current LRT station. I understand that during the construction of the Tide LRT, a couple of buildings along Main St had to be demolished to make way for the stations and track. To the northeast of the MacArthur Square LRT station is the Douglas MacArthur Memorial statue and museum. The building that houses the museum was originally the Norfolk City Hall. The current city hall is located at a small complex of buildings near the Elizabeth River that are a part of Norfolk Civic Plaza. There is also an LRT stop at the Civic Plaza complex.

 The MacArthur Center

To the north of the station is the MacArthur Center Mall, which I would say is a “watered down” version of Tampa’s International Plaza. The complex comprises of trendy stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, and H&M, as well as higher-end stores like Nordstrom.  Despite the mall’s relatively small footprint, it’s still a great place to visit if you have some extra time to shop and drop. And why battle for a parking space, when you can easily take the train into downtown?

The western fringe of downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 in April, 2013.
The western fringe of downtown Norfolk. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012 in April, 2013.

Walking through Norfolk

After visiting the mall, I decided to take a northwestward stroll through downtown and its flanking residential district to the west. The old charm of the multi-story apartment buildings really makes Norfolk a pretty neat place to live. There’s a good variety of parks, attractions, and museums to visit, as well as lots of shops and eateries to stop by at. The Virginia Beach Expressway provides quick access to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and there’s plenty of opportunities to spend time with nature, including the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Proceeding northwestward, I came across the the Fort Norfolk area, just bordering the historic Granby district to the north and downtown Norfolk to the east. This area encompasses many healthcare complexes, including the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and the Eastern Virginia Medical Center (EVMC). This area also serves as the current western terminus for the Tide LRT. A little further west of this point is a ton of rail yards and industrial shipping docks.

I then proceeded northward towards the historic Granby district, where many centuries-old housing are located. A little further north of where I traveled is Old Dominion University, which is the second major college campus in the Norfolk area. I was really taken away by the unique charm of the older homes and beautiful landscaping. I even got to witness one of the area residents manicuring her wonderful bed of tulips, and these were pretty large tulips too! As I proceeded through the historic Granby district, I was taken even more into the historic charm that Norfolk has to offer, without all the nightclub hubub of Ybor City.

The Return Trip

Finishing up my wonderful walk through the Granby district, I stumbled upon the Cedar Grove Transfer Center, located along Princess Anne Rd and Salter St. On July 7, 2013, all transfer center operations moved to an interim terminal along Wood St, just steps away from the Norfolk Scope Arena. Cedar Grove reminds me a lot of the makeshift bus depot that HART once had at the former Tampa Bay Center Mall, because Cedar Grove is nothing more than a parking lot with a few bus shelters on one side. There were no restrooms or other facilities at the site either. Eventually, a new, modern bus terminal will be built in downtown Norfolk, equipped with restrooms.

It took me a while to locate a bus route that would get me back to the Tide LRT line, but I did manage to locate the shelter for Local Bus Route 44, which travels towards Fort Norfolk in the southbound direction. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, HRT’s bus fleet primarily comprises of Gillig Low Floor buses. These buses have either a white or grey livery with waves at the bottom. The interiors are a lot like the 2001 series buses that both HART and PSTA have, but with primarily blue colors.

With the height of the afternoon coming to a close, I decided start heading back to Broad Creek so that I could meet up with my family for dinner. Upon arrival to the EVMC/Fort Norfolk LRT station, the train had already arrived and was awaiting departure. I rode the train all the way back to the Ballentine/Broad Creek LRT station and took a few more photos along the way.

What’s next for public transit in Hampton Roads

If you missed my last few posts on The Tide, then you’ve missed quite a bit. Right now, the fight is on to extend the light rail line into Virginia Beach, specifically Town Center or Rosemont. The ongoing transit extension study has taken many twists and turns throughout the past several months, and now it’s come down to the wire as Virginia Beach city leaders decide on the next stage of the study. Unfortunately, the rail haters have mobilized and are threatening to kill off the entire process by convincing the Virginia Beach City Council to go for the dreaded “No Build” option instead of selecting a Locally Preferred Alternative for the ongoing transit extension study. If this happens, Virginia Beach stands to be set back anywhere from 20 to 50 years when it comes to public transit and providing better transportation choices. Any such setback will also jeopardize the Naval Station Norfolk extension study, as well as other transit expansion efforts in the area.

January (Late) Friday Rewind – HART Route 19

Friday Rewind New 1

In this (late) edition of Friday Rewind, I will profile one of my favorite Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus routes, Route 19.

Brief History

Route 19 was a part of HART’s original bus system when the agency was created in the early 1980s. Although most of its route has remained unchanged over the years, a segment to Tampa General Hospital was added in 2003. This resulted when the TECOline Streetcar opened and Route 3 (which then served Davis Island) was eliminated. Throughout the mid to late 2000s, earlier morning and late evening trips were added.

South Tampa Split Segment

One feature of Route 19 is that it alternates between Manhattan Ave and WestShore Blvd in South Tampa. This is done to be able to cover areas needed for basic transit service. As a result of this, weekday trips operate every 60 to 120 minutes on either segment, and every 120 minutes on either segment on weekends and holidays. When you view the route map, you will be able to see how this particular segment splits up.

Looking through the Wayback Machine

About this time last year, I discovered that parts of HART’s old website was archived via the Wayback Machine. This allowed me to gain a broader historical perspective on how HART operated its bus routes prior to 2005, when a system-wide reorganization took place. You will be able to see schedules for Route 19 as they were in 2001, by which weekday service operated from 4:30am until 7:30pm. Saturday service ran from 6:30am through 8:00pm and Sunday service stopped before 7:00pm.

Earlier and Later service

Since 2003, the span of operating service has greatly increased on Route 19. This is mostly due to the route serving both Tampa General Hospital and Memorial Hospital, where many second shift workers needed access to better bus service. As a result, weekday departure times were bumped up from :00 and :30 past to :10 and :40 past from 4:10am through 7:10am, and somewhere in the mix, an 8:00pm weeknight departure was added from downtown. Then in 2008, full round trips were added to the weeknight lineup at 9:00pm, 10:00pm and 11:20pm, and buses now depart through 8:35pm on weekends, instead of 6:35pm. You can view the current schedule on the HART website.

For comparison; let’s take a look at the start and end times for Route 19 service. To note; frequencies have not changed. Weekday service operates every 30 minutes, with a 60 minute split between Manhattan Ave and WestShore Blvd. After 8:00pm on weeknights and all day on weekends, the route operates every 60 minutes, with the alternating segments being served every 120 minutes.

Unless otherwise noted, times will be noted as follows:

Before 2003 | 2003 – 2008 | After 2008

First Weekday Departure – Downtown Tampa

4:30AM | 4:10AM | 4:10AM

First Weekday Departure – Port Tampa

5:29AM | 5:20AM | 5:20AM

Last Weekday Departure – Downtown Tampa

7:30PM | 8:00PM | 11:20PM

Last Weekday Departure – Port Tampa

8:29PM | 8:40PM | 12:20AM

First Saturday Departure – Downtown Tampa

6:35AM – Has remained unchanged

First Saturday Departure – Port Tampa

7:35AM or 7:36AM – Not much of a difference

Last Saturday Departure – Downtown Tampa

6:35PM | 6:35PM | 8:35PM

Last Saturday Departure – Port Tampa

7:34PM | 7:40PM | 9:37PM

First Sunday Departure – Downtown Tampa

6:35AM – Has remained unchanged

First Sunday Departure – Port Tampa

7:37AM or 7:36AM – Not much of a difference

Last Sunday Departure – Downtown Tampa

5:35PM | 6:35PM | 8:35PM

Last Sunday Departure – Port Tampa

6:30PM | 6:36PM | 9:37PM

Conclusion

For at least the foreseeable future, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a whole lot of changes on Route 19. Although minor changes may be made periodically, HART currently does not have the funds to further increase Route 19 service, although longer-term plans call for an eventual increase in weekend service from the current 60/120 minute headways to 30/60 minute headways that are currently seen on weekdays. Unfortunately, any major economic hiccup could cause the exact opposite to occur, which is cuts in the early morning and late evening service that have been added during the last 15 years.

Friday Rewind – The HART fixed-route neighborhood connector

Friday Rewind New 1

It’s been several months since my last Friday Rewind post, and during the period of time that I didn’t post anything, I decided to start looking at either revising the scope of what I would cover in the series, or scrap the series altogether. During this time, I was able to gain some inspiration from Zac Ziegler (@transit509) when he began doing his Transit Throwback posts every other Thursday. I began to realize then that I could start writing up similar blog posts about how the transit systems here in Tampa Bay were years ago, including the original Tampa streetcar. For now, I will continue to publish these posts on a monthly basis.

So in this post, I’m going to discuss a small system of fixed-route neighborhood connectors that Hillsborough Area Regional Transit used to operate. These routes, which began in the early 2000s and lasted until 2011, were meant to circulate around various neighborhoods where service by traditional local bus routes were not feasible to operate long-term. These routes however, used regular transit buses (usually 30-footers) to operate along a fixed route, just like a normal fixed-route bus line. In some transit districts, cutaway vans may be used for such a service. Other differences between a traditional local route and these neighborhood connectors, were that their overall route length was shorter than an average bus route, and that the fare would be cheaper than the base local fare (it was 50 cents to ride one of these connector routes at one time).

HART's former fixed-route connectors used regular transit buses. This one is on the defunct Route 85. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. October, 2008.
HART’s former fixed-route connectors used regular transit buses instead of cutaway vans. This one is on the defunct Route 85. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. October, 2008.

In all, HART operated a total of eleven fixed-route connectors and one deviated connector, the latter ran on a fixed route but was able to deviate 3/4 off the route (a predecessor to today’s HART Flex). These routes were given the numbers 70, 71, 72, 73, 81, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, and 89 to distinguish them from traditional routes. The numbers 74 through 80, and 82 was never used. Below I have a running list of all of the connector routes that existed up until 2011. Some include maps that I’ve been able to grab from the Wayback Machine, which is an archive of web pages that were “snapshotted” through the years.

One of four connector routes that ran through the heart of Plant City. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
One of four connector routes that ran through the heart of Plant City. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Routes 70 through 73 – Plant City (Strawberry) Connector Routes
    • These routes once circulated through the heart of Plant City and even offered peak hour services to major employment centers within the city. They ran through the mid 2000s but were abolished when Plant City decided not to renew its contract with HART to provide transit services.
    • Today, the only form of transit service to and from Plant City is the 28 Express (which actually stops off Thononnassa Rd near I-4 and does not enter Plant City proper). There are plans for Plant City to have HART reinstate services, but they will be dependent on funding. I’ll have a blog post in the not-so-distant future that talks more about Plant City transit services.
Route 81 through South Tampa. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
Route 81 through South Tampa. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 81 – South Tampa Deviated Connector
    • A predecessor to today’s HART Flex, Route 81 operated like many other fixed-route connectors in Hillsborough County, but was allowed to deviate 3/4 of a mile outside of its fixed route. Being that the route ran through the highlighted portion of WestShore, it’s easy to conclude that cutaway vans must have been used for the service, rather than regular transit buses. The 81 was discontinued in the mid 2000s and replaced by fixed routes 85 and 89.
Route 83 was one of several fixed-route neighborhood connectors that ran on the HART system between the early 2000s and 2011. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
Route 83 circulated through the USF and University Northwest areas and had seen several mutations before being merged into the current Route 33 in 2009. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 83 – University Area Connector
    • Route 83 was designed to serve lower-income neighborhoods through the University area (near the University of South Florida Tampa Campus). Its destinations at one time or another was the University Mall, the University Community Development Center, the eastern end of the USF campus, and of course the University Area Transit Center.
    • Like many other routes, 83 saw several mutations and service scope changes, including the implementation of evening service in 2006. In 2009, the route was merged into the current Route 33 as part of a reorganization of routes in the University area, and to prepare local routes to connect with MetroRapid North-South.
One of several mutations of Route 84. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
One of several mutations of Route 84. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 84 – (Original) SouthShore Circulator
    • SouthShore transit services have seen several mutations and versions of fixed-route connectors. The very first was known as Route 84, which operated until 2006.
  • Route 85 – South Tampa Weekend Fixed Connector
    • Somewhere in the mid 2000s, HART implemented a weekend-only fixed route connector for South Tampa. This was due in-part to a system-wide reorganization of routes to eliminate ultra-long winding routes.
    • The 85 began as a Saturday-only service, but was later expanded to Sundays, and primarily connected WestShore Plaza, Britton Plaza, and MacDill Air Force Base. The 85 was eliminated in 2008 due to ultra-low ridership.
  • Route 86 – Ruskin Connector
    • Route 86 replaced Route 84 in 2006, by creating a Ruskin-specific connector that would better serve the community. This route only lasted for a short time however, as budget cuts impeded the HART system in 2007, and the 86 was merged into the 87 as a result. I also don’t think residents liked having to transfer from one route to another just to make appointments.
The original Route 87. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
The original Route 87. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 87 (1st Incarnation) – Town-N-Country East Connector
    • Route 87 was one of a few route numbers in the HART system that was used more than once. The first incarnation was part of a two-route connector system in the Town-N-Country area.
    • As depicted by the map above, this and its corresponding Route 88, served quite a few places within Town-N-Country and seemed to serve the area well.
    • As with many transit services, the 87 fell victim to the budget ax in the mid 2000s and some of its basic segments were merged into Route 88 and Local Route 7 (which was re-aligned at the same time).
  • Route 87 (2nd Incarnation) – Wimauma Connector
    • Route 87 was re-used in 2006 as part of an effort to create a Wimauma-specific connector that would better serve the community. This route was merged with Route 86 in 2007 due partly to budget cuts. In 2010, the route was eliminated altogether in favor of implementing today’s HART Flex.
The original Route 88. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
The original Route 88. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • Route 88 – Town-N-Country West Connector
    • Route 88 served as part of a two-route connector system in Town-N-Country and seemed to serve the area well for a time. The route gradually fell to the budget ax every couple of years, becoming smaller and more limited in service until its elimination in 2011, when HART Flex was expanded.
  • Route 89 – South Tampa Weekday Fixed Connector
    • In the mid 2000s, Route 81 was eliminated in favor of a fixed-route connector, known as Route 89. Route 89 was actually the result of the elimination of both Route 81 and Route 17, the latter by which was eliminated due to budget cuts and a system-wide route reorganization (it should have been kept though).
    • Like many other connector routes, the 89 was faced with low ridership and had actually come up for elimination a couple times in the late 2000s. Ridership became so low at one point, that cutaway vans (like the one in the photo below) were deployed regularly, instead of regular transit buses. The 89 was eliminated in 2011, being replaced by a HART Flex zone.
At one time, Route 89 ridership dipped so low that cutaway vans were deployed regularly. Photo credit: HARTride 2012.
At one time, Route 89 ridership dipped so low that cutaway vans were deployed regularly. Photo credit: HARTride 2012.

With all of this said, will HART bring back the fixed-route connector? Highly unlikely at this time, since HART Flex overall has seen a success in usage (though individual route ridership has varied), and its model has since been adopted by the neighboring Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). There are even plans on the books to gradually add more HART Flex zones, including Seffner, Plant City, and Gibsonton. However, the recent circulator studies in SouthShore and downtown Tampa may bring back such connectors in the more distant future.

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

Friday Rewind New 1

Happy Wednesday everyone!

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

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

Could MetroRapid already be having a fever?

And what I mean by that is, could HART’s new MetroRapid service already be faltering? It’s almost like a person having a high fever, which that in of itself is never fun. One simply cannot focus on things needing to be done when he or she is sick. With a bus route, it simply can’t perform well if its running with vast inefficiencies, like the placement of bus stops, etc. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing largely mixed reviews of HART’s new bus rapid transit system, and we haven’t even been given the first month’s ridership numbers yet! However, these reviews already give a somewhat grim synopsis of what could come if HART does not make key changes to the route soon.

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

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

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

Confusion between HART Local and MetroRapid stops/shelters

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

Lack of Ticket Vending Machines at some stations

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

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

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

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

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

Transit Signal Priority (TSP)

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

Ridership remains strong

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

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

HARTride 2012

May Friday Rewind – HART MetroRapid

Friday Rewind New 1

In this edition of Friday Rewind, I’ll be taking a look back at some of my past postings regarding HART MetroRapid. And the timing of this post could not be anymore perfect, as the new service just launched earlier this week! Notice the new Friday Rewind logo? This is the logo that I’ll be using for quite a while. The old logo just didn’t have that “kick” to it.

I first began blogging about HART MetroRapid long before the new line even had a name. My first post was back in November of 2008, only a few months after my original Tampa Transit Utopia Blog was launched. During this time, HART had just launched its Project Development and Environment (or PD&E) Study to evaluate potential stops, costs of operating the system, etc. During the planning stages, there was a lot of public input going into shaping MetroRapid, including the selection of the Nebraska Ave corridor as the first phase, as Nebraska Ave is HART’s busiest bus corridor. Ideally, HART would have liked to have a true BRT line, which uses dedicated bus-only lanes to speed buses past rush hour traffic. However, as the plan evolved from its earliest stages, this idealistic vision would not come to fruition, at least for now.

Continue reading May Friday Rewind – HART MetroRapid

March Friday Rewind – PSTA’s Hybrid Buses

I know that I didn’t post a Friday Rewind for February, for I was occupied with designing other posts. However, I do have a segment for March, which will reflect on a post I made back on December 10, 2008.

On this day, I blogged about the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) receiving a fleet of swanky new hybrid buses. Let’s take a look at the previous posting first:

As if PSTA already has awesome buses (both Gilligs and New Flyers), things are about to get even better! According to this PDF newsletter from a few months back, PSTA is slated to purchase 10 new hybrid buses. Three of these buses will be of the BRT style, similar to SCAT’s hybrid fleet, while the remaining seven buses will be trolley style, to run on the Suncoast Beach Trolley Line. You can begin seeing these buses in the PSTA fleet next year.

Today, PSTA has 24 hybrid buses, with plans to increase that fleet to 36 buses by the end of 2013! A portion of these buses are trolley-style, while the rest are BRT-style. The entire hybrid fleet was manufactured by Gillig Corporation out of Hayward, CA.

One of the neat things about hybrid buses of course is the fuel efficiency. In today’s world, where gas prices act like a roller coaster, PSTA felt it made the right choice when they purchased their first batch of hybrid buses back in 2008. The agency has seen their hybrid fleet take on an average increase of 56% in fuel economy, versus their standard diesel fueled buses. That’s a substantial difference! I have a very good feeling that as long as the funding avenues are open, you can expect to see even more hybrid buses incorporated into PSTA’s fleet over the next few years. Though I haven’t had a chance to ride a PSTA bus yet (aside from one of the stylish express motorcoaches), I certainly hope to be able to do so later this year.

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012

July Friday Rewind – Hurricane Season 2012 is in full swing

For this edition of Friday Rewind (which I happened to publish late); I take a look back at my posting regarding the 2012 Hurricane Season. Now why did I choose this post to reflect on? Because I feel that I did not put enough emphasis on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and how it is impacted during storms. It is extremely important to know exactly what justifies a complete closure of the bridge during inclement weather. Below is a clipping from the original post.

Also to note, whenever there high winds (anything above 25mph, sustained), the “High Winds” indicator lights will flash as you approach the bridge. When winds exceed 40mph, sustained, the Florida Highway Patrol has the authority to close the bridge entirely in order to ensure the safety of commuters.

Now, I don’t joke on this. The Sunshine Skyway is a high bridge; and when the weather gets ugly, FHP pays close attention to weather conditions. Whenever sustained winds exceed 40mph, FHP will close the bridge completely, forcing all commuters to seek I-75 as the main alternate route.

Edward Ringwald recently blogged on his own site, dedicated to Interstate 275 in Hillsborough & Pinellas Counties, about the closing of the Skyway during inclement weather. I strongly feel that his post provides a more detailed viewpoint of what I’ve been trying to convey, which is…what exactly constitutes a full closure of the Skyway. You can read his post here.

Friday Rewind – Route 19 Late-Night Service

Friday Rewind

I am going to begin a segment called Friday Rewind, where I take a look back at a previous blog post. If anything has changed on the post’s subject, then I will note what has changed since my last posting. My follow-up post on HART bus route 39 actually gave me an idea to go forth with this segment, and why not? It has been nearly five years (yes, five years) since I first began this blog (wow, time goes fast!) and what better way to lead up to the 5 year anniversary than to take a look back and see what has changed since the last post.

I will be doing my Friday Rewind segments on the fourth Friday of each month, so be sure to check back for future posts.

So for my inaugural Friday Rewind post, I will be taking a look back at my post regarding HART’s addition of late-night (or OWL) service to Route 19, which connects downtown Tampa to South Tampa, where I live. Below is a copy of the original post from September 15, 2008.

The other night, I rode the Route 19 from Britton Plaza to almost Port Tampa. I must say, that even for the 10:00 hour, ridership was fairly modest. Seven people onboard (myself included) to be exact. I’m willing to bet that when the bus made its rounds from downtown to Tampa General Hospital, the amount of riders probably exceeded 10. all in all, this is good though. It is this late-night service that has people hopping onboard buses instead of bugging friends and family or scrambling for a taxi. I do hope that other busy routes could utilize better evening service in the future.

Continue reading Friday Rewind – Route 19 Late-Night Service