2019 Year-End Public Transit Roundup

Can’t believe it’s the end of 2019 already!

In what will be my final post for 2019, I’m going to take a few minutes to reflect back on what happened during the course of the year – both personal happenings in the sense of my transit adventures, as well as some local happenings here in the Tampa Bay Region.

All for Transportation Referendum

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit # 1305 on the westbound Route 360LX.

You may have noticed that I haven’t really talked about the All for Transportation referendum measure that was passed by Hillsborough County voters back in November of 2018. This is because shortly after the elections, two parties filed legal challenges against respective parties – including the county. The filing parties have basically alleged that the measure was passed illegally because how specific elements are structured within the measure violate state law. I’m not a legal expert, so I can’t go into the nitty-gritty details, however many news articles have been published about the saga, so you can search those up and get up to speed that way if you wish.

In short though, the legal cases against the measure are awaiting to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court & will be decided (at last check) February, 2020. I’m really hoping for an outcome that upholds the measure because Hillsborough County needs better transportation – and like…right now!

Extinction Rebellion

While the usage & expansion of public transportation isn’t necessarily a silver bullet in combating climate change, it certainly does help when coupled with other changes – such as the overall reduction in use of fossil fuels. During the past year or so, a group called Extinction Rebellion has been advocating for all levels of government across the globe to get their act together on combating climate change – or else, we as a the human race will one day (sooner than later) face mass extinction. It’s truly a scary thought when you think about the impacts that climate change is already having on our planet. However, it’s even more scary to think about how some people out there – including some of our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., don’t even believe that climate change is actually a thing.

New buses for HART & PSTA

During the course of April & May of 2019, both Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) & the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) introduced new buses to their fleets – a combined 19 units (10 for HART & 9 for PSTA). PSTA continues to largely order diesel-electric hybrid Gillig buses (either 35′ or 40′), while HART continues to order CNG Gilligs (40′). While PSTA has already been testing a small fleet of battery electric buses (2 in service, with 4 more on order for late 2020/early 2021), HART hasn’t necessarily made that leap just yet – though there is a push for the agency to begin a pilot project by 2021.

Regardless of propulsion though, the new buses are able to replace aging diesel buses that span as old as 2001 & 2002. PSTA’s oldest fleet is now from 2005, while HART’s oldest fleet dates back to 2006. In the coming years, the hope is for HART to completely replenish its fleet by 2025 so that the oldest bus running is not exceeding 10 years in age. PSTA on the other hand will have a tougher time with any such aim due to its limited resources & the fact that its 2006 bus order was the largest ever for the mid 2000s – totaling 48 buses (though 2 have been retired previously).

Jacksonville Trip

Jacksonville Transportation Authority # B028 on the First Coast Flyer Blue Line (Route 107).

For 2019, I had three different opportunities to travel out of town (one of which was out of state). The first trip was to Jacksonville, FL for primarily a family gathering/event, though I also spent some time exploring the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) bus system. This visit actually marked my third visit to River City since August of 2018 & my seventh overall visit to the region (though my first four visits weren’t focused on public transit at all & took place prior to 2005).

During my travels along the JTA system, I was able to experience both the First Coast Flyer Blue & Red Lines (Routes 107 & 109 respectively). The First Coast Flyer is a lightened version of Bus Rapid Transit (similar to HART’s MetroRapid, but with less stops) which first opened up in late 2015 with the Green Line (Route 102). The Blue Line followed in late 2016, then the Red Line in late 2019. The final currently planned corridor – the Orange Line (route number is not known at this time), is slated to open in late 2020.

Transit Safety

A PSTA bus with the “Ride with Respect” message.

2019 unfortunately brought upon several incidents across the nation by which transit agency employees were physically assaulted. In the Tampa area alone, one HART bus operator was stabbed & killed while on the job, while another – several months later – was also stabbed, but survived. These such incidents have echoed numerous calls from transit operators & their respective unions to force upon critical changes to their respective transit agencies – such as the installation of plexiglass shields within the operator’s area on board transit buses. These incidents also spurred HART, PSTA, & several other agencies to inform customers about the importance of using their transit systems while exercising due respect to each other & agency staff.

St. Pete Pride

Every year for the past few years now, PSTA has partnered with the St. Pete Pride organization as their official public transportation partner – providing special shuttle service to & from the St. Pete Pride Parade, & even having a specially wrapped bus roll down the parade route! It’s always great to see public transit agencies take part in such great events – especially those that support our wide & diverse communities.

TPA Airport Visits & the All Access Program

Earlier this year, Tampa International Airport introduced its All Access program, which allows non-ticketed patrons to experience the revamped lineup of shops & eateries at the airside concourses. The airport has been undergoing a massive transformation over the past decade, but especially during the course of the past five years, & what better way to allow everyone to experience the full array of what the airport now has to offer than to provide this wonderful program! I’ve been able to execute two such trips to the airport just to have lunch there (my first visit was to Airside C in July, followed by Airside E in December). To learn more about All Access & to book a Saturday reservation, please visit the airport’s website.

New Walt Disney World Buses, Monorail Enhancements, Skyliner Gondola

Speaking of revamps, Walt Disney World in Orlando has been undergoing its own transportation revamp – from introducing new buses (pictured above), to overhauling the appearance of their monorail trains, to opening a new gondola system (the Skyliner). These changes will make it easier & more appealing for park guests to get around the various on-site properties. Additionally, there’s been a lot of speculation that the current aging fleet of monorail trains will be replaced in 2020. Let’s see if that holds true…

HART 1400s

HART # 1406 at Marion Transit Center

And jumping off from Disney now, one change that occurred sometime back in 2017 was Walt Disney World not renewing its contract with TranStar, one of the many charter bus companies that have done business in the metro Orlando region. While it is likely that the loss of the contract heavily contributed to the company’s demise, it also opened the door to HART being able to acquire a few of their 2014-series buses for use in their system. So far, five out of six 40′ Gillig low floor diesel buses have gone into revenue service.

Brightline/Virgin – Tampa stop, or not?

Brightline (now known as Virgin Rail USA) locomotive # 107 pulls into the MiamiCentral station in Miami, FL. Credit: Carlos A.

One last thing to note that involves Disney – there’s been a lot of developments regarding the semi-high speed intercity rail line that is gradually materializing here in Florida. Brightline – which is now known as Virgin Rail USA since Virgin head honco Sir Richard Branson announced back in late 2018 that the company would have a large stake in the rail line’s future – is gradually making its way to Orlando International Airport. Stops are already in operation in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, & West Palm Beach – with additional stops planned in South Florida, as well as along the WPB to Orlando leg.

During the course of 2019, it was announced that Tampa could see an extension sooner than later. However, nothing concrete has come out of this, other than the revelation that state interests in previously planned toll lane projects are conflicting with any possibility of an extension towards Tampa. What is concrete though is that Virgin is seriously discussing with Disney in regards to a stop on or near their property to get guests arriving in from Miami an additional option to get to the park. In my personal opinion, I think the Disney stop will most certainly happen, while any segment between Disney & Tampa will be pushed back in favor of bringing trains to Jacksonville & eventually Atlanta, GA & Charlotte, NC. Virgin has also taken over the former XpressWest project that will link Las Vegas to Los Angeles by 2030.

PSTA Food Pantry

In another example of public transit making a difference in our diverse communities, PSTA partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay to deploy a mobile food pantry at the agency’s facility in northern St. Pete. Since many of PSTA’s riders live at or below the poverty line, having access to food pantries often mean the difference between having a meal during the day & not. For the first event in July, riders lined up as early as 6am to get one complimentary box of food – which includes fresh bread, fruits, & veggies. The second event in December was equally a success, & there are plans for another in around March or April of 2020 as a result.

PSTA/Greyhound Partnership

Greyhound # 86570 at the Pinellas Park Transit Center.

While on the subject of partnerships, PSTA partnered with Greyhound earlier this fall to allow them to use one of their transfer hubs to board & de-board buses. The facility chosen was the Pinellas Park Transit Center, which serves PSTA routes 11, 34, 52, 52LX, 74, & 75. The facility also serves as a Direct Connect stop for participating taxis & ride share companies to fill in the first mile, last mile gap between a customer’s origin & destination points.

In addition to being able to use the facility to load & unload customers, Greyhound is also able to use one of the two customer service windows to serve its customers. Greyhound began staffing the window in December & I’ve seen it busy during the morning just prior to the first couple of AM buses pulling in. Such partnerships allow Greyhound to trim down its inventory of aging facilities that it no longer sees fit to operate, while providing opportunities for its customers to easily interconnect with localized transit options to get them to their final destination.

San Francisco Trip

San Francisco MUNI # 8893.

My second out-of-town trip was by far THE highlight of 2019, being able to visit the San Francisco Bay Area & experience their wide array of transit services! I was able to utilize the BART rail network, as well as the Caltrain Commuter Rail line, the MUNI bus & rail systems, & the AC Transit & SamTrans bus systems. Additionally, I photographed buses in a few other jurisdictions, including Sausalito & San Jose.

Of course, my visit wasn’t entirely about transit. I was also able to spend time with my transit enthusiast friends, as well as family that resided throughout the NorCal region. In the midst of it all, I was reminded of the impact of the devastating wildfires that have been plaguing parts of the state during the past few years. In fact, a few friends & relatives have been directly impacted by the sporadic power shutoffs that were enacted to supposedly help prevent fires from starting due to debris coming in contact with live power lines during high wind events.

Local Bus Adventures

HART # 1105 at Marion Transit Center

Throughout 2019, I was able to take several leisurely adventures along the HART & PSTA systems – from the gulf coast beaches to the Shoppes of Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel, being able to use transit to get to a variety of destinations allows me to cut down on my car dependence & experience places that I would otherwise miss during a car drive. I think my most memorable leisurely bus ride was taking the Suncoast Beach Trolley to visit my friend & his family in Reddington Beach in November (Black Friday). I really loved that!

Orlando/Daytona Trip

Last, but certainly not least, was my trip to Orlando for a family event, followed by spending the remainder of the weekend in Daytona Beach & surrounding areas. This third & final out-of-town trip for 2019 actually marked the fourth time that I made a stop to Daytona to experience the Votran bus system (my previous visits involving the Votran system comprised of two visits in 2015, followed by a visit in 2017), & marked by seventh stop to the area overall (my first visit was with family in 1995. To my knowledge, Votran didn’t even run late night service Monday through Saturday during that time).

2020 Preview

What will 2020 bring?

It’s hard to say at the moment what 2020 will bring. One thing is for sure though, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on whether the All for Transportation measure is valid will no doubt determine where public transit in Hillsborough County will go. There’s also a ton of unknowns regarding the Brightline/Virgin rail line that is being expanded into Orlando. We should both matters further unfold during the first quarter of 2020, & once the determinations are made, I will certainly do my best to break down what’s next for the Tampa Bay region & beyond.

Moving away from this uncertainty though, I do have several large plans for 2020 – including the possibility of another out-of-town trip. I’m not going to divulge any details at this time – & for good reason. However, wherever I do embark on next, it’s definitely going to involve riding a train.


In conclusion, 2019 was a pretty good year for me, even though it wasn’t necessarily a great year for transit in the Tampa Bay region. There’s still a lot to accomplish & we shall see where everything goes from here. Until next time, have a safe & prosperous 2020!

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

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Legalese | Disclosures

The 2017 Year-End Roundup

Can you believe that 2017 is over? I certainly cannot believe how fast time has gone this year! As we enter 2018, I’d like to recap on some of the major transit-related happenings throughout Tampa Bay and beyond, as well as document a few of my transit experiences during the year. So let’s go!


MTA Second Ave Subway Opens

Just in time to ring in 2017 was the opening of Phase 1 of the long-awaited Second Ave Subway in New York City. The new line carries (Q) service from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with some (N) & (R) trips terminating at the 96th St station during rush hours.

The concept of the 2nd Ave Subway goes back to almost when the New York City Subway System first opened. Back in the early 1900s, trains ran elevated above 2nd Ave and many residents and business owners complained that this environment was too noisy and drove down property values. While the 2nd and 3rd Ave elevated lines were eventually torn down, the 2nd Ave underground replacement was never realized right away. Budgetary and construction delays, as well as “Politics as Usual” delayed the opening of the first segments for nearly an entire century.

Limited revenue service on the Second Ave Line began on January 2, 2017, with 24/7 service commencing on January 9, 2017. Eventually, the Second Ave Line will carry a second service, the (T), stretching as far south as Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.

SCAT Benderson Park/UTC Transit Hub

The SCAT transfer hub across from The Mall at University Town Center.

January provided an opportunity for me to return to Sarasota and witness the grand opening of the new Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus hub in eastern Sarasota County – located right in the heart of the growing University Town Center area. Along with this new hub, I got to step aboard one of the newer 2016 transit buses, as well as one of the 2011 suburban coach style buses with high-back reclining seats and luggage racks.

While the new facility only serves a small handful of bus routes, it was designed with eight bus bays so that future expansion can be easily accommodated. the facility also includes customer and employee restrooms, a sheltered canopy for those wanting to be shielded from the sun while waiting for their bus, and a lounge area for employees.


PSTA Battery Electric Bus

One of BYD’s demo buses parked outside of the PSTA Facility in St. Petersburg.

2017 was a year to celebrate for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) as the board voted in February to purchase two battery electric transit buses manufactured by BYD, as part of a pilot project to operate such buses within the agency’s fleet. The two initial buses will be used for a shuttle route being planned for Downtown St. Petersburg, which is scheduled for a summer 2018 launch.

Later in the year, the PSTA board voted to include 2 battery electric buses in the agency’s bus purchase plan each year, beginning in FY 2020, cementing the agency’s commitment to bringing forth a cleaner bus fleet to Pinellas. To further cement that commitment, the agency was also awarded a $1 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through its Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle Program, which will allow for the funds needed to purchase additional battery electric buses and construct additional battery electric bus charging stations.

My Cross-Bay Ferry Ride

The Cross-Bay Ferry boat docked in Tampa.

February also provided an unique opportunity – but this time to try out the Cross-Bay Ferry trial between Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. I even took my bike along so that I could do a brisk bike ride along Bayshore Blvd. While I was very happy to be able to ride the ferry and thus escape the rush hour traffic on the Gandy Bridge, we still have a long way to go before any permanent passenger ferry service is established between the two counties. I’m especially disappointed that many political and financial hurdles remain despite modest support for a permanent ferry service. I do hope that these issues are one day resolved – and one day sooner than later for that matter.


March & April were largely uneventful for the Tampa Bay region, outside of the Cross-Bay Ferry trial ending and the electric bus developments on the Pinellas side.

Budget Crunch in Hampton Roads

Despite plans for a system-wide restructuring materializing, 2017 overall was not a very good year for Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). The agency suffered massive criticism when it was reported that their total expenditures exceeded its $96 million budget by $5.3 million, leaving the municipalities who contribute to the agency’s funding wondering how they will pay for the overruns.


New York City Transit Excursion

An R-188 railcar pulls out of Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City, Queens.

May was probably THE transit highlight of 2017. For 4 full days, I returned to the Big Apple to transit fan and also spend some time with my family in NJ. During my visit, I was able to do the following:

  • Fanned the old South Ferry Loop – the former southern end for the (1) Line. The “newer” station, originally opened in 2009 to replace the loop, was forced to close from October 2012 through June 2017 due to immense damage caused by SuperStorm Sandy.
  • Fanedn the newer 34th St/Hudson Yards station on the (7) & the Second Ave Subway stations along the (Q).
  • Visited the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
  • Rode not one, but TWO Nova RTS transit buses, along with a New Flyer D60HF. Both are considered “dying breed” buses because they are no longer being manufactured and are slowly being retired.
  • Rode the Q44 Select Bus Service bus line on board a brand spanking new New Flyer Xcelsior (XD60) articulated transit bus. These buses (along with their 40-foot counterparts) are replacing some of the previously mentioned older buses and are equipped with on-board WiFi and USB charging outlets. SBS bus lines are similar to the MetroRapid bus line that Tampa has.
  • And last, but not least, attended my first ever transportation plan presentation outside of the Tampa Bay Region – the ReThink NYC Plan 2050 launch presentation – which was truly amazing! I’ll have a recap of the event in my next NYC Transit Excursion blog post.

In case you missed my first few posts, here they are:


Quick stop by Tallahassee’s StarMetro System

StarMetro #1202 pulls into the C.K. Steele Plaza in Downtown Tallahassee.

I had the opportunity in June to travel again, but this time to the Florida Panhandle for an event in the Destin/Okaloosa Beach area. The tail end of my trip provided me a chance to stop by Tallahassee while a line of thunderstorms passed. I was able to make a quick stop at the StarMetro bus terminal and witness the four Sunday routes in action, as well as take a quick walk around the city. I plan to take another trip to Tallahassee sometime in 2018.


PSTA “Breathe Easy” Zones

St. Pete City Council member Darden Rice, with PSTA CEO Brad Miller to the right. Photo taken by HARTride 2012.

July was another relatively quiet month, but I did have the opportunity to venture out to another PSTA event in St. Pete. This event officially recognized the implementation of “Breathe Easy Zones” at some of the major bus terminals in Pinellas. These smoking zones allow those who wish to have a cigarette, a place to do so without disturbing those who don’t want to breathe in the smoke. Much of the state of Florida has done its part over the years to create cleaner air environments where people don’t have to deal with secondhand smoke, and this is just another way to expand on that effort.


August turned out to be a repeat performance of July with not a lot going on. I did take a weekend excursion on the HART system though, making a stop by the oldest sheltered transit hub in the Sulphur Springs area of Tampa.

HART #2923 at the Yukon Transfer Center.


Hurricane Irma

Graphic Credit: New Channel 8 (WFLA TV).

2017 proved to be a very tumultuous hurricane season, with several monster storms – namely Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Irma made two landfalls in Florida – the first near Key West and the second near Naples. It was the first time since Hurricane Charley in 2004 that Tampa Bay residents had to evacuate, and the storm (Irma) left behind tons of damage, as did the other storms that made landfall this past year. Unfortunately, numerous lives lost in these storms, and tons and tons of weariness was left behind as well.

All of Florida’s transit agencies did a great job doing what they could to help residents escape evacuation zones by shuttling them to county shelters inland. HART in Hillsborough spent an entire day in fact moving people to shelters ahead of Irma and even though the last evacuation shuttles were scheduled to depart their originating areas around 9:00pm, buses continued to operate all the way until around 12-midnight on September 9, 2017.


HART Mission MAX

HART #2923 at Britton Plaza.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) underwent its first system-wide restructuring since 2005. While many of the changes were controversial in the sense that some outskirt areas of Hillsborough County lost bus service, areas that needed more frequent bus service got what they needed. Despite the ups and downs of the changes, all of it was able to be done without raising fares.

TECOline Streetcar Fest

TECOline Streetcar #1976 at the Centro Ybor station in historic Ybor City.

The annual TECOline Streetcar Fest allowed me to experience the post-Mission MAX bus system via the new Route 360LX from South Tampa to Downtown Tampa and escape the parking hassles in Downtown. This annual event brings forth various family friendly activities along the streetcar line from Downtown to historic Ybor City, and local music, not to mention FREE streetcar rides! Usually, HART will charge 15 cents to ride the streetcar during Streetcar Fest, but because it was the 15th anniversary, the agency decided to make all streetcar trips that day fare free.

PSTA Clearwater Beach Transit Hub

Passing by the construction site of the future PSTA Clearwater Beach Hub.

In another accomplishment for PSTA this past year, ground broke for a new transfer hub in Clearwater Beach, along the Memorial Causeway near Pier 60. This new hub will allow for easy transfer between beach side trolley lines and will serve as the western terminus for the future Route 200X replacement to Tampa.


Katharine Eagan Kelleman

Katharine Eagan Kelleman (right) speaking at the HART HyperLINK launch event in November, 2016. Photo taken by HARTride 2012.

On the morning of November 8, 2017, it was announced that HART CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman was leaving the agency in January, 2018 to pursue another opportunity elsewhere. It turns out that this opportunity was in Pittsburgh, PA, where she will serve as the CEO of the Allegheny County Port Authority transit system. I wish Ms. Kelleman the very best as she begins her new role!

My transit contributor Zac Ziegler, and I have both mentioned the Port Authority in various postings across our blogs and Social Media channels. Zac even took a trip to Pittsburgh several years ago to experience the system firsthand. Additionally, I’m acquainted with several transit advocates in the Pittsburgh area, and they are looking forward to providing suggestions and feedback to Ms. Kelleman as she transitions into her new role. Lastly, the person who helped inspire me to begin this website – Shawn – resides in Portersville, which is just north of Pittsburgh. Shawn spent many years at the Ross Division at Port Authority and once had a vast website full of transit photography.


Central Florida Transit Excursion

Waiting for the SunRail train to Orlando.

To wrap up 2017, a transit fan friend of mine visited the Tampa Bay region and we got to ride the PSTA and Pasco Transit systems, in addition to riding SunRail and LYNX over on the other side of the state. We also made stops in Lakeland and Kissimmee, as well as Daytona Beach. Later in the month; photo contributor and Social Media moderator, Jake, visited the Tampa Bay area and got to ride the TECOline Streetcar line and the HART In-Towner Trolley (he and I didn’t get to meet up in Tampa, but my other friend and I met up with him in the Orlando area).

First MTA R-179 test train enters revenue testing.

Despite the opening of the Second Ave Subway, the New York MTA has suffered a lot of bumps and bruises over the past year. One of which has been the slow introduction of the new R-179 railcars, which are being produced by Bombardier Transportation to replace some of the agency’s oldest operating subway railcars. The trains have been suffering major defects and thus the rollout schedule has been pushed back. Even the first trainset to enter revenue testing had its share of mishaps, but has been operating smoothly since mid December – to the best of my knowledge.

While 2017 had its ups and downs, 2018 will bring forth many drastic changes to the transit scene as we move ahead. Below are some of the topics that I will discuss as we enter January:

  • Transit Ridership: As overall transit ridership continues to trend downward, many transit agencies are having to re-think their strategies to move forward into the future.
  • TPA Airport: I’ll recap the airport’s historic year – including new airlines, the terminal revamp, and what’s to come next.
  • Selmon Extension & other highway-related items: Because buses run on roadways, it’s important to know how projects like the Selmon Expressway Extension may impact bus service.
  • MTA Subway Action Plan: Can quick fixes to the aging subway system restore confidence in riders & those who support the system?
  • Autonomous Vehicle Technology: How AVs are changing the landscape for transportation as a whole & where will things go from here?

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

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

Legalese | Disclosures

2016 Year-End Roundup

It’s once again time to wrap up the current year and usher in the new year. As 2016 comes to a close, I’d like to spend a few moments reflecting on some of the biggest transportation stories and developments of the year. Below is a quick synopsis of what I will be covering – in no particular order.

Go Hillsborough saga

Tampa Bay Express

Cross-Bay Ferry

Direct Connect/TD Late Shift/HyperLINK

First Coast Flyer Blue Line

2nd Ave Subway (and the return of the “W”)

Subway Developments in Paris

First Coast Flyer Blue Line
Jacksonville, FL

Credit: Jacksonville Transportation Authority

2015 saw the opening of Jacksonville, FL’s first Bus Rapid Transit line – the First Coast Flyer Green Line (Route 102). 2016 saw the opening of the system’s second line – the First Coast Flyer Blue Line (Route 107). As part of Jacksonville’s regional transportation vision – four BRT lines in all will be constructed and plans are in the works to upgrade and possibly expand the Skyway People Mover.

The FCF Blue Line opened for revenue service on December 4, 2016 and operates every 10 to 15 minutes during the day on weekdays, with 30 to 60 minute service during the evenings, and the last trips running through 12-midnight. Weekend service operates every 30 to 60 minutes all day, with Saturday service ending at 12-midnight and Sunday service ending at 10:00pm. The route operates from the heart of Downtown Jacksonville to The Avenues Mall off Phillips Hwy and I-95.

Both the FCF Green and Blue lines utilize sleek 40-foot Gillig Low Floor buses with the BRT Plus look, and all buses are powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). A total of 22 buses were ordered for both the Green and Blue lines, and that is on top of the batch of 35 and 40-foot CNG powered buses that were ordered to beef up local and express bus routes and replace the oldest buses in JTA’s fleet.

As we progress into 2017, the system’s third BRT line – the First Coast Flyer Red Line – will continue through the planning process and eventually move to the construction stage. The projected opening for the Red Line is sometime in either 2017 or 2018. The last of the routes – the First Coast Flyer Purple Line – will also continue through the planning stages, with the projected opening being sometime either in 2018 or 2019.

Go Hillsborough Saga
Hillsborough County, FL


What was supposed to have been a second attempt to bring a countywide transportation plan to the citizens of Hillsborough County, FL for a vote was quickly marred in allegations of backroom dealings and tons of “Politics as Usual”. Go Hillsborough was originally envisioned as a mulitmodal approach to get the county’s existing roadways fixed and transit system expanded. The original intent was also to utilize multiple funding sources by which so that a sales tax hike wasn’t the only option to fund the improvements – something that effectively killed transportation referendums here in Florida in 2010 and 2014.

While the beginning stages of public input and planning were productive – and many transportation needs were identified, executing how the fund the improvements became a daunting task by which eventually led the Hillsborough County Commission to conclude that raising the sales tax was once again “the only viable option” to fund the plan. This got many fiscal conservatives up in arms and those who were originally supportive of the plan (myself included) became very skeptical as to whether the final plan would even be presented to voters.

As 2016 progressed, Go Hillsborough fell into a full blown circus act – with allegations that some of the people helping to put the plan together were engaging in backroom dealings. This led the Tampa/Hillsborough Tea Party to sound the alarm and call for increased scrutiny on the plan, which in-turn led to the erosion of public trust in the plan. At the end of the day, the Hillsborough County Commission voted against putting any sales tax initiative onto the November, 2016 ballot and eventually opted to go for a “money pot” approach for improving the county’s roads only.

This “money pot” approach would allocate x-amount of dollars each year for the next five years for roadway improvements. Yes folks, there is no provision for transit funding in the plan, and there is no doubt in my mind that some of this money will be siphoned off to help fund the controversial Tampa Bay Express toll lane project.

Tampa Bay Express
Tampa Bay Region, FL

Credit: Florida Department of Transportation

Speaking of Tampa Bay Express, the controversial plan to bring variable toll lanes to the Tampa Bay interstate highway system – the plan progressed at the local and state levels during the course of 2016, despite growing opposition from the communities that would be affected by the widened highways.

Those in support of TBX have largely comprised of larger non-Bay Area based companies, politicians, and lobbyists who believe that TBX would greatly improve traffic congestion throughout the Tampa Bay region and build a structured backbone for Premium Transit options such as light rail. However, those opposed to the plan – which comprise of many Bay Area residents, local business, and community leaders – say that the project is costly, wasteful, and destructive. Those opposed to TBX also believe that the state’s “promises” to enhance transit services will not be fulfilled and that traffic congestion will worsen once the toll lanes are built.

While I was initially open to the idea of variable toll lanes along some highways in our region, when details of the TBX project came out, I began to grow concerned as to how the project would be funded, how it would impact our communities, and what provisions (if any) would there be for transit expansion. When it became clear that TBX was nothing more than a political ploy from Tallahassee as part of a broader agenda to massively toll Florida’s currently free highways, I joined the #STOPTBX movement and have ever since been 100% opposed to the project.

While most of the movement with TBX has favored the supporters, there was a significant decision that favored the opposition – removing the “Starter Project” toll lane component from the Howard Frankland Bridge. This means that when the northbound span (built in 1959) gets replaced in 2021, it will not include any toll lanes that take up existing “free” lanes. The southbound span (built in 1987) will not be tolled either. Any toll lane provisions will likely be placed onto an expansion of the second span that would adjoin the “free” lanes. A third span could be built with Premium Transit provisions included – such as BRT lanes or a guideway for Commuter Rail.

Cross-Bay Ferry
Tampa Bay Region, FL


After months of planning and debating over the course of a new passenger ferry network, the first route of the Cross-Bay Ferry launched in November, 2016 – allowing those in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to sail across Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Tampa. The six month pilot project was funded by both counties as well as the Cities of Tampa and St. Pete. Ridership on the ferry so far has been a success, but many are wondering if the ferry will survive beyond the pilot project – which ends in April, 2017. The debate continues on how the ferry will be funded in the long term and how service can be improved, as well as the prospect of future routes.

The Cross-Bay Ferry currently operates seven days a week, excluding some holidays, and there are at least two departures each day from both Tampa and St. Pete.

Direct Connect, TD Late Shift, & HyperLINK
Tampa Bay Region, FL


2016 also brought upon two new innovative programs – the first of their kind in the nation – and both right here in Tampa Bay! The first is Direct Connect – which allows Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority customers to summon a taxi cab or ride share vehicle from their home or business within a designated zone and bring them to a designated bus stop, where they can catch the bus to their final destination. The second is HyperLINK – which allows Hillsborough Area Regional Transit customers to summon a van within a designated zone and bring them to a designated bus stop, where they can catch the bus to their final destination.

Both programs operate slightly different from each other but hold the same common goal of bridging the “First-Mile, Last-Mile” gap that exists with transit. This gap is especially problematic with those who are normally unable to access the transit system but have limited to no access to a personal vehicle. You will be able to read through how each program works in an upcoming blog post and through pages that are currently under construction.

Lastly, a separate program benefitting low-income persons considered as Transportation Disadvantaged launched during mid-2016, called TD Late Shift. TD Late Shift allows Transportation Disadvantaged customers in Pinellas County up to a set number of free Uber riders a month. The service is available during hours by which PSTA buses have stopped operating for the evening, and there is a provision for one free qualifying daytime Uber ride a month. Trips must be to a place of employment or residence. TD Late Shift allows those who are low income and have no access to a personal vehicle a link to and from work without having to worry about being stranded due to bus service starting late or ending early.

2nd Ave Subway
New York City, NY

Credit: NYC MTA

After decades of being swamped in delays, the first phase of the 2nd Ave Subway Line is poised to open on January 1, 2017 at 12-noon, though a ceremonial trip will take place later tonight, and several open houses have already taken place along the new stations to allow the public to take a glimpse of them before revenue service begins.

The concept of the 2nd Ave Subway goes back to almost when the New York City Subway System first opened. Back in the early 1900s, trains ran elevated above 2nd Ave and many residents and business owners complained that this environment was too noisy and drove down property values. While the 2nd and 3rd Ave elevated lines were eventually torn down, the 2nd Ave underground replacement was never realized right away. Budgetary and construction delays, as well as “Politics as Usual” delayed the opening of the first segments for nearly an entire century.

The 2nd Ave Line will be used for two Subway services – the “Q”, which runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and eventually the “T” which will run the entire length of the 2nd Ave line. The “Q” will operate seven days a week from 57th St to 63rd St/Lexington Ave, 72nd St, 86th St, and 96th St from 12-noon to 10:00pm on January 1, 2017. On January 2, trains will operate along the new stations from 6:00am through 10:00pm. Then, on January 9, 24/7 service will begin. All other “Q” stations will be served in the same manner as they are served today, with some scheduling changes as the new stations transition over to 24/7 service.

In preparation for the “Q” service to 96th St, the “W” was brought back on weekdays to replace service that was lost to the “Q” being moved out of Queens. The “N” continues to serve Queens during late nights and on weekends. The “W” originally operated in Queens and Manhattan in 2001 but was eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts.

Developments on the Paris Subway
Paris, France

Credit: Peter Ehrlich (Used with permission from the photographer)

Across the pond in France, there have been several key happenings with the Paris Subway system. Among them are…

  • Automation of the 4: Since the successful conversion of the “1” from manual to automated operation in 2013, plans have been materializing to automate “4”. Both the “1” and the “4” are the busiest subway lines in all of Paris and both were in dire need of modernization in the 90s and 2000s. With the “1” modernized and automated, automation work has begun on the “4”, as well as the extension to Bagneux, where the “4” will have a connection to the “15”.
  • Extension of the 14: Construction also began on the first phase of the northward extension of the “14”, which will eventually have trains running all the way from Orly Airport to the St. Denis region of Paris.
  • Last MF 67 Railcar retires from service on the 9: The “9” is wrapping up its modernization project with the farewell of the last MF 67 railcar, which were produced during the 1970s. New MF 01 railcars have taken their place, and additional railcars have been produced to help relieve overcrowding on the “2” and “5”. Once thing remains unclear though, what will become of the MF 67 railcars that still operate on the “3”, “3B”, “10”, and “12”?
  • Grand Paris Express Developments: As part of a broader plan to bring forth new rail transportation to Paris, construction is now underway, or about to get underway, for the first segments of the Grand Paris Express subway lines. These lines will comprise of three new subway lines, the “15”, “16”, and “17”, along with dual extensions of the “14”, and another rail line – the “18”. I’m not sure if the “18” will be considered as a subway or a pre-metro/light rail line, but it is nonetheless included in the plan.


So what’s to come in 2017?

I’ll be outlining my thoughts in my next blog post. Until then, have a safe and Happy New Year!

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Legalese | Disclosures

Wrapping up 2015 and looking towards 2016

Year-End Transit News Roundup - 2015 Banner

2015 was a big year when it came to transportation matters; not just in the Tampa Bay area, but also in the Hampton Roads, VA and New York City, NY areas, and other parts of the globe. Let’s first take a look at what made the headlines in 2015, then I’ll go through what we can look forward to in 2016.

2015 Year In Review – Tampa Bay, FL Area (Full Rundown)

Whether it’s the monumental terminal expansion project at Tampa International Airport, the start of the Gandy Freeway project, or the framework for a regional transit farecard system; here are the movers and shakers that made 2015 a memorable year for transportation in Tampa Bay.

HART’s 2015 CNG Buses Arrive

Same bus, different angle...
2015 brought forth the first batch of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) transit buses for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART).

In an effort to move towards a more environmentally sustainable future, HART purchased 22 CNG-powered 40-foot Gillig Low Floor transit buses. These buses, while similar in many ways to their counterparts from 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013, the buses are able to travel without spewing about dirty diesel fumes. The buses also have more comfy seating and a smooth ride, which are enjoyed by customers like myself. HART is aiming to purchase more of these buses in the future, with 13 already on the docket for 2016 and 53 more on the planning books should state funding allow.

Tampa International Airport Expansion

By 2018, the Tampa International Airport complex will not look anything like this...
By 2018, the Tampa International Airport complex will not look anything like this…

It was originally envisioned that by this time, Tampa International Airport (or TPA Airport) would be preparing to build its second terminal complex. However, the economic downturn of 2008 and the subsequent consolidation of the airline industry – which brought upon the mergers of the six “legacy carriers” Delta, Northwest, Continental, United, American, and US Airways – forced the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority to effectively cancel those grand expansion plans and instead re-focus its resources on modernizing and expanding the current terminal complex that opened to passengers in 1971.

The ongoing construction will bring forth immense improvements in the passenger experience, as well and the layout of the airport complex. Such improvements include new shops and restaurants, a new rental car center, and a people mover line that will connect that new center to the main terminal. Additionally, plans are in the works to gut out the entire third level of the main terminal (pictured above) and implement a new layout that will have some shops in kiosks and other retailers and eateries on the outer banks of the building. Two new outdoor terraces are also being constructed on the east and west ends of Level 3, and each of the concourses will see upgrades in some form.

Longer range plans call for the construction of a new Airside D, the relocation of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, and a possible extension of the people mover line from the rental car center to a multimodal hub that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is proposing as part of its plans to bring toll lanes to I-275.

Possible Extension of the TECOline

Another shot of $434.
Imagine being able to one day take the streetcar all the way through Downtown Tampa? Well, it could very well happen at last!

2015 also brought upon significant news in the future of the TECOline Streetcar in Tampa. In April, FDOT announced that it would assist in funding a feasibility study to evaluate extending the streetcar through Downtown Tampa, allowing for an eventual upgrade to modern railcars and the foundation of a meaningful passenger rail network in Hillsborough County. For the past few years, especially due in large part to the recession, ridership on the streetcar has plummeted, forcing upon a cut in service and the depletion of an endowment that was originally set aside back in the early 2000s. Additionally, maintenance issues have resulted in nearly all of the railcars to be stalled at the barn until recently.

Once the study is complete, then the city – along with HART – can begin to evaluate where exactly will the extended line will travel and begin securing the funding that is needed to build the extension.

Go Hillsborough takes shape, but strikes some hurdles

In an attempt to brush off a 2010 referendum loss, Hillsborough County officials have put together a new transportation referendum called Go Hillsborough, that aims to improve exiting roads, pedestrian/bike facilities, and transit elements throughout the county. While the foundations of the plan are good overall, I feel that not enough is being done to address the need for more transit funding on the local level. To make matters worse, the Go Hillsborough effort hit a major stumbling block during the summer by which consultant Beth Leytham and engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff were apparently conducting backroom dealings with county officials. Investigations are currently ongoing as to whether any wrongdoing was done in the process, but in the meantime…the chances of Go Hillsborough moving to the November, 2016 ballot remains slim if at best. County leaders are set to vote on whether the effort moves forward in February, 2016. In the meantime, support for the initiative has grown – with Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Downtown Partnership recently voicing their support.

Could Commuter Rail one day come to Tampa Bay?


That is a question that I’m still pondering. Back in October, I blogged about the news that CSX Transportation was considering selling off two of its key freight rail lines to FDOT to facilitate commuter rail service similar to SunRail. While I am happy that this development has come about, I remain heavily cautious as to whether it will happen. I’m also concerned that the prospect could possibly be a way for FDOT to force upon the unpopular toll lanes that they want to build along our interstates. I’ll be following this development closely as we enter 2016.

 Regional Farecard Project closer to being launched

For the past several months now, HART has been working with other area transit agencies to bring forth a unified, regional, smart-card based fare structure. In late 2015, I received the news that HART is preparing to award which agencies will take part in the initial pilot project that will lay out the foundation for the new fare structure. However, the timing of the full launch of the initiative will depend of state funding. Last legislative session wound up being a circus with the budget and congressional map redistricting sagas, and unfortunately during this time, some of HART’s funding requests died in committee. I will be watching closely as to what the result will be and where the initiative goes from here.

PSTA Announces Bus Rapid Transit Project

As I recently blogged about, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) announced that it is planning a bus rapid transit corridor to run at least partially along the Central Ave Corridor. This route, which will likely be structured off of HART’s MetroRapid North-South Line, is seen as a consolation prize between transit supporters and advocates, like myself, and those who are heavily opposed to any form of passenger rail. While I applaud PSTA on the announcement and where this project will eventually go, I threw caution to the winds in my blog post that “BRT Lite” isn’t really the long-term solution to building a more viable and robust transit system for our region.

2015 Year In Review – Hampton Roads, VA Area (Summary)

The existing Tide LRT Line in Norfolk, VA travels from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center to Newtown Rd. Two studies are currently in progress to extend both termini. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

2015 brought upon the progression of both the Virginia Beach Light Rail Extension Study and the Naval Station Norfolk Light Rail Extension Study, both are very crucial to the future of transit in Hampton Roads. However, many divisions were exposed when it came to the Virginia Beach Light Rail project, as there are many supporters going against those who are opposed to extending the light rail line from Norfolk to the seaside municipality – or building any form of passenger rail at all. For the region’s bus system, while there were some new buses that arrived during the course of 2015, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) continues to face funding challenges to replace its aging bus fleet. These challenges will continue to persist through 2016.

2015 Year In Review – New York City, NY Area (Summary)

Photo taken by HARTride 2012 in March, 2011.
Photo taken by HARTride 2012. March, 2011.

2015 brought upon the progression of several key construction projects throughout the New York City Subway system. The Second Ave Subway Phase I and the Long Island Rail Road East Side Access project continue to progress, with both on track to open by 2017 and 2022 respectively (though these timeframes can change). In addition, work to restore services and stations following SuperStorm Sandy continue; including work to restore and reopen the “newer” South Ferry subway station. Work on South Ferry will continue through the first half of 2016, with a projected reopening sometime in 2017.

Among other significant developments in the NYC area; the opening of the Line 7 subway extension to Hudson Yards, the continuation of the construction of the new Port Authority World Trade Center Transportation Hub (projected to open sometime in 2016), and the continuation of the construction of the new Line 1 Cortlandt St Station (projected to open sometime in 2018).

Long Term US Transportation Bill is Passed!

If this wasn’t a good way to end the year, then I don’t know what is. For the first time in over a decade, both chambers of Congress passed a long term transportation funding bill that will include money for both roads and public transit, known as the The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or “FAST Act”. For the past several years now, Congress has been relying on general fund transfers and other short term measures to fund federal transportation needs. This method has not been going well with much of the populace here in the US because we’ve continued to see roads and bridges crumble as well as public transit become more and more defunded as ridership continues to rise. While the FAST Act isn’t perfect, it is getting us somewhere.

For additional information of the FAST Act, please visit the USDOT website.

Year-End Transit News Roundup - 2015 Banner 2

As we head into 2016, there are many predictions as to which projects and initiatives could move ahead, which transit services will be launched, and what kinds of developments that we may see within local, state, and federal governments. I will be having a full rundown of what to look out for in 2016 up very soon!

It is also a crucial year when it comes to elections, so I strongly encourage everyone to register to vote and to actively participate in the election process.

2014 Public Transit Recap

2014 year-end

Looking back at a few of the biggest public transportation stories of 2014

2014 for the most part was pretty eventful for the Tampa Bay area when it came to public transportation. While there were many positives throughout the year, the biggest local story by far was…not so positive. In the next few moments, I will briefly go over what made the headlines in the transportation realm during 2014.

Tampa International Airport executes sweeping modernization and expansion plan

Another Roy Butler art piece on level 2 of the main terminal. Notice the red paneled walls in the background? That's one of the elevator banks. The entire main terminal complex has seen significant updates since the late 1990s. Now the complex is undergoing its most massive renovation and expansion project to date. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
Tampa International Airport will be undergoing a massive renovation project over the next two to three years. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

With original aspirations to build a second terminal complex on the backburner due to the recent economic downturn and consolidation of the airline industry, leaders at Tampa International Airport’s governing body – the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority – had to re-think its path for the future. What eventually came out after many months of discussion and planning was a sweeping modernization of the existing 1971-era terminal. This plan was divided into three phases, with the first one (called Decongestion) breaking ground in November. The plan will move all rental car operations to a unified facility at the southern end of the airport’s campus, connected by a modern automated people mover. Other many improvements will also be completed, including a new layout for Level 3 of the main terminal, as well as the groundwork for a replacement Airside D.

Further information can be found at the TPA Airport website.

Study results for a possible streetcar expansion and modernization in Tampa

Just days after Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced his plans to shake up the southeastern section of downtown Tampa, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit unveiled the results of a study that would evaluate the next phase of expansion for the ailing TECOline Streetcar. The study examined several possible corridors from the current terminus at Whiting St by the Fort Brooke Garage to the Marion Transit Center in northern downtown, including Marion St, Florida Ave, Tampa St, Ashley Dr, and Franklin St. Depending on which alignment is eventually chosen, along with other factors, the project could cost up to $60 million. The study also recommends the line be upgraded with modern railcars, something that I have been voicing support for during the past several months.

See the results of the study.

Greenlight Pinellas fails at the polls, along with two other transportation initiatives

The biggest story here in Tampa Bay by far for 2014 was the crippling defeat of not one, not two, but three transportation-related sales tax initiatives during the November, 2014 election. Here in Tampa Bay, the biggest of the three measures was the Greenlight Pinellas initiative that aimed at doubling Pinellas County’s bus system and eventually bring forth a starter light rail line to the central section of the county. The second initiative was in Polk County, where the My Ride/My Roads plan aimed at improving area roadways and expand and further unify the county’s bus system. Then, up in Alachua County, the Moving Alachua County Forward measure hoped to bring in more funding to improve roadways within the county. All three initiatives failed by over 50%, sending shockwaves to supporters that voters simply were not ready for, or willing to deal with added taxes while the nation’s economy was still on shaky ground riddled with budget cuts, pay cuts, layoffs, and other negative aspects. Meanwhile, Tea Party insiders like Sharon Calvert chanted victory towards all three ballot defeats in hopes that voters will eventually sway municipal governments to contract out bus services to the private sector.

View blog posts relating to Greenlight Pinellas.

SunRail Commuter Rail opens, gains late evening service

This past May, Orlando’s commuter rail line, SunRail, opened to customers after enduring quite a planning and construction process that involved dueling it out with CSX Transportation over their then-planned freight hub in Winter Haven. The line’s opening signaled a new era in public transit throughout the Orlando Metro region, as Orlando International Airport gears up for its own radical expansion plans, and as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) prepares Interstate 4 for a massive reconstruction project that is slated to begin in 2015 and run through about 2021 – yes…that’s roughly six years folks! The line also brings forth hopes that Tampa Bay one day could have a commuter rail line of its own. During the fare-free period in May, I had a chance to ride SunRail from Sand Lake Road to downtown Orlando and back, and I truly enjoyed the journey! Expect to see the rest of my SunRail series in early 2015.

In December, FDOT announced that a trial late-evening run would start on December 22 after a petition was sent in calling for more service. So far, a few days have proved to be very encouraging, and I really hope this will send a message to state leaders that SunRail needs to be expanded, and soon! Refusing such a service expansion will not only negatively impact Orlando and surrounding communities, but it will also send a message to Tea Party insiders here in Tampa Bay that our area does not need expanded public transit. And, it will only add onto the underlying agenda of these insiders to contract out bus services to the private sector.

Read Part 1 of my SunRail experience.

Hampton Roads, VA area tries to move ahead with their transit vision

Meanwhile, in the Norfolk, VA area, Hampton Roads Transit has been steadily moving ahead with plans to extend its starter light rail line. To the east, towards Virginia Beach, and to the north towards Naval Station Norfolk. Both extensions are currently in the study phase, though the Virginia Beach extension is further along. During the course of 2013 and 2014, several elements have complicated the Virginia Beach extension study, including a late-minute agreement between municipal and state leaders to fund a short extension to Town Center, which would be shorter than any of the three extension alignments already planned out. If all goes well from here on out, the new segment could be open by 2018.

Read more about what has transpired with the planned light rail extension to Virginia Beach.

New York City’s subway system rebuilds from Sandy

SuperStorm Sandy heavily damaged parts of New York City’s subway system in October of 2012 and threatened to bring the entire city to its knees. However, the strength and resilience of New York City and its citizens have triumphed over the tragedy. Since the disaster, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched the Fix and Fortify project to rebuild key elements of the subway system that were damaged during the storm. Such completed work includes the rebuilding of the Montague and Greenpoint tunnels, and restoration of the old South Ferry station – until the newer complex can be rebuilt. Earlier this month, the MTA awarded a $194 million dollar contract to rebuild the newer South Ferry station, which is expected to take approximately two years to complete. When finished, the newer station will be equipped with flood prevention measures such as retractable flood doors at station entrances.

Go to MTA.info and scroll down on the right to the Fix and Fortify section for project updates.

Paris’ “Grand” rail plan materializes

In Paris, France, plans for a massive subway system expansion is moving ahead. Officially called the Grand Paris Express, four new subway lines will be constructed, one existing subway line will be extended in two directions almost simultaneously, and a second existing line will be extended and modernized. The new subway lines will be numbered 15 through 18, while Lines 11 and 14 will be extended (the 11 will also be modernized and converted to fully automated operation). In addition, Lines 4, 6, 11, and 14 will all receive brand new, next-generation rolling stock during the construction of the Grand Paris Express. This project will breathe new life into the Parisian public transit system, as well as reach areas that are currently inaccessible by passenger rail lines. If all goes according to plan, the entire “Grand” plan could be completed by 2040.

Read a summary of the Grand Paris Express project.