Changes coming to South County bus service

MITCH TRAPHAGEN PHOTO
Changes are coming to South County bus service, but Route 31, running from Amazon in Ruskin to the Brandon Mall via Gibsonton, is expected to remain with weekday service from 5 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

BY YVETTE C. HAMMETT

After numerous public meetings to alert bus riders to potential changes in routes, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is preparing to roll out new schedules and routes beginning in October.

Residents of Riverview and south can expect to keep some routes and see changes in others.  The redesign of the HART system will serve customers more efficiently while cutting down a budget deficit, said Marco Sandusky, director of HART Government and Community Relations.

While numerous express routes are on the chopping block, the changes will actually give more travel flexibility to bus riders, said Steve Feigenbaum, director of Service Development for HART.

“The problem with the express buses is that we have extremely low ridership and low fare box return,” he said. “It costs over half a million dollars for one route, and we only get a 5.5 percent return.” That is the route that runs from Kings Point to the Brandon Mall. While HART got plenty of negative feedback during public meetings regarding the cut, it is what it is, he said. “We try to minimize impact, but we have to think like a business.

“We just don’t operate enough express service to really make it effective,” he said. “One of reasons expresses don’t do very well is we don’t have enough. We don’t encourage people to use it because there are no backups.” For example, today’s express buses only run in the morning and late afternoon. If someone has a 7 a.m. job that ends at 4 p.m., there is no bus. Or, if they have a 9 a.m. job that ends at 6 p.m., there is no express service.

With route realignment, buses will run between the Brandon Mall and downtown and to MacDill Air Force Base and Tampa International Airport every half-hour, which should alleviate that concern. “If there is an emergency at noon and you must get home, you’ll be able to do that,” Feigenbaum said.

Route 31 will remain as is, operating weekdays from 5 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. from the Amazon warehouse in Ruskin to the Brandon Mall, via U.S. 41, Gibsonton Drive and Providence Road. The HART Flex will also remain, starting at La Stancia Apartments off S.R. 674, then down S.R. 674, looping at 19th Avenue and again at Shell Point Road, deviating to pick up passengers who reserve it.

The express 47LX and 53LX will be discontinued.

“It is a proposed revised network focusing on delivering more direct trips with more frequent service in the core network,” Sandusky said. “We conducted about 40 outreaches over six weeks. We reached over 900 people and received hundreds of comments. We held a public hearing July 26 and had a lot of attendance. We have proposed some revisions to the plan based on the results of that input.”

Ultimately, the proposed network changes are expected to save HART $5.8 million per year.

The final proposal went to the board Aug. 7. Details were unavailable at press time.

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