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Hillsborough Bus Routes Get Major Makeover

Public bus riders in Hillsborough County are in for some major changes this week. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authoritycalls it "Mission Max." Here's an excerpt from their web site:

Through Mission MAX, we are Modernizing the system to deliver more efficient service and higher frequencies on high-demand routes. We are Aligning routes to provide shorter trip times and better connections.  And we strive for eXcellence by designing a network that lays a strong foundation for future expansion.
This redesign of the bus system will include route and schedule modifications based on an extensive period of research, operational considerations, and public input.

While some riders will benefit, others will have to find alternative transportation.

Kenneth Ballard takes several buses from his home in Tampa's Jackson Heights neighborhood to his job across town at Forest Hills Elementary School.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
If you see a sign wrapped in orange, the route has been discontinued

Now, he says, his commute is going to be more complicated.

"From the (Route) 18 from downtown all the way to 30th and Hillsborough, that's a lot of gap there," he said. "First time in my life I've got to ride a bike to catch a bus. So I've got to buy a bike this week."

While waiting for a bus at the Marion Street Transit Center in downtown Tampa, Ballard said some of the changes are OK - particularly the straightening of routes around Progress Village and bumping up the number of "Bull Runner" connections between the bus station near the Haley VA center to the USF Tampa campus. That campus will lose the two bus lines that course through campus.

But mostly, he says people like him aren't being listened to.

"Nobody's listening and nobody cares," he said. "Because the little guy always gets pushed around. And a lot of people get tired of that."

HART Chief Operating Officer Ruthie Reyes Burckard says they held a lot of public hearings. She says 80 percent of the routes will see more buses - and less waiting time.

"Where some routes are going away, other routes are picking up some of those core areas," she said. "And some areas are getting increased frequency, and there are some added new routes that will increase the frequency and throughout the day."

The problem, she said, is HART operates mostly off of property taxes, and the failure of last year's Go Hillsborough referendum doomed efforts to raise more funds. Still, Burckard says the streamlining of services will end up concentrating service where it's most needed.

"I think you're going to see a better service provided in the areas that we serve. I think we were getting people telling us that they wanted faster service, too," she said. "They wanted to get through the routes faster with few stops. And so doing this alignment gets them there."

She said HART is trying to emulate bigger cities by going to a grid system - with transfers to other bus lines - instead of its hub-and-spoke transit centers.

As part of the rollout, HART is offering free rides on all their buses Monday.

Map of the new HART routes
Credit HART map
HART map


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.