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Non-Profit Looks To Fill Public Transit Void In South Hillsborough

Public transportation has always been an issue in Wimauma, a spread-out, traditionally agricultural community in south Hillsborough County. 

The area has only one bus line that runs up and down State Road 674. So when Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority cut 20 percent of its bus stops last year, people in Wimauma were left with few ways to get to work, school or the doctor's office.

"I know a lady that, right now, she's not taking all of her medication as she should, because she has to have money to pay the cabs to take her wherever she wants to go," said Jackie Brown, president of the Wimauma Community Development Corporation and a lifelong resident.

Brown said her community - particularly the working poor, seniors and students - have been most affected by the cuts in public transit. They have almost lost faith that the transportation system will get better.

But a new non-profit bus service called Arriba is looking to fill the transportation void in southern Hillsborough County. They have proposed having mini-buses running set routes to clinics, grocery stores and the remaining county bus stops.

Liz Gutierrez is the founder of Enterprising Latinas, the non-profit behind the proposal.

"We have a solution, and that is to create a neighborhood-based transportation service that would move people from the different neighborhoods to the central parts of the community so that they can connect to HART," Gutierrez said.

Enterprising Latinas wants to do that for $1.75 per ride, much cheaper than the existing options.

The organization is in talks with the county and HART about getting start-up funding. Through working with the county and community sponsors, Gutierrez said she believes she can keep Arriba fares affordable. She said she was a bit surprised that the county was receptive to Arriba taking over some of its former routes, but realized that it makes economic sense for them and the community.

"Everybody wins: The folks that we are serving, because they'll have a reliable, affordable way to get from point A to point B, and they we are going to be able to connect them to HART," she said.

So far, Gutierrez said the community has been supportive of the proposed transit service.

Chamain Moss-Torres, director of economic opportunity with Enterprising Latinas, helped put together a community survey earlier this year. Of the 114 residents surveyed, 85 percent of respondents said they would use the Arriba service.

“We believe if this service option became available the majority of the Wimauma community would use it,” Moss-Torres said.

Businesses in the area are also excited by the prospect of expanded public transit options.

Debbie Caneen is the director of admissions for Sun Towers Retirement Community in the Ruskin/Wimauma area. She said the lack of transit options has led to some of her employees not being able to get to work if their car breaks down.

"If you have an unreliable vehicle, you may get a few marks off and eventually you may lose your job, even if you were actually a great employee," Caneen said. "The fact that Arriba is willing to come into town and provide alternative transportation is great for us."

Enterprising Latinas will soon make a full pitch to the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners for start-up funding and hopes to start operating a few bus routes in Wimamau by the fall. They are also planning to move into Ruskin in the future.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.