By Kyle LoJacono
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will unveil a new program this month that allows people set their own public transportation schedule.
Marcia Mejia, HART public information officer, said the new program is called HARTFlex. Residents along Dale Mabry Highway can schedule van rides to several locations in Lutz, Northdale and Carrollwood. Residents are picked up at the doorstep.
“HARTFlex is a win-win for both HART and our customers,” Mejia said. “HARTFlex is community-based transportation that is especially more efficient for HART to operate in less densely developed areas of Hillsborough County. Moreover, customers benefit from the advantages of regular bus service with the flexibility of curbside pickup.”
It is the first time HART has offered such a program in the area. Destinations include Saint Joseph’s Hospital-North, Northgate Square, Lake Park, Gaither High School, Home Depot/Sam’s Club, Target and the intersection of Fletcher Avenue and Dale Mabry.
“In designing the flex zone, it was important to provide service to St. Joseph’s Hospital-North,” Mejia said. “The HARTFlex van can go into St. Joseph’s Hospital-North to pick up customers, instead of requiring customers to walk out to a bus stop or make infrastructure enhancements to accommodate a 40-foot bus to enter into hospital property.”
Residents can also be taken from any of those locations back to their homes. Return trips leave from the hospital on the half hour.
The new service begins on Monday, July 11. Each ride costs 85 cents. The fare is kept inexpensive because of savings brought on by changes in the regular bus routes in the area.
“One of the things people complain about bus service is the times don’t fit into their schedule or it’s too difficult to remember the times,” said HART board member and Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe. “This is one of the ways we’re working to make bus travel easier and bigger within Hillsborough County, and it’s very affordable.”
Mejia said HART has a similar flex program in Brandon and the southern portions of the county, which began in April 2010.
“The flex zones in Brandon and south county began as pilot projects, and have been well received,” Mejia said. “The most recent U.S. Census numbers in Hillsborough County indicate that most of the population growth in the past 10 years occurred in unincorporated Hillsborough County.”
HART is also making changes to the Route 36, which currently runs along Dale Mabry. HARTFlex zone is replacing regular buses from that route within the new program’s zone. Mejia said the board predicts ridership in that area will drop as HARTflex picks up, so the need for the current bus service won’t be needed.
“Service changes occur in part to adjust to ridership trends,” Mejia said. “As population densities change, so do ridership trends. Therefore, HART service will change in the future to adjust to these trends, and better match service with demand. This is how we keep our service as efficient and effective as possible.”
The route changes begin on Sunday, July 10. Mejia said ridership for Route 36 in May 2011 was 57,350, up 23 percent from the 46,826 during May 2010.
In addition, HART’s board approved an increase in the millage rate, up to .500 to prevent drastic service cuts, according to Mejia. The increase to the average household — valued at $92,820 — will pay an extra $1.61 each year to a total of $46.41. The increase balances the organization’s 2011-12 budget.
To learn more about the new HARTFlex program or to make a trip reservation, call (813) 449-4555. For more information about HART and its bus routes, visit www.gohart.org.
Patti kiuber says
I live in Odessa. Will the flex bus come pick me up to go to the nearest bus stop to go down town