By Kyle LoJacono
Just fewer than 14 million people rode Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) buses in 2011, setting a record for the second straight year.
Recently released figures show that 10 percent more people got on HART’s fleet last year than in 2010, up to 13.7 million in ridership.
One of those who recently saw the advantage of HART service is New Tampa resident Becky Martinéz. She started taking the Route 51X, which services New Tampa and Wesley Chapel, about six months ago when her friend, Taylor Marc, told her how much she was saving each day on gas.
“She said it cost her about $100 less each month to ride the bus, so it sounded like a good idea to me,” Martinéz said. “We both work near each other, so now we carpool to the park-and-ride stop.
“I wasn’t sure I would like it because I like the freedom of being able to drive to and from work whenever I need to, but it turned out I didn’t have to wake up any earlier and got home at about the same time as when I used to drive,” Martinéz continued. “I’m a HART rider now, and I’m glad for the extra money I don’t spend on gas.”
HART spokeswoman Marcia Mejia said Martinéz’s sentiments are what the agency commonly hears from people once they give the service a try.
“We have made improvements over the past few years and are steadily seeing reactions to those,” Mejia said.
Those improvements include regular updates to routes to make sure the service is offered where the greatest demand is, but HART also made a big change along North Dale Mabry Highway to make service more convenient and affordable.
The new program is called Northdale Flex, which kicked off in July.
Flex service replaced regular bus routes along Dale Mabry from Fletcher Avenue in Carrollwood to just north of Van Dyke Road in Lutz. It allows people to call and schedule a van to pick them up at their home to take them to destinations along the northern stretch of the highway for 85 cents per trip.
The smaller vans can get to places the larger buses could not, allowing for the curbside service. Cutting out the traditional bus routes along northern Dale Mabry also reduced HART operating costs.
Flex does offers regular service with its vans to stops along Dale Mabry for those who don’t want to schedule a pickup. Locations include St. Joseph’s Hospital-North, Lake Park and Gaither High.
Northdale Flex is one of five similar programs offered by HART throughout Hillsborough County. Mejia said 19,022 people have used the northern service from July to November, making it the most popular of HART’s Flex services.
HART improved its service in November by adding bicycle racks on all of its buses and Flex vans.
“Many of our bus riders use bicycles to expand their commuting distance, but now HARTFlex customers can too,” Mejia said. “In November, HART also expanded its Bikes on Buses program by welcoming folded bicycles aboard HART buses and HARTFlex vans.”
For more information about HART, visit www.goHART.org or call (813) 254-4278.