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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Improving Transit – One Bite at a Time

What do elephants have to do with transit? Nothing, really,
but we've always loved this photo!
Remember this one?

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time!*

Sure, it's a silly old saying, but it's also full of wisdom. In other words, when you have a big goal, you have to break it down into manageable pieces so you can achieve it. It's also a great way to illustrate how HART would put its transit expansion plans in place.

The First Bite
In just over a month, Hillsborough County voters will decide whether to invest an extra 1% sales tax in transportation projects, including transit and road improvements. The transit share of that funding would be 75%, which HART would use to expand service throughout the county.

In a county of 1,100 square miles, that's a big job. The great thing about HART's plan to get it done is that it breaks the elephant down into smaller pieces. The first bite would be providing more bus service in more places and during more hours by March 2011, essentially using the resources we have available today.

How is that possible? Simple. By taking advantage of the “off-peak” opportunity.

Here’s what that means. Transit service is planned around what we call "peak" and "off-peak" service hours. Just like traffic on the roads is busier during the morning and afternoon rush, so is bus service. More people need to ride the bus during those "peak" or rush hour times, basically on weekdays between about 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and again between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. That's what we mean when we say "peak," and all of our buses and drivers are maxed out at those times.

But what happens to those buses during "off-peak" hours, on nights and weekends? That's where we have an opportunity to give you new service you can see and experience right away.

Let's say today is Wednesday, November 3, and the voters have just decided to approve the new investment in transit. One of the first orders of business for HART would be to get on the horn and order new buses that would fulfill our plan for increased service throughout the county. But realistically, it takes about a year from procurement to delivery to receive new buses. A wait that long is not what the people would have voted for, and it's not in line with HART's commitment to provide the best transit service we can to our community.

So, instead of waiting to take delivery of the new vehicles before implementing new service, we can take advantage of our opportunity during the off-peak hours and put those buses on the road. In just four months, we can hire and train new drivers, reallocate some resources, and implement service that we already know people will use. We’ll also make the most efficient and effective use of our fleet in getting new services out the door.

In fact, over the last few years one of the best investments we've made has been boosting service on nights and weekends whenever possible. With our limited resources it has sometimes meant making difficult choices, but we made a commitment to provide service at the times and in the places where it's needed most. The community has responded, with those added night and weekend service times producing some of the highest growth rates in the system.

The "first-bite" strategy would let HART be good stewards of the new funding source, putting it in action right away for the good of our community. It’s also focused on buses, which is still - and will continue to be - the very foundation of HART.

One Bite After Another
After adding to off-peak service with the first bite, we would begin the next bites, phasing in new service around the county with new local and express routes and HART Flex neighborhood service. This is the medium-range portion of the plan that starts with existing vehicles and really takes off with fleet expansion. From there, new rapid services like Bus Rapid Transit and light rail would come next, as laid out in HART's Rapid Transit Investment Plan.

All of these small bites add up to one big improvement in Hillsborough County's transit system in the months and years to come. To see exactly how HART would transition from where we are today to where we hope to go, with all the bites along the way, check out the Transition Plan on our website here.

*No elephants were harmed in the production of this blog post.

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