Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Senior Prom

Two sets of eyes meet across the dance floor, butterflies take flight in the stomachs of the two individuals as they glide towards one another on the dance floor. In a haze, the pair snap back to reality as they meet in the middle of the dance floor. The couple makes small talk while nervously reaching for their next conversation. Their minds are made, the magic is here. The magic of Senior Prom.

Corsages, boutonnières, bow ties, balloon arches and lots and lots of photos. Sounds like the typical Senior Prom experience, except these Seniors were a little removed from their high school days - 60 years. HART "chaperoned" the "Senior" Prom, held at the Brandon Recreation Center on Friday, May 20, in celebration of Older Americans Month. The couple described above may or may not have been factual. However, one can say that falling in love never changes.

Everyone has different memories of their Senior Prom. Some hated it, while others fell in love and even more didn't attend. However, this Senior Prom provided a second chance to make up for missed opportunities that adolescence might not have made them aware of at the time.

The prom was attended by roughly 125 individuals that ate, danced, and crowned a Prom King and Queen.

HART staff greeted prom goers and chatted with them about HART services such as HARTplus and HART Flex and about our Older Americans 65+ ride free in May promo. Staff even helped pin corsages and were able to get in a little dancing on their own time!

Newlyweds, David and Christina Pittman (pictured), met 1 1/2 years ago at the Brandon Senior Center. The couple was wed last week and at the ages of 80, and 75, felt that their "prayers had been answered".

The Senior Prom was a tremendous event that shows age and growing old isn't a bad thing. People may grow "old," and the characters involved may change, but love never dies. Whether your 17 or 80, the butterflies still float, your ears still ring, your breath grows short and your heart beats fast. Love helps Older Americans stay young.

Check out the HART Facebook for more photos from the event.

For more information on how HART is celebrating Older Americans Month, click here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Goes into Your Route: From Plan to Pavement - Part 2

Continuing our two-part look at what goes into getting your route from plan to pavement... we look at the final three months of preparation leading up to the service change effective date.

Missed part one of the series? Click here.

"Run cutting" and "rostering" begins during the last three months before the service changes go into effect. Basically, we have our schedules finalized, but now the final pieces to the puzzle need to be put together. At this point, HART schedulers are now tasked with a bevy of responsibilities. They have to turn the schedules into paychecks. All roughly 360 Bus Operators, 45 Van Operators, and 9 Streetcar Conductors, have a "run," or schedule that they stick to until the next service change. Our schedulers have to work out details in the schedules for all 415 or so operators, such as making sure that each operator receives two consecutive days off.

Finally, if a HART Operator is starting a run on an unfamiliar vehicle, they receive full training prior to the service change effective date. A month before the changes, new schedules are posted at transit centers and on buses. Installation of new stops also begins around this time. The day that service changes take effect, old schedules and maps are removed from the website and operators begin service.

The whole process from plan to pavement is around seven to eight months and involves A LOT of planning, listening, compiling, reviewing, more reviewing, promoting, etc.

We're not much for Pin the Tail...

We know our patrons may sometimes feel that we just put on a blindfold and play "Pin the Tail on the Donkey," but as you can see it is a much more involved process that requires a lot of thought and consideration. Our professionally trained staff understands how important a role HART service plays in the community as we strive to move the residents of Hillsborough County. Staff is truly amazing and innovative at their jobs and helps HART continue to provide adequate service within the walls of the budget.

HART always welcomes comments regarding routes and modifications. As shown above, comments are a big part of the process. If you would like to provide constructive comments for HART staff to review, please click here.

Going the Distance

Four HART bus operators were recipients at this year's Tampa Area Safety Council's 31st Annual Awards Luncheon, where they were recognized for a combined safe-driving stretch of 7 million miles! This is equivalent to driving to the moon and back 14 times without an accident!

The awards ceremony took place May 19 and the following operators were recognized: Richard Alvarez (2 million miles); Andrew Bell (2 million miles); James Chapman (2 million miles); and Marion "Rocky" Wells (1 million miles).

As part of this remarkable recognition, these operators will now boast a HART patch on their uniforms to distinguish them as a million-mile safe driver.

It takes about 14 years for an operator to achieve 1 million miles of driving without a preventable accident. In 1994, and every year since 1998, several HART drivers have been inducted into this prestigious million-mile club. Eighteen HART operators have qualified for the 2 million-mile club, and one operator has qualified for the 3 million-mile club.

Congratulations to this year's million-mile award recipients! Our riders are our precious cargo, and your safety is our number one goal.

If you happen to see any of these men on the HART system, don't hesitate to congratulate them on this great accomplishment!

HART has more than 400 bus and van operators. Before they get behind the wheel for their first route, HART provides each driver with an extensive training course that covers safety, customer service, ADA and emergency response. To view a video about bus operator training at HART, visit: HART YouTube Channel

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Goes into Your Route: From Plan to Pavement

Most HART patrons have "their" routes. Maybe, it's the "2" down Nebraska Avenue, or route 5 near Busch Gardens. Regardless of which route it is, people rely on "their" HART routes every day to get them to where they want to go. You probably have your routes in mind, but have you ever thought about what goes into actually selecting and serving that route? What it takes financially and operationally to put service on the ground?

Read on to find out how your route goes from plan to pavement.

Demand always sparks the initial thought of where service should be placed. The HART mission is providing outstanding customer service while building solutions to support Hillsborough County's needs. Moving people is our job, and finding the best, most efficient way to move the greatest amount of people is our goal.

The number one thing which can affect a route is the budget. The HART budget relies heavily on ad valorem (property taxes) from the residents of Hillsborough County - similar to police and fire departments. HART also relies on federal funds to offset the costs of certain routes and services like preventative maintenance on our fleet of buses, vans, trolleys and streetcars.

Finance and Service Development work hand-in-hand to ensure that HART invests in the best bus service possible. Our planners are truly amazing at finding cost saving efficiencies, while still maintaining the transit footprint throughout Hillsborough County. For example, HART is able to maintain the same level of service in a number of areas in Hillsborough County by utilizing HART Flex, our smaller, on-demand, van service, instead of traditional 40" buses.

Once we determine where we are financially, HART considers the following:
  • Ridership trends
  • Impact on riders and area
  • Schedule: Complementing the overall bus schedule
  • Alternative options:
HART planners take into account housing complexes, businesses, schools, malls, etc. that have recently opened to make sure bus service matches current developments. Again, the goal is to provide transit service that serves current ridership trends.

If realignments of routes are necessary, we try to do so with little effect on patrons. Our planners are like surgeons using scalpels instead of tree trimmers with chainsaws. It takes roughly 4-5 buses to serve a 60 minute route with 30 minute frequencies. If we brought the route to 60 minute frequencies, two less buses are needed and HART would save about $500,000 without having to pull an entire route.

Planners also ensure that route modifications complement the overall bus schedule, and they also try to provide options for people. Some areas have multiple routes serving them and might be slightly inconvenienced due to the loss of a certain route. However, that modification might allow us to continue serving another part of Hillsborough County which has only a sole connection to downtown, USF, etc.

Public comment is a big part of any route modification process.

Public comments via online survey, community meetings, public hearing and hard copy comment forms, may help us modify or find an alternative to current routing.

So how do we get to that point in the process?

A lot of time, proposals come in based on operator/patron suggestions. HART planners do an internal review of the proposals, add in their own proposals and then take the proposed changes to the HART Board. We then begin gathering feedback through an extensive outreach campaign, that culminates in a Public Hearing. The HART Board reviews the outreach data and either approves or denies the changes.

That's the easy part...

Click here for part two of our look at how your route goes from plan to pavement. What is "rostering," and what role does it play in the final three months before service changes go into effect?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Search for the Holy Grail: Senior Walkability

"Walkability".  When we're young and doe-eyed, an area's "walkability," or how friendly a neighborhood is to walking might not matter too much.  However, when the body begins to break down, staying active becomes more of a challenge.

Older Americans across the country take that challenge every day and rely on public transportation (like HART) to maintain their mobility.  Decisions that once only city planners and urbanites thought about when relocating, have now grown on the generation that "sprawled" out to the suburbs.

The benefits of walking are clear.  Older Americans that walk throughout the day tend to see their aerobic capacity and physical function increase, and their risk of disability lowered.  Not to mention, the possibility for social interaction and a little sun "fix", which helps avoid vitamin "D" deficiency. 

Understanding the importance of more walkable communities for New Jersey's growing senior population, Rutgers University organized "Senior Walkability" workshops to bring together community stakeholders in order to begin discussions on how to address the issue.

Their answer?  Denser, more pedestrian-friendly communities.

Sun City Center in southern Hillsborough County, is an age restricted (55+) senior community.  Several grocery stores, shopping outlets, restaurants, banks, and post offices are within a mile from the center of the community.  The community also features its own hospital and library.

Sun City Center residents have a number of transportation options within the community.

Residents are legally allowed to operate golf carts on streets and sidewalks along with having designated golf cart parking.  More adventurous Older Americans can walk or bike to their destination safely on sidewalks and crosswalks throughout the community.

HART Flex is only .85¢ one-way!
Older Americans in Sun City Center looking to save (a lot) of money, but also retain their independence, have HART as an option.  The Sun City Center HART Flex is an on-demand, door-to-door van pickup service.  Patrons can schedule pickup from as far in advance as one week to as soon as 3 hours before desired pickup.  The service flexes 1/2 mile from the route that runs from La Estancia Apartments to the Hillsborough Community College Southshore campus.  Fares are only 85¢ one-way and a travel trainer is available to assist with an initial run through of the service.  A training session can be scheduled by calling (813) 449-4545.

Sun City Center is a great example of what "Senior Walkability" should be.  Innovative approaches (golf carts and on-demand, door-to-door van service) to address the mobility needs of a graying America, coupled with proximity to activities and necessities.

To celebrate Older Americans Month and to promote Senior Mobility, HART is offering FREE rides to those 65+, when they ride with a friend or family member.  For more information on the promotion, click here.

HART Flex service is also expanding to other areas in Hillsborough County, to learn more about the existing service, please click here.

Click here for Rutgers University's Senior Walkability Workshops presentation.