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?