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Speakers give mixed reviews to new Hillsborough bus-route overhaul

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Some speakers Monday faulted Hillsborough Area Reional Transit for stranding people who depended on the bus while other praised HART's new system overhaul as more efficient. [OCTAVIO JONES | Staff]

TAMPA — Hillsborough’s transit agency heard its first public comment Monday since overhauling its bus network and cutting about 20 percent of its routes last month.

A handful of people spoke at the agency’s board meeting, with one praising the new network, a couple sharing concerns for how service adversely affects those with disabilities, and others pleading with board members to return bus service to their neighborhoods.

"You guys took our buses away, and it’s not right," said Susie James, who lives north of the University of South Florida, where service on Route 1 was cut. "We need some help."

Route 1 now runs every 15 minutes, helping most patrons, but Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority also eliminated a loop that went north of Fletcher Avenue, stranding others. That dichotomy is present through most of the agency’s restriction: the changes helped many, but at the cost of leaving others behind with little to no options.

Riders also shared concerns about new routes failing to make connections, including Routes 37 and 46 in east Hillsborough arriving too late at the transfer hub outside Westfield Brandon Mall.

"It is consistently late heading westbound from Dover to Brandon mall," said Mary Schoch, who takes the Route 46 for work. "That day it took me two hours to get home."

Transit advocate Gary Cloyd praised the improvements, especially connections to Britton Plaza in South Tampa and increased weekend service on the MetroRapid routes in Tampa.

"Everything is moving better than a lot of people expected," Cloyd said.

Overall, the network changes improved routes and travel times for those near the urban core. However, doing so required cutting service in the outskirts of the county, such as South County, Town ’N Country and Temple Terrace.

The Hillsborough County Commission recently voted to allocate $2.3 million from its budget to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

HART Chief Executive Officer Katharine Eagan shared a list of suggested projects on which to spend that money, including increasing Routes 6 and 34 to every 15 minutes. The Route 6 runs from downtown Tampa along 56th Street to USF, and the 34 travels mostly along Hillsborough Avenue.

Nearly $290,000 of that money will be used to add two more buses to Route 46 on Brandon Blvd, increasing the frequency to 30 minutes and eliminating the hour-long wait between buses.

Other projects Eagan suggested for additional money include an airport shuttle, a South County shuttle and improved times on express buses to MacDill Air Force Base and a cross-county option from Town ’N Country to Brandon.

In other business, Karen Jaroch, Mickey Jacob and Wallace Bowers have all finished their terms as HART board members.

Replacing them on the board are Adam Harden of Soho Capital, the firm which worked on the Heights development downtown; local business owner Marvin Knight; and former HART chairman David Mechanik.

The board also held elections for three vacated positions. Richard McClain will replace Jaroch as board vice chair, Mechanik is the new representative to the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Harden will service on the TECO Line Streetcar board.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.