Commissioner Al Higginbotham is among those pushing to persuade Hillsborough Area Regional Transit not to cut Plant City's express bus service to Tampa.
HART wants to eliminate the 28X East County Express as part of a cost-cutting strategy it estimates will save the financially strapped agency $250,414 a year.
The 28X runs twice daily — 6:20 and 6:50 a.m. — from a park-and-ride at Mount Zion Assembly of God on Thonotosassa Road. The bus runs along Interstate 4, making a stop at the Burnett Park park-and-ride and a street stop on Mango Road before connecting to downtown Tampa via Interstate 75. It returns at 4:40 and 5:15 p.m.
Higginbotham, who has ridden the bus in the past, has asked the HART board to reconsider.
"Many people are dependent on the express buses, which are the backbone of getting residents from the homeplace to the workplace," Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham isn't alone. Plant City Mayor Mike Sparkman plans to ask his city manager to look into the issue "to see if we can get this stopped."
"It will impact those folks who are trying to commute downtown," said Sparkman, who had not heard about the proposal.
The 57-minute trip costs $2.75 each way and is a godsend for commuters who want to avoid traffic, said Seffner's Deanna Berrier. She takes the 28X every day to her job in Tampa and isn't happy about the prospect of losing her ride to work.
"I understand the money is not there but they need to find alternatives like a sales tax," Berrier said. "The 28X is all that serves the eastern county. I love taking that bus. I get to relax, read a book and avoid the traffic."
The 28X averages only 15 riders per trip, one of HART's lowest ridership express buses, said Steve Feigenbaum, who oversees HART's schedules and routes.
"Ridership and cost is behind the recommendation to eliminate the route," Feigenbaum said. "You try to run this like a business, and as in any business, if the product isn't selling you either reduce or eliminate resources that go into the product."
Higginbotham argues, however, that government agencies must look beyond core business practices and realize they have to provide core services.
"Should it operate as a business in terms of the accounting process? Absolutely," Higginbotham said. "In terms of services, however, they have to focus on the public and the public good."
The proposed route changes do not affect any express buses to MacDill Air Force Base, but HART's proposed route changes would result in the area in and around Brandon Regional Hospital being served by a small flex service bus.
"We really feel strongly about providing services to hospitals," Feigenbaum said. "They are not only employment centers but are often surrounded by medical centers where people might make appointments."
If, and when, the budget belt is loosened a notch, HART's first new route will serve eastern Hillsborough with a bus starting in Dover, running along State Road 60, stopping near Brandon Regional Hospital and ending at the Westfield Brandon mall.
Times staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Kevin Brady can be reached at email@example.com.