TAMPA — At a time when more people are riding the bus than ever, Hillsborough County's transit agency is proposing to scale back bus service.
Blame the economy.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is anticipating a $3 million, or 8 percent, drop in property tax revenue next year. Property taxes pay for much of the bus service's operating costs, such as wages paid to drivers.
HART's governing board will consider adjustments to about two dozen bus lines, including the elimination of Route 88, a loop service in Town 'N County with weak ridership. Most of the cuts would eliminate or decrease service where ridership is low, a HART spokesman said Wednesday.
"We understand that has an impact on real people and real lives," said spokesman Ed Crawford. "This is also about real money."
In some instances, the agency would either expand popular routes slightly or increase the frequency of bus service. However, in most cases, HART is proposing to eliminate routes or parts of routes, or to decrease the frequency of bus trips.
The changes would take place in two phases, the first in July and the rest in November.
HART officials are currently engaged in an campaign to publicize the changes and get riders' reactions. The agency's budget proposal goes to the HART finance committee Monday and to the agency's board June 1.
The governing board can modify the route changes.
HART is receiving about $15.1 million in federal stimulus money, but that can be spent only on capital costs, with about half going to purchase new buses.
It has already eliminated six administration jobs, though the proposed budget calls for eliminating only three positions next year. Crawford said the agency has added maintenance workers.
HART has seen steady ridership gains in recent years, now surpassing more than 1 million rides monthly.
Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3387.