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Changes to THE Bus reflect riders' wishes

BROOKSVILLE — For David Philipsen, a disabled Weeki Wachee resident, THE Bus is a lifeline.

In a recent email to the Hernando County Commission, Philipsen urged approval of new routes and a shorter wait time to enhance ridership and assist those who, like himself, have few other viable transportation options.

"All economists agree that the potential economic growth of a community is directly linked to its public transit,'' he wrote. "Public transit is not an entitlement. It is a need, a need for the community and a need for economic growth.''

Philipsen is among a dozen or more residents who have urged the county to improve its transit system, which has come under fire in recent years as the County Commission has tried to reduce expenses to balance its budget.

On Tuesday, the commission will consider a series of changes in the service, including reducing wait times between buses from two hours to 75 minutes, providing a route that would run from Spring Hill to Brooksville without requiring a transfer, new service along the State Road 50 bypass west of U.S. 41 in Brooksville and new service to the Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College.

The cost for the remainder of the current fiscal year would be $45,932, with the county's share at $11,483. State and federal grants pay the rest. The annual contract cost would increase to $555,490, from $465,060.

As the county has worked with the operator of THE Bus, McDonald Transit Associates, to develop the new routes, some of the public comments have helped shape the service.

For example, several comments were from bus riders who use stops at Forest Oaks Villas, which the county considered cutting for time-saving purposes. But after examining ridership records, the stops will remain, said Dennis Dix, the county's transportation coordinator.

Comments from residents interested in seeing stops at the JCPenney store in Spring Hill could also get what they hoped for, if commissioners approve the proposal. Both the purple and the red routes would travel south on U.S. 19 toward the Spring Hill PHCC campus, stopping somewhere near the Cracker Barrel restaurant, in front of the shopping plaza that includes JCPenney.

Several who made comments were worried about plans to eliminate a stop near Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Dix said the operator of the transit service was still planning to have a stop in the area, though it has not yet been pinpointed.

A stop at Cody's Original Roadhouse Grill & Bar on U.S. 19 would be replaced with one at the nearby Pizza Hut because it is a better place for THE Bus to stop and not block traffic, Dix said.

Additional stops near Brooksville Regional Hospital and along Quality Drive near Spring Hill Regional Hospital were also added because of input from residents, as was service on the purple route to the new Hernando County Health Department on Forest Oaks Boulevard.

Some of the ideas from those who commented are not in the plans at this point, but could be added in the future, Dix said.

Those include connecting bus service with Pasco County, possibly at the Spring Hill PHCC campus, and adding a new route that could provide service to the area around the Hernando County Airport, which includes industrial parks employing hundreds of county residents.

If the commission approves the changes, the new system would start within about 60 days, Dix said.

There are no plans to change fares at this point, including the basic one-way fare of $1.25.

Officials say they hope the new routes and the shorter wait time between buses will increase ridership from about 71,000 passengers a year currently to as many as 110,000.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabaytimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Changes to THE Bus reflect riders' wishes 03/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 12:01pm]

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