BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's public transit system will get a major boost, thanks to action by the Hernando County Commission last week to shorten wait times, add a route providing service to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and make a long-awaited connection with the Pasco County transit system.
The enhancements are the latest to expand the system, known as THE Bus, and come just a couple of years after some commissioners and residents were ready to abandon the system because of low ridership.
County transportation officials are pushing to provide the latest improvements a year earlier than previously planned. They are shooting for implementation during the 2016 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, 2015.
Commissioners voted 5-0 to begin to seek transit grants to establish a fourth bus route, to be known as the Green Route; a capital grant to purchase more buses; and a grant that would allow service enhancements, such as increasing the frequency of buses to 60 minutes and expanding into Pasco County.
"This is great,'' said Commissioner Nick Nicholson. "This is something that I really wanted to see since I got elected.''
There was full support for the new Green Route, which would run from the Walmart Supercenter on Wiscon Road in Brooksville, then turn south onto California Street and west on Spring Hill Drive, terminating at the Walmart on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.
The route would bring bus service to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center, the hub for Hernando County's industrial and manufacturing businesses. Also along that route, on California Street, is the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind. Several employees and clients of the facility spoke to the commission about how important it would be to have fixed-route bus service to their location.
"It's really going to be a benefit to the blind citizens of Hernando County,'' said John Kelly. "It will open up the rest of Hernando County to me. … It will make my world bigger.''
The idea also was supported by Lynn Gruber-White, president of the Ridge Manor Property Owners Association.
"People need the freedom to go wherever they need to whenever they need to,'' Gruber-White said. "Transportation is freedom.''
For a number of years, the county has talked about connecting one of the routes of THE Bus to the Pasco transit system. The plan approved last week would extend the Purple Route down U.S. 19 into Pasco County and the northernmost Pasco transit stop at U.S. 19 and Emerald Boulevard.
During his presentation to the commission last week, Tim Lett, senior vice president of the county's transit provider, McDonald Transit Associates, said any enhancements to bus systems should provide direct service to destinations and be simple to understand.
"We want THE Bus and the transit service to compete with the automobile,'' Lett said.
He also told commissioners that, since the last enhancement in the service, which tweaked routes and shortened wait times from two hours to 75 minutes two years ago, ridership has increased 10 percent to 15 percent each year. When the frequency of runs is increased to 60 minutes and the other changes are in place, he predicted, the system will see 25 percent to 35 percent increases in ridership and the number of riders per year will reach between 125,000 and 150,000.
While significant portions of the cost of the transit system are covered with federal and state money, Hernando County would be on the hook for about $413,000 for the service enhancements. That money would come from the county's transportation trust fund.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.