Friday, January 19, 2018
News Roundup

Public mostly applauding proposed improvements to THE Bus

BROOKSVILLE — Plans for improved bus service with shorter wait times have been getting a positive response from the public.

The public comment period will lead up to a County Commission decision next month on whether to spend an additional $23,000 in local matching money to make the proposed changes to the county's transit system, known as THE Bus.

If anything, residents have asked for still more improvements, including even shorter wait times and an expanded geographical area of service. Some have suggested starting service earlier in the day and ending it later.

"I think that the starting times are great, however I think we end the routes a bit too early. What about people who don't have transportation and would like to go and get a late dinner or catch a later movie?'' wrote Jennifer Socha in an email.

Why not add a route along Spring Hill Drive from the Hernando County Airport to the Walmart on Commercial Way, suggested Anthony Palmieri, a former member of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.

County staffers responded that such an idea might be built into a future expansion of service.

While THE Bus has been blistered by criticism in recent years as the county's budget has shrunk, comments gathered to date reflect that the once-popular push to park THE Bus and end the service is not the majority view, according to Dennis Dix, the county's transportation coordinator.

One resident who said he was against improving service was Earl Lowe of Weeki Wachee.

"I am opposed to any expansion of bus services in Hernando County,'' Lowe wrote.

The proposal would cut the time between pickups at bus stops from two hours to one hour and 15 minutes. In 2009, the county increased the wait time from one hour to two hours, and ridership dropped by half.

The hope is that by making a few simple changes, some of those riders will return and new customers might try the transit system.

The plan would create a new purple route that would provide the core of service between Brooksville and Spring Hill, without riders having to transfer buses at Mariner Square at Mariner and Cortez boulevards.

That route also, for the first time, would include service to the new Spring Hill Campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College and additional service in Brooksville along the State Road 50 bypass west of U.S. 41.

A new blue route would follow a more direct north-south route between Mariner Square and Spring Hill Regional Hospital and add a stop at the Publix at Seven Hills.

The proposal also includes a revised red route that would include more direct service along Deltona and Northcliffe boulevards and to the Spring Hill Walmart.

The changes were designed by the current operator of THE Bus, McDonald Transit Associates. The company took over operation of the service in April of last year and promised to run the system for six months, then make changes that would enhance the service without a huge cost increase.

Under the changes proposed, the hours of bus operation per week would increase from 36 to 43. The contract cost would increase from $465,060 to $555,490. Federal and state grants cover most of that expense. The county's match would increase from $116,265 to $138,872.

Officials have said that there is sufficient funding in the county's Transportation Trust Fund to cover the increase.

No changes are planned in bus fares, including the basic one-way fare of $1.25.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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