Friday, September 21, 2018

Enterprising Latinas looks to fill transportation void in Ruskin, Wimauma

RUSKIN — When HART severely cut public bus service to the Ruskin-Wimauma region last October, many people found themselves stuck at home, with no way to get to where they wanted to go.

For Liz Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, camping out on her couch wasn’t an option.

"In the spirit of trying to be a problem-solver," she explained, "we saw the opportunity to provide a neighborhood based transportation system that would connect to our public system."

That system is Arriba, which would utilize vans and shuttles to help connect riders.

"A lot of the hub-bub that has been going on in our community… have been issues around residents actually physically not being able to get to work, get to school, get to shopping centers — people really love to shop — and so forth, due to lack of transportation," said Chamain Moss-Torres, Enterprising Latina’s director of economic opportunity.

Arriba will operate much like a bus transportation service but Moss-Torres said, "The difference between Arriba and any other transportation systems in this area is that Arriba will be going into the community and bringing the community into particular spots in Ruskin and Wimauma."

To determine where those particular spots are, the organization invited a diverse group of local business representatives along with HART officials to a Feb. 20 workshop held at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin.

Everyone in attendance agreed the current HART route traversing U.S. 41, which takes about 75 minutes to deliver passengers from the Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin to Westfield Brandon, is not a convenient option. In fact, it is one of HART’s worst performing routes from the standpoint of total ridership according to Phillip St. Pierre, one of the HART representatives at the workshop.

St. Pierre said he understands the needs of the community are not being met by their current route.

"We want to see what we need to do to change and see what we need to do in this community," St. Pierre said.

HART is fully on-board the Arriba bus and committing to ensuring a successful partnership. As Gutierrez explains, "It’s a win-win. Arrriba serves the community but it will also help drive the ridership of the existing service so that service will also expand."

In addition to HART support, Enterprising Latinas is collaborating with Vasti Amaro, a former HART director who now runs her own company, Vasti Transport. Amaro joins the team having most recently run a very similar initiative for Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. She described how those systems did exactly what Arriba plans, operating neighborhood, community routes that feed into the mass transit system.

"That system works," Amaro said. "It gets to where people are, where they cannot connect to a major bus stop or route system."

This is especially important for this area, where many houses reside miles down winding streets in complicated neighborhoods, far from a centralized bus hub.

Unfortunately, Arriba, is not a done deal yet. The multi-modal system with mass transit and community routes can be a very expensive plan, particularly with the traffic issues the county is facing. The workshop wasn’t focused on funding but the topic still came up.

Gutierrez pointed out that Enterprising Latinas is, "taking on the responsibility of a public service and doing it from a private perspective in order to do it now and do it affordably." Or so they hope.

The group is presenting its Arriba proposal to County Commissioner Sandy Murman on March 1 and asking for start-up costs.

"Transit gets their federal funding through… ridership numbers" Amaro explained. "So, in essence, by us feeding into the mass transit system, we’re also helping their ridership" and hopefully, their funding.

Government funding can’t be Arriba’s sole source though.

"If we don’t get the capital, if we don’t get the public investment, we can’t possibly do this," Gutierrez said.

Businesses interested in investing or being considered for an Arriba hub can email Enterprising Latinas at [email protected] The group also asks supporters to contact county commissioners and encourage funding for mass and local transit systems.

Tampa Bay spends significantly less on transit than other similar-sized metros. The system is one of the worst nationally at connecting people to where they need to go.

Contact Sara Straub at [email protected]

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