Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bus ridership grows in suburbs, as does hunt for parking

BRANDON — Terry O'Connor says the choice is simple: Sit in traffic and pay $50 in weekly fuel costs or let someone else do the driving.

O'Connor chooses the latter. He catches the 25LX bus to his job at MacDill Air Force Base.

Dozens of other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit commuters do the same, and by the time the 5:55 a.m. bus reaches O'Connor's stop at Town Center Boulevard and Providence Road in Brandon, it's standing room only. O'Connor doesn't mind, though.

What does bug him and other HART riders, he says, is the scramble to find parking now that the lot where they used to leave their cars is off-limits.

For years, the riders parked behind Barnacles restaurant at 926 Town Center Blvd. and then walked half a block to catch the bus at Town Center and Providence.

But what began as a trickle of cars a few years ago swelled to four or five rows of parked vehicles. Barnacles ended the practice to make room for paying customers.

A few weeks ago, the restaurant posted fliers on windshields warning that starting Feb. 6, commuters' cars would be towed if they were left in the Barnacles lot.

"I can't fault Barnacles," said O'Connor, 55, who has been using the lot for a year. "They've got a business to run. Their job isn't to allow me to park there so I can go to work."

The decision left the riders hunting for alternatives and highlighted a dilemma HART has grappled with since the commuter routes started spiking a few years ago, thanks in part to rising gas prices. With ridership growing in the suburbs, the search for available parking has gotten tougher.

The trend continued last year and looks to be happening again this year. Express-bus ridership rose 10.2 percent for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to HART.

The 25LX saw a 14.5 percent jump for the year, while ridership the first four months of this year was 25 percent higher.

"There has been steady upward growth," spokeswoman Marcia Mejia said. "When you have express routes, you have to look for areas to park."

Some regulars say they're frustrated they haven't seen more resources put toward the express routes, such as benches and covered waiting areas.

While HART has some commuter-only parking lots, most stops lack such parking and have little more than a bus sign planted at an intersection.

"Literally hundreds of new shelters have been placed throughout the system, yet the 25LX lacks shelters and lighting at any of its stops," said Norbert Gobin, 61, of Bloomingdale, who publishes a newsletter for HART commuters. "There's nothing here, yet these routes keep growing."

HART says it's seeking a solution. The agency plans to create two regional park-and-ride stations with 200 to 250 parking spaces each, including one station on Falkenburg Road in Brandon.

Several commuter lines would stop there, and the lots would include benches, covered waiting areas and possibly a snack bar. HART said it's negotiating to purchase 4 acres on Falkenburg. The project would take about a year to complete.

In the meantime, Mejia suggested the riders use one of the commuter stops with dedicated parking. Each of HART's six commuter lines in the SouthShore and Brandon area includes at least one lot dedicated to commuter parking.

The 25LX offers parking at the J.C. Handley Sports Complex on Kings Avenue, but O'Connor said the lot is 4 miles from his Brandon house in the opposite direction. It just isn't practical given the rush-hour traffic, which is why he parked at Barnacles.

Other riders are in a similar bind, he said. With the Barnacles lot no longer an option, they're rethinking whether to keep taking the bus. Some are parking near a vacant Borders bookstore. Others are asking business owners for permission to park, while some riders are simply taking their chances and parking where they can.

"It's now everybody fending for themselves and crossing their fingers they don't get their vehicles towed," O'Connor said. "I guess we'll see what happens."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected]

Bus ridership grows in suburbs, as does hunt for parking 02/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help


    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  2. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers


    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem


    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  4. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.
  5. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921