Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

HART ready to end free ride in Tampa

HART officials want to start charging riders who travel in Tampa’s currently free-fare zone, the Marion Street Transitway. The fare would be $1.50, but Hillsborough Area Regional Transit officials plan to raise that to $1.75 and increase the price of daily and monthly fare cards. If approved, the changes will go into effect in November.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

HART officials want to start charging riders who travel in Tampa’s currently free-fare zone, the Marion Street Transitway. The fare would be $1.50, but Hillsborough Area Regional Transit officials plan to raise that to $1.75 and increase the price of daily and monthly fare cards. If approved, the changes will go into effect in November.

TAMPA — In a world ruled by cars, downtown's Marion Street stands alone. It's the rare road in the Tampa Bay area where cars aren't allowed.

Instead it's a 10-block "transitway," a street solely for public buses that rumble north and south through downtown. It's also free to ride on, but that's about to change.

Bus officials say the free-ride policy isn't working out anymore. They intend to start charging a fare to travel the transitway— partly because money is tight for the bus system, and partly because of complaints about homeless people riding up and down in the free air-conditioned buses to escape the heat.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit says most passengers on the Marion Street Transitway won't be affected by the change. Most of them are traveling around with all-day bus passes or monthly fare cards, so they won't have to pay extra to ride one more bus.

Still, some mass transit advocates see this as a step backward.

"We would like to see that continue to be a fare-free zone," said Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. "HART says about 80 percent of the riders there already have passes, but that means 20 percent are people who don't normally ride another bus.

"Other city centers we look to as models for transportation, like Portland and Chattanooga, have areas within downtown where you can just hop on a free bus instead of taking your car."

However, local bus officials say Tampa's downtown doesn't have as much activity as those other cities do at this point, and Marion Street's free zone hasn't worked out the way it was intended.

"In Portland, you can get on any public transit vehicle in the entire downtown and you don't have to pay a fare until it comes to the edge of downtown. Our free fare zone was never to that kind of scale," said HART spokesman Ed Crawford. "That's not to say we couldn't reinstate it if it makes sense in the future."

Crawford said passengers who just need a lift through downtown have a cheap option — the fare has dropped from 50 to 25 cents on the yellow trolleys that circulate in downtown. HART hopes that will induce more people to take the trolley.

Buses on Marion Street will soon charge the regular bus fare. HART expects to raise that from $1.50 to $1.75 per ride, and to raise the cost of daily and monthly fare cards. If approved by HART's board of directors, the changes would take effect in November.

Interviews with local bus passengers suggest no one is surprised. "Everything is going up because of gas prices. Everybody understands that," said Dwayne Davis, 35, of Tampa, who was using the transitway to run errands downtown.

Key cog for the future

No matter what, the transitway is staying put. The city views it as a key cog for a future light rail system.

Car drivers tempted to turn onto Marion Street see these signs: Do not enter. Transit vehicles only. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The bus mall has fancy brick sidewalks and tree-shaded, copper-colored bus shelters. It's purely a travel corridor, with no businesses to speak of along it. It ferries riders from a major bus terminal and cheap parking lots on the north end of downtown to the core of office towers and government buildings farther south.

It has been that way for 19 years. Before the transitway was created in 1989, herds of buses used to scoop up passengers along Florida Avenue.

Although HART says there have been discussions over the years about the city possibly taking back Marion Street for car traffic, officials say that's not currently in their plans.

With Mayor Pam Iorio's goal of building a better mass transit system, it only makes sense to keep the street the way it is, said Tampa public works administrator Steve Daignault.

Light rail network plans

Plans for a light rail network in Tampa show electric trains running from downtown to West Shore and the University of South Florida area.

If that ever happens, where exactly would those trains run through downtown? That's yet to be decided, although one plan shows them following an existing railroad line along Polk Street.

Once commuters stepped off a train at a downtown station, they would need options like the transitway and the trolleys to get around, officials say.

Crawford said of Marion Street: "That's as logical a place as any for a station. It's set up to be a distribution network."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or brassfield@sptimes.com.

HART ready to end free ride in Tampa 07/20/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 27, 2008 7:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn donates $1,000 to move Confederate monument

    Blogs

    TAMPA — The fundraising effort to remove a Confederate monument from downtown Tampa has tripled its haul since Hillsborough County commissioners tied the statue’s fate to the success of the campaign.

    A check from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for $1,000 to remove the Confederate monument from downtown Tampa.
  2. President Trump: Nation's culture being 'ripped apart' by Civil War statue removals

    National

    WASHINGTON — Showing his characteristic refusal to back down in the face of criticism, President Donald Trump deepened his defense of Confederate war memorials Thursday, sending out a series of messages on Twitter that adopted the language and arguments of white nationalists who have opposed their removal.

    President Donald Trump points to members of the media as he answers questions in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday. Republican leaders on Wednesday tiptoed around Trump's extraordinary comments on white supremacists.  [Associated Press]
  3. With election heating up, Bill Nelson floods Tampa Bay

    Blogs

    Sen. Bill Nelson seems to have set up a residency in Tampa Bay, a crucial area for his upcoming re-election campaign.

    Nelson campaigns with his wife in Orlando in 2012
  4. Martinez Middle School evacuated after bomb threat

    Crime

    LUTZ — Bob Martinez Middle School has been evacuated after someone called in a bomb threat, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

  5. Another local Confederate display sparks division, this one over name of the war

    News

    TAMPA — While the Hillsborough County commission was wrestling over the future of Confederate monument at the county courthouse, a lawsuit has been playing out in court over how best to represent the Civil War across town at Veterans Memorial Park.

    Supporters of a Civil War display at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum had a brochure made to attract donations. They argue in a lawsuit that their efforts were thwarted when the park's executive committee changed their plans.