TAMPA — More than a dozen bus routes in Hillsborough County will have new times, paths and stops starting Sunday.
The changes come almost four months after the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority rolled out an entirely new bus network, scrapping a fifth of its routes and increasing travel times on others in hopes of staving off a nationwide trend of declining bus ridership.
The system reboot known as "Mission Max’’ was greeted with mixed reviews. Some riders, such as Dustin Lemke of Tampa Heights, saw their trips improve thanks to the new schedules. Lemke’s route to Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus, where he is a dean, dropped from 50 minutes door-to-door to 35 minutes.
But others, such as Temple Terrace residents, saw their bus routes disappear completely as HART sacrificed routes on the outskirts of the county in order to improve trips downtown and to key business centers.
Sunday’s changes were aimed at addressing complaints from riders who lost service or had worse commutes because of the October redesign.
About 1-in-5 of HART’s 43,000 riders didn’t see any benefit from the changes. And about 4,300 people were left with longer, more complicated commutes.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: HILLSBOROUGH BUS SERVICE
Hillsborough County Commissioners agreed last year to give $2.3 million to help HART address some of the concerns. The struggling transit agency has one of the smallest budgets in the nation for a transit agency its size.
Key changes include increased frequency on routes serving the University of South Florida, Town ’N Country and Tampa International Airport, in addition to new stops at International Plaza, MacDill Air Force Base and Tampa General Hospital.
"When we rolled out Mission Max earlier, there were some concerns and there were some complaints," HART chair and County Commissioner Les Miller said Monday. "People talked to us and we heard you. We heard you very loudly."
Miller said the changes should reduce wait times, travel times, service for those with disabilities, improve facilities and make the system easier to understand and use.
HART interim CEO Jeff Seward said he was hoping the initial changes in October would help stem the ridership decline that the agency, and most others across the country, have been experiencing.
However, ridership dropped by 10 percent, or more than 117,000 riders, from October 2016 to October 2017. In November, the first full month Mission Max was in effect, ridership declined 14 percent from the previous year, dropping below 1 million rides for the month.
Seward said he’ll feel more comfortable evaluating ridership numbers in May, once the entire plan has been in place for more than six months. If ridership is still declining, he said HART staff will sit down to figure out why and what changes can be made as quickly as possible.
"I did have an expectation after the changes were made that we’d start to see some plateauing," Seward said. "If we don’t start seeing that around May time, I’m going to start making a lot of recommendations to the board about changing our routes."
Those changes would take place in June or July, with additional changes coming in October, when the agency switches to a new fiscal year.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.