LAND O'LAKES — Christie Zimmer likes to ride the bus for fun.
Getting from her home in Lake Padgett Estates to the bus stop at Collier Parkway and State Road 54 can be the hardest part. But from there, it's smooth riding — on what Pasco County calls its cross county route between Trinity and Zephyrhills — to the Shops at Wiregrass or the 16-screen movie theater at the Groves in Wesley Chapel.
Beginning Monday, the connection to that cross county route will be a little easier. So will access to county offices, parks, the library, grocers, retailers, physicians and social agencies for central Pasco residents who do not have reliable transportation.
Pasco County Public Transportation is beginning a new north-south bus service that will circulate though Land O'Lakes on U.S. 41, SR 54 and Collier Parkway. It also will connect to the existing east-west route on SR 54 and link to Hillsborough's bus service, HART, at the Target store on County Line Road in Lutz.
"I think it opens up a lot of opportunities for people who are transportation disadvantaged who didn't have the chance to get to jobs, to shopping or to further their education,'' said Zimmer, a longtime member of the citizens advisory committee to Pasco's Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Among the potential beneficiaries are clients at the Oasis Pregnancy Center, which provides free services to expectant mothers at its location in the Copperstone Building on U.S. 41. The agency will reach 10,000 patient visits this year in just seven years of operation. CEO Peter Castellani estimated that at least half of the center's clientele could be likely users of the new bus service.
"A lot of them do have transportation issues and have to rely on rides from others,'' said Castellani. "We are absolutely thrilled that the circulator route is starting.''
Buses will run hourly, with southbound vehicles leaving the Pasco Utilities building on Central Boulevard beginning at 6 a.m. weekdays, with scheduled stops at Gator Lane, SR 54 and the Walmart store south of the apex of U.S. 41 and Dale Mabry Highway. Other destinations on the route include Publix at Connerton, the government offices at the Pasco County David "Hap'' Clark Jr. Building (Central Pasco Professional Center), the Land O'Lakes Community Center and Target.
The northbound route will start at 6:30 a.m. with a stop at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center on Collier Parkway before returning to SR 54 and U.S. 41, Gator Lane, Central Boulevard and the other stops in between. Service ends at 7 p.m. On Saturdays and holidays, service will be provided from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A 2015 update to the county's transportation disadvantaged plan estimated nearly 40 percent of the county's population — including elderly, disabled, low-income adults and children — could be considered transportation disadvantaged.
County Commission Chairman Mike Moore, who lobbied heavily for the new bus route, served two years on the transportation disadvantaged board.
"It really opened my eyes for the need in this area,'' said Moore. "There was no public transportation service. I was really shocked.''
Zimmer, who said she chats up fellow passengers during her rides on the cross county route, said she found most passengers are using the bus to get to government offices or medical appointments.
The county's most recent addition to its bus service, a route serving the Moon Lake area in west Pasco, is exceeding initial expectations. Having begun in January, it is averaging 130 rides daily.
If the U.S. 41 route can match the Moon Lake ridership, "I would be very happy,'' said Kurt Scheible, Pasco's public transportation manager.