Friday, January 19, 2018
Transportation

Proposal would make riding THE Bus to and from work easier

BROOKSVILLE — For people working a typical 9-to-5 job in Brooksville and living elsewhere in the county, taking THE Bus isn't really an option.

The last bus pulls out of Brooksville City Hall at 3:30 p.m. each day.

But that could soon change.

On Tuesday, the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization will discuss expanded hours for the county's fixed-route transit system, making it easier for working people to use mass transit.

The proposal would extend times on the routes later into the evening and start the routes 20 minutes later in the morning.

The idea already has some traction with county commissioners, who also sit as the MPO and will ultimately have to approve the expansion and the costs involved.

At an MPO workshop last month, Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he has talked to a number of people who have complained that, while they can take THE Bus to work in the morning, it doesn't run late enough to get them home.

Depending on the cost, Nicholson said he wanted to look into the possibility of fixing that problem.

"It would increase ridership, and it would help the community immensely,'' he said. "There are people who can't drive for various reasons. … I'd like to see those people helped.''

Expanding the hours of operation would be "the most cost-efficient improvement we can make,'' Dennis Dix, the county's transportation coordinator, told the MPO.

The expansion of hours is also a common request from users of THE Bus when the county has sought input from the community.

The plan would not require more buses; it would simply add one more loop for each of the three routes.

Currently, the Purple Route, which goes from Brooksville to Spring Hill, starts at 5:30 a.m. and runs until 6 p.m. That would change to a start time of 5:50 a.m. and an end time of 7:35 p.m.

The Red Route, which traverses Spring Hill, operates from 6:17 a.m. until 5:32 p.m. The proposed change calls for a start time of 6:37 a.m. and end time of 7 p.m.

The Blue Route, which centers on Mariner Boulevard, runs from 6:05 a.m. until 5:17 p.m.; the new operating hours would be from 6:25 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The total cost of the change would be $68,500. But with state and federal dollars covering most of the amount, the impact on the county's transportation trust fund would be $17,125. Dix said that could be offset somewhat by the money the county is raising by wrapping buses with advertising.

At the recent MPO workshop, Vera Matthews of McDonald Transit Associates, which operates the transit system for the county, noted that for the past several years the county has made about $10,000 a year from advertising placed on the buses.

After the county revised its advertising rules last August, revenue started to grow. By February, revenue had topped $23,500, and Matthews estimated that it could reach $44,000 by the end of the fiscal year in September.

That money is used to offset the county's contribution to the cost of the fixed-route system.

If the MPO and County Commission approve the service expansion, the changes could begin June 3.

There are several other service enhancements that are in the five-year transit plan, but they are still in the talking phases. One would be to connect the Hernando transit system with Pasco County's system through a stop at the new Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Conversations between Hernando and Pasco transit planners are ongoing.

Another frequently mentioned idea is a new route along Spring Hill Drive that would provide service to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and the surrounding industrial park, as well as several shopping centers. Dix said that would take some time to implement because the county would need to add buses.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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