Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Transportation

Stacy White isn't happy about HART's bus system redesign

TAMPA — Hillsborough transit leaders approved a new bus system Monday and County Commissioner Stacy White isn't happy about it.

The new routes should improve travel times for most riders, according to the Hillsborough County Area Regional Transit Authority, but will make life worse for about 20 percent of people who rely on the bus system.

Starting Oct. 8, entire parts of the county, such as Town 'N Country and Carrollwood, will be left with limited to no coverage. The hardest hit region of the county, with only one bus route in a more-than-300-mile region? South Hillsborough County.

"I'm not going to sugar coat it: they got hosed," White said after Monday's HART meeting. "It's terrible for residents in unincorporated Hillsborough."

Before HART voted, it heard from dozens of residents who ride the very routes that were being cut. That included older residents, those with disabilities and anyone who can't afford their own car. All rely on HART's buses and vans for their transportation.

White said his office fielded many phone calls and emails from people concerned about routes to MacDill Air Force Base and in the Sun City Center area.

Under the recently approved 2018 route plan, anywhere south of Boyette Road will be served by a single route that runs along U.S. 41 once every hour on weekdays.

A Tampa Bay Times analysis showed that the Tampa Bay region spends far less on transit than any other major metropolitan area in the country.

Hillsborough County's transit agency spends $20 million less on buses than its counterpart in Cincinnati, Ohio, and $60 million less than the agency for Detroit, even though they serve similar populations.

Yet despite spending so little, HART has a budget deficit of more than $6 million. The reduced service will save the agency $5.8 million annually in operating costs.

White, however, doesn't think HART needs more money.

"I'm all about looking for efficiencies and making a leaner organization, but let's do it across the board," White said. "For whatever reason, these routes in unincorporated Hillsborough County were targeted."

White tried to postpone Monday's vote until the board's September meeting, but did not receive enough support. White was hoping the bus agency could make use of a potential $2 million the county might send its way once commissioners approve their budget.

But when County Commissioner and fellow HART board member Pat Kemp suggested allocating the money to HART at last month's county budget meeting, White initially tried to divert those dollars toward road spending instead. His motion failed.

Fellow County Commissioner and HART chairman Les Miller expressed frustration over White's comments, as White has voted against past attempts to drum up dollars for the bus agency.

"This person could care less about what happens to HART," Miller said. "It sounds like he's talking out of both sides of his mouth."

Miller recently rekindled the conversation to raise HART's property tax rate, something which hasn't happened since 2011. White opposed such an increase, in addition to speaking out against any sales tax increases.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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