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THE Bus can carry Hernando County in the right direction

Hernando's subdivisions are scattered from Ridge Manor to Hernando Beach. Our stores and restaurants are strewn along miles of highway. We don't have one employment center; we have at least a half dozen.

All of which makes mass transit pretty much unworkable for now, County Administrator David Hamilton said two weeks ago in a meeting at the Times office:

"We have a development pattern more friendly to golf carts than public transportation.''

That was the main reason for his recommendation — later supported by a unanimous vote of the County Commission — to cut the frequency of the THE Bus' scheduled stops from every hour to every two hours.

In a big city, where hubs of housing, jobs, stores and offices are just a few blocks apart, fares might pay one-fourth of the cost of public transportation. In Hernando, with fewer riders and more miles to cover, that fraction is more like one-twentieth.

Yes, these numbers prove Hamilton's point. But they also show the inefficiency of our development pattern — which is the best argument against cutting bus service.

See, Hernando, along with much of Florida, developed the way it did mostly because it lacked public transportation. Cars can go just about anywhere. So can development that depends on them. In our county it has.

What can we do to create a community where public transportation works? Well, build and maintain public transportation.

"It is kind of a chicken-or-egg situation,'' said county demographic planner David Miles.

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority plans not only to serve the population of an eight-county area, including Hernando, but reshape it, said spokeswoman Cindy Sharpe:

"What we're talking about is that mass transportation will transform this region into something better.''

The authority's master plan includes a map of red lines showing the congested roads that — absent regional public transportation — will choke the region's commerce by 2050.

If we do build mass transit, on the other hand, we'll be rewarded with the kind of walkable neighborhoods that form naturally around bus and rail stops.

It's happened all over the country. Investment poured into the core of Plano, Texas, after the suburb was linked to Dallas by rail in 2002. Washington, D.C., was once criticized as a sterile town of bureaucrats. After the completion of its Metro, which opened in 1976 and is now the second-busiest commuter rail system in the country, "it became a world-class city,'' Miles said.

No, Hernando isn't Washington or even Plano. But it is reasonable to think that developers might build apartments or shopping centers to capitalize on regular bus service, especially if they know these will someday connect with TBARTA routes leading to, for example, Tampa International Airport.

This kind of development is what our planning laws have unsuccessfully tried to force on builders for decades. And THE Bus could be a start. But not as it is now, and certainly not as the skeleton system — used only by desperate riders — that it will become when the new cuts take hold.

Think of it that way, and the $142,000 we saved doesn't seem like a bargain.

THE Bus can carry Hernando County in the right direction 05/11/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 11, 2009 7:24pm]

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