Central Pasco residents say mass transit service is needed for their area, but they want somebody else to use it. It is a disappointing, but not altogether unexpected finding in a survey of nearly 3,700 residents in Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel. After all, only 20 people use the daily park-and-ride bus service to commute from Wesley Chapel to Tampa while thousands pile into cars and sit in rush-hour traffic each day.
The survey information was revealed this week as Pasco County maps outs its mass transit plans for the next decade. The data, shared with county commissioners and elected city officials sitting as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, showed 55 percent of the mail-in survey respondents believed central Pasco needs mass transit service while only 13 percent disagreed. The remainder said they did not know. But having a bus available and getting on board are two different things. Nearly 53 percent of those responding said nobody in their household would use mass transit if it was available.
Put another way, it means motorists want other drivers off the road so their own commutes will be easier. The narcissism will need to be overcome in order for any mass transit service to succeed, particularly with local revenue being an important part of the equation. In 2018, the end of the 10-year plan, more than half of the $12.4-million annual cost will come from local dollars.
It helps explain why running east west routes between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills; a north-south circulator on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and so-called flexible routes — taking people from neighborhoods to the fixed routes — are not part of the 10-year plan. The area isn't ignored entirely. A north-south circulator route in Land O'Lakes is planned for 2015 and a cross-county route, connecting Seven Springs and Zephyrhills, will be available in 2011.
But, most of the improvements are focused rightly on west Pasco where the county operates six routes now. It is there, among a less affluent, but more densely populated area, that ridership is booming. The 10-year plan calls for adding service to Moon Lake — already delayed from a county budget crunch — and Hudson. Mostly, though, the goal is to improve existing operations by running buses more frequently and later into the evening and adding Sunday service and an express bus on U.S. 19. Extending operating hours beyond 8:30 p.m. is imperative to capture the service workers and retail employees working later into the evening.
A survey of passengers using the bus service found nearly three out of four riders did not drive or did not have an automobile available to them. More than half said they used the bus to get to work or school, and nearly 40 percent traveled to shop, run errands or go to a medical office.
That, too, is key. A reliable mass transit service is not a luxury in west Pasco. It is a way of life for people of modest means to get where they need to go.