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Lack of Sunday buses would hurt, riders say

Sunday afternoons are the high point of Helen Jackson's week. That is the time Jackson reserves for special bus outings to visit friends and eat dinner in a restaurant.

That is the time she gets out of the confines of her downtown retirement home.

"Sunday is recreation day," said Jackson, 75, who lives in the Methodist Place home in downtown Tampa.

Jackson was one of dozens of people waiting Sunday at the Tampa Bay Center mall for a bus ride to work, church, shopping or, like her, a special afternoon outing.

Those riders are among the thousands of people who will be hurt the most by planned cuts _ or the possible elimination _ of Sunday bus service in Hillsborough County.

Desperately trying to reduce a $2.5-million budget deficit being fueled by rising oil prices, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HARTline) is considering cutting its 27 Sunday bus routes to 11. The agency could even eliminate all Sunday bus routes unless city and county officials agree to kick in a total of $400,000 before Nov. 11.

That would mean no more Sunday outings for Jackson.

"I think it's terrible. The elderly people have got to get out," she said. "For many of us, the bus is our only means of transportation."

For Julius Greir, the change could mean not having a way to get to church.

"I couldn't make it without the bus," said Greir, 65, who rides the bus on Sundays from his home in Plantation to the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Tampa.

For 17-year-old Samantha Autry, it could mean losing a job.

"I won't have any way to get there," said Autry, who was waiting Sunday for a bus to her car cleaning job at Showroom Auto Detail in Tampa.

Even with a recent round of fare increases up to 50 percent, HARTline officials have struggled for months to find a way to cut costs without dramatically reducing ridership. An estimated 5,000 people ride HARTline buses every Sunday.

Axing Sunday service would save an estimated $600,000 annually. The $400,000 that HARTline officials are seeking from the city and county would be enough to keep a reduced number of buses rolling, but no one knows for how long.

Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman has proposed that the city pay $200,000 in gas tax money, but only after the county agrees to match the grant. Hillsborough County commissioners are expected to vote on the proposal Nov. 7.

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