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Almost empty buses near final stop sign

Pasco's business bus might be a bust.

Begun two years ago, an express bus route designed to shuttle workers to business parks in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties could soon end.

"We're looking at the prospect of eliminating that route within the next six to nine months," said Mike Carroll, transportation manager for Pasco County Public Transportation.

Officials had high hopes for the 50X bus route.

In 2000, a study by the Metropolitan Planning Organization targeted several areas as economic growth centers _ Pasco among them. So county officials signed a contract with the MPO and bought a $168,000 bus using state-administered grant funds.

A route from Bayonet Point to Oldsmar, where there was glut of jobs and a lack of workers, was devised along with a schedule that could carry 200 commuters a day. The West Pasco Industrial Park on State Road 54 had its own stop.

But the riders didn't come _ not enough of them.

Even at the industrial park, which has between 400 and 500 workers, there are no takers, Carroll said.

Bill Weatherford, vice president of Marlin Commercial, which sells space in the park, is unsure how many people use the route.

"To be real honest with you, I don't think I've ever seen the bus," he said.

At the end of the day, Carroll said, about five people ride the bus on average.

"That simply is not economical," he said. "Despite some of our best efforts . . . we have not engaged the participation we were initially expecting."

Recently, John Walsh of the Pasco Economic Development Council floated the idea of approaching Trinity businesses to gauge their interest in the bus.

Carroll said, if supported financially and with enough ridership, this route or another is possible.

"Everything is timing," he said.

The 50X route began Sept. 10, 2001.

The next day the nation's business scene changed. Many companies postponed expansion plans or downsized, affecting Pasco's economic growth and the number of projected workers.

"The economic downturn really played havoc on us," Carroll said.

The time it takes to transport people also factors into the poor participation, he said. The route costs $1 round trip and typically takes an hour including stops.

"If they have the choice, people traditionally prefer to transport themselves," Carroll said.

The complete route runs from Bayonet Point Plaza (U.S. 19 and State Road 52) with stops at the West Pasco Industrial Park, the Odessa Industrial Park on Gunn Highway, the Tri-County Business Park in Oldsmar and the SR 580 Park-N-Ride lot to meet Pinellas and Hillsborough transit buses.

For information, call Pasco County Public Transportation at (727) 834-3322 or (813) 254-4278.

_ Melia Bowie covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is bowiesptimes.com.

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