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More than token effort

My in-laws from Cape Cod recently spent their vacation at our home on Davis Islands. One day my father-in-law, Joe, asked if he could borrow my car to play a round of golf.

"No problem," I said. I figured I don't need my car every second of the day. I'll just ride a bus to work. It'll be an adventure. Like the time when Meg and I visited Italy. We toured for 10 days by train or bus without ever stepping inside an automobile.

But Tampa is not Italy.

When I got to my office downtown, some of my co-workers at Robert W. Baird & Co. who had never ridden a HARTline bus had some interesting _ and sympathetic _ comments:

"You're going to ride one of those big, empty buses home?"

"The stock market hasn't preformed that poorly?"

"I would be glad to give you a ride at the end of the day."

When I was in Italy, the trains and buses were frequent and punctual. They offered us an inexpensive way to travel without the hassle of driving in a foreign country.

What I liked best was the chance to interact with locals. Some of the riders were Italian merchants, families and students who gave us insight to their lives and culture. Others were fellow travelers with whom we traded anecdotes of our travels.

Riding the No. 46 bus from Davis Islands to downtown didn't take much longer than if I had driven my own car, and it gave me time to read. The bus was clean and the driver and riders were pleasant.

There was actually nothing "adventurous" about the trip. It was very simple.

As I rode, I thought about how much money Americans spend on transportation. Yet here is an alternative that offers unlimited rides for $46 per month. That's a fraction of what I pay to operate my car.

I wondered why many buses in Tampa are empty, while buses in places like Italy are thriving.

Then I thought about potential problems with relying on the bus. If I were running just a few minutes late and missed it, I would have to wait 75 minutes for the next one. I could walk in less time!

Furthermore, what would I do if I had to work late, after the last bus left? What if I had an emergency during the day and needed my car? Or, more realistically, what if a friend or client invited me for lunch at Valencia Gardens?

Fortunately, I have options. Many people don't. Without the bus, they'd have no way to get around.

I recently spoke with one lady on the bus who doesn't own a car and takes the bus between her home in Palmetto Beach and her job cleaning houses in Davis Islands. She summed up HARTline's dilemma like this:

Mass transit can't succeed unless people with cars ride buses. But people with cars won't ride buses unless the buses run more frequently. But buses in Tampa won't run more frequently unless more people with cars ride them.

It's a classic Catch-22.

My in-laws' trip to Tampa reminded me of an alternative way to commute to work. I am certainly not willing to give up my car, but I plan to use HARTline from time to time. I hope others will, too.

_ Rudy Fernandez is a former Tampa City Council member and former HARTline board member. He is vice president of investments at Robert W. Baird & Co. and past president of the Davis Islands Civic Association. He lives on Davis Islands with his wife, Meg, daughters Kerianne and Kailey and his 1995 Volvo.