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Group suggests service partnerships

A Hillsborough County government committee studying the public bus system recommended more fiscal transparency and partnerships - possibly with private taxis or the school system - to connect people in suburbia to city bus routes.

The recommendations came out of two subcommittees of the HARTline Study Group, which will discuss the findings Friday before they are folded into a report to be given to county commissioners in early April.

Commissioners appointed seven people to the group, which meets weekly with about 20 members of the public. Commissioners created the group last summer to study why HARTline gets most of its funding from the unincorporated county while the city gets most of the bus service.

The group came up with ideas aimed at achieving a better balance of bus service to taxpayers. They include:

+ Having more people from Brandon, Riverview and other underrepresented areas weigh in on bus service.

+ Investigating having taxis, vans and other vehicles ferry customers from areas of low ridership or without service to major bus routes.

+ Marketing to higher-income riders by learning the routes and amenities they desire such as on-board wireless Internet service.

+ Setting aside more money from increases in property tax revenue to expand service in unincorporated and outlying areas.

+ Requiring that the HARTline board, which includes city and county appointees, share proposed annual budgets with local elected officials.

+ Hiring an auditor to look for savings.

Ray Miller, HARTline executive director, said the bus system is already tackling some of the recommendations. Smaller buses and vans ferry northwest Hillsborough residents to major bus routes, and this may be expanded to southern areas.

John Dausman, consultant to the HARTline Study Group, said he is pleased to have helped come up with ideas that don't include adding more buses and bus routes to suburban areas, which are costly.

The group will meet at 1:15 p.m. Friday on the 26th floor of the County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd..