BROOKSVILLE — Beginning in October, Hernando County residents will have longer hours and Saturday service added to their public bus system.
The county commission on Tuesday approved expanding TheBus' schedule and accepted an updated long-range transit plan that anticipates more upgrades in the years ahead. Those could include peak-hour bus service to Ridge Manor by 2024, exploring park-and-ride facilities and building a major county transfer station in the next decade.
County transportation planners have been gathering public input on service improvements over the past several months. Their work confirmed that the Saturday service and longer hours were the most popular enhancements.
"I support the effort to increase public transit hours during the week and Saturday,'' wrote Krystal Nash of Brooksville on a county survey. "Public transportation should be integral to our county expansion and development. Community members have shared a desire to have more stops, more service hours and better access to this important public resource.''
Clifford and Virginia Tooker of Brooksville wrote in favor of expanded weekend service.
"It is difficult to see our senior citizens and veterans struggling to walk long distances for food on Saturday and Sunday,'' they wrote. "Shelter for all folks at those stops would be beneficial.''
Other bus service improvements, such as improved bus stops, adding benches and shelters, and integrating the fare payment system with other transit organizations will continue in the years ahead, according to the plan.
The need for a transfer station generated discussion by commissioners. Previously, the county had worked out an arrangement with a shopping center at Mariner and Cortez boulevards, but that has since ended, according to Ron Pianta, the county's planning director.
A new location is needed in that area because "that's where a lot of routes come together,'' he said.
Commissioner John Allocco said that businesses in that area "should be fighting over which side of the street it is on,'' because it would bring customers who likely wouldn't walk across busy Cortez Boulevard to shop on the opposite side.
Allocco also questioned the cost of the service.
The transit plan delineated funding sources for Hernando County's transit services, with 65 percent paid for by the federal government, about 10 percent from state grants, 21 percent from the county's gas tax and less than 3 percent from fares generated by riders.
He asked if there was any expectation that the fares fund more than that.
Public transit is a "public service,'' county Administrator Jeff Roger responded.
The new services are expected to cost $305,000.
Currently, TheBus has four routes running Monday through Friday. Their hours vary, but service starts about 6 a.m. and in some cases runs past 7 p.m. Under the proposal, weekday hours would be extended to 9 p.m., and the Saturday service would run from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
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Allocco asked whether the expansion would be permanent or just on a trial basis to see whether ridership supports it.
Pianta said the service enhancements would be permanent but could be scaled back. He said he doesn't expect that to happen.
""We really expect that it will grow,'' Pianta said. The Saturday service, he said, "has been a request for a long time.''
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.