RUSKIN -- The Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organizations say the time is now to improve the area's transit needs.
The organizations continued their joint effort to survey the thoughts of residents at a Sept. 13 community meeting at the South Shore Regional Library. They're working together to develop a long-range transportation plan to accommodate economic growth and implement transportation projects throughout the Tampa Bay region.
"We want to make sure we are meeting the needs and desires of the neighborhood," Sarah McKinley, the principal planner for Hillsborough MPO. "We can bring up new cost estimates and a new implementation plan … to hand off to HART and say, 'Here are the updated costs, here's sort of a phased approach to implement it.'"
The ultimate goal is to create a "master transit plan" as well as an "action plan" to move forward. The MPO has already hosted three community meetings with another one tentatively scheduled for the first or second week in November.
At the most recent meeting, organizers revealed what the MPO has learned and drawn up so far. Jeanette Berk, from Gannett Fleming, the engineering consulting firm working with the Hillsborough MPO and HART, said the idea is to create connectivity within the community and link it to major hubs.
"It's really two markets in the area," Berk said. "Circulation to key destinations within the area itself and… the workers who need to get downtown or to MacDill."
Berk shared six different route scenarios and the operational costs associated with each. The cheapest route, running from the Park and Ride near the Amazon warehouse in Ruskin all the way to Downtown Tampa is estimated at $3.5 million.
Ironically, the two shortest routes, from Amazon to Gibsonton and from Amazon to the Brandon Mall are the two most expensive at approximately $6 million and $7 million dollars each. The problem of getting people to the bus stop by Amazon remains in each scenario. Berk discussed the notion of "mobility hubs," which would be a short transit system running locally to help people in surrounding neighborhoods make the connection. A community-oriented type of system is often brought up in South Shore transportation conversations but rarely are logistics and specifics included.
In this case, Apollo Beach attorney Mike Patterson explained why there always seems to be a hang-up in regards to "mobility hub" proposals.
Patterson, who worked on a transportation study of this area in 2014 found a "chicken or the egg" type relationship between ridership and reliability. Riders won't take a bus route if it's not efficient and reliable. Transit organizations won't invest in a route if people aren't riding.
This conundrum leads the MPO to the next step of their plan, estimating ridership for the different alternatives. Once the ridership-to-cost math is worked out, an action plan can be phased and handed over to HART.
Steve Feigenbaum, the director of service development at HART said, "This survey is the first step on a pretty long road."
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Times correspondent Kathy Straub contributed to this report. Contact Sara Straub at firstname.lastname@example.org.