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Is HART a good choice to get you to the airport?

The route:

Palma Ceia to Tampa International Airport

HART's route: Depending on when you leave, there are two routes, both with a transfer. One is direct but requires a walk to a second bus; the other goes to a downtown station.

Miles, estimated travel time: I took the direct route, which took an hour and five minutes for the 8.3-mile trip.

Cost: $4 each way

What I found: I left my former home in Palma Ceia for an experiment: Is it reasonable to take the city bus to the airport? My imaginary flight would leave at 1 p.m., so I planned to arrive at the airport at noon. I walked eight-tenths of a mile to a bus stop on Dale Mabry Highway at Barcelona Street, where I boarded bus 36, slid two crisp dollar bills into a machine and slid myself into a soft purple seat. Two women in front of me chatted in Spanish while several others adhered to the unspoken rule of public transit etiquette: make no eye contact. The bus cruised up Dale Mabry, making several stops before it arrived at Kennedy Boulevard, where I got off. I walked east for two-tenths of a mile to Sterling Avenue, where I saw a bus sign on the south side, but not the north side of the street. I consulted HART's website on my smart phone and found the north bus stop is a little farther east on Kennedy. I crossed without a crosswalk and took a seat on a bench. This was my first layover. I squinted in the sun. I breathed exhaust fumes. Twenty minutes later, my bus arrived and I slid $2 into another machine. I arrived at the airport 20 minutes later and three people got off. One carried a lunch box. None had luggage.

My return trip took me the same route with a half-hour wait at the transfer stop. I calculated the final leg of my trip: a mile and a half by bus down Dale Mabry Highway plus the eight-tenths-of-a-mile walk. HART estimated I would be "home" in 51 minutes.

Of the bus stops I got on and off at, only the airport was sheltered. Each of my four buses was late — the last one by nine minutes, and finding the stops was a chore, even in the airport.

Once on board, the ride was pleasant enough, but had I been carrying luggage, and getting on a plane with layovers and all the stress that goes with that, I might never choose this option.

The $4 trip is a bargain compared to paying for parking at the airport, but I would ask a friend for a ride or pay $30 for a taxi, both of which I have done for this same trip in the past.

Elisabeth Parker, Times staff writer