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  1. Transportation

HART board approves fare increases

MetroRapid bus stations will be used along a new route from I-75 and Fletcher to Nebraska Avenue and downtown Tampa. A ground-breaking for the first station was held Monday.
MetroRapid bus stations will be used along a new route from I-75 and Fletcher to Nebraska Avenue and downtown Tampa. A ground-breaking for the first station was held Monday.
Published Aug. 7, 2012

TAMPA — Bus riders in Hillsborough County will pay more starting in November with the majority of passengers seeing a fare increase of about 6 percent.

Fares for riders who use cash for one-way trips will pay an average of 12.6 percent more.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board approved the new charges Monday, and riders will begin paying the higher fares Nov. 11. This is the first fare increase since 2008.

HART officials expect the fare increase to produce $886,000 in additional revenue that is intended to cover rising fuel costs, new services and inflation. The board reviews fares every two years.

The increase passed unanimously, but Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman unsuccessfully tried to persuade fellow HART board members to exempt the specialized paratransit service used by seniors and people with disabilities.

Exempting those riders would have reduced the revenue boost by about $50,000.

"I'm just trying to give the people a break," she said. "The difference in revenue would not make a huge impact."

Other members disagreed.

"Every $50,000 has consequences," said member Steven Polzin. The lost money would have to come from elsewhere in the agency budget, he said, and HART should not begin exempting different groups from fare increases.

Increases for riders who buy passes that range from a single day's travel to 31 days will run from 6.7 percent more for a single-day pass to 5.6 percent more for a 31-day pass.

The one-way fare for riders without any discounts will go up from $1.75 to $2. A one-way ride on an express bus will rise from $2.75 to $3.

The cost of a one-day pass without discounts will go from $3.75 to $4, and a 31-day pass increase from $60 to $65. A three-day pass will rise from $11 to $11.75, HART officials said.

Fares for the paratransit service will go up 14.3 percent from $3.50 to $4, HART officials said.

The fare increase comes as more people are boarding HART's buses with ridership for local and express routes up 4.4 percent from the last fiscal year. Ridership dropped 3.5 percent in June compared to June 2011, HART officials said, partly because of Tropical Storm Debby.

HART also shaved some of its bus routes that did not have enough riders, a move projected to save the agency $175,000 in the next fiscal year. The changes will affect about 11,000 riders.

Among the route changes are:

• Combine routes 50X and 61LX that run from the Citrus Park and Sheldon Road areas to the Marion Transit Center into one route

• Reduce the east county express route 28X to one morning and one evening trip

• Eliminate Saturday service for the Brandon Flex route but add a scheduled weekday route in the same area

• Change bus schedules for Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day to match service for all other holidays

The HART board also agreed to allow its street cars to accept advertising for cigars and alcohol to inject more revenue into the TECO Line Streetcar System. The authority's ban on accepting ads for guns, tobacco and alcohol on buses will remain in place.

Advertising provides most of the street car system's revenue, said Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez, secretary of the HART board. Also, the street car line serves two main entertainment areas, he said.

Board member Wallace Bowers said HART should not advertise alcohol on street cars that run through inner city areas with a lot of homeless people.

"To approve alcohol advertising would be a detriment to the system," he said.

HART staff members would approve each advertisement.

HART's current policy allows restaurants and bars to advertise on street cars but the ads cannot make references to alcohol, said agency spokeswoman Marcia Mejia.

The relaxed policy will be in effect in time for vendors to advertise during the Republican National Convention later this month.

Separately, the board agreed to buy about 4 acres near E Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75. The authority plans to use the land as a park-and-ride lot for more than 300 cars as a hub in a planned bus rapid transit service — called MetroRapid — that will run from the area near I-75, west along Fletcher to Nebraska, then south to downtown Tampa. The site is in the Hidden River Corporate Park just west of the Fletcher and I-75 interchange.

The deal calls for HART to pay $1.5 million to AGI Acquisitions II LLC for the site, about $250,000 under the original estimate of $1.75 million. The money is part of $40 million in transportation money Hillsborough County gave HART in 2008 from the county's Capital Improvement Tax.

The board on Monday held a ground-breaking ceremony for a station along the MetroRapid route on Nebraska Avenue. The authority expects the service to be in place early next year.

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