Hillsborough County's mass transit agency performed a valuable service by agreeing to fund the free downtown Tampa shuttles until at least March. That gives the agency time to explore more efficient ways of moving short-hop commuters through the busy city center.
The Downtowner operates similarly to Uber and Lyft, allowing people to use an app to hail a ride on the electric vehicles. While the trips must start and end within the downtown area, the service has become wildly popular, with people taking the shuttles to lunch, on errands or to nearby meetings.
But the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which created the service, said it cannot continue. As the Tampa Bay Times' Caitlin Johnston reported, the partnership asked the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to take over the cost, with help from the Florida Department of Transportation. The HART board on Monday approved the $568,000 expenditure for eight months of service and hopes to develop a more sustainable concept. A new business model could include creating fixed pick-up and drop-off locations. Point-to-point service might involve a fee.
Keeping the service alive while exploring efficiencies benefits riders and downtown enterprises alike. And with the most popular drop-off locations being major destinations — from the Bayshore Publix and HART's transit hub to the University of Tampa — an opportunity exists for HART to develop a focused circulator service. This is a worthwhile investment in a city center that's become a bustling neighborhood.