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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Failure to invest in transit means fewer HART routes

It was simple economics that forced HART, Hillsborough County's mass transit agency, to cut its bus routes. The agency will focus its resources on the more crowded urban core, limiting service in the suburbs in an effort to get more bang for the buck. These are the hard choices communities must make when they refuse to invest in mass transit. And it's another red flag in any measure of the region's competitiveness, economy and quality of life.

Officials with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit gave the proposal its first public airing this week. HART is cutting the number of bus routes to 34 from 41, seeking to better serve the areas of highest demand against a backdrop of limited resources. Officials say about 80 percent of riders should enjoy improved service, with more frequent stops and more direct routes. But those in less populated areas, such as Ruskin and Sun City Center in south county, will have a harder time catching a bus when the changes take effect in October. Routes with low ridership might disappear entirely.

This strategy makes sense, but it's still a disappointment. Those in fast-growing south and east county will become more car-dependent. That will worsen traffic congestion, limit people's mobility and job prospects and add to the costs of maintaining a household. And without a strong presence, HART will have a hard expanding its political support outside its urban base.

This is what happens in a county that spends about the same per person on transit as Sheboygan, Wis. And unlike many communities of its size, Hillsborough depends almost entirely on property taxes to operate its buses, compared to other major metropolitan areas that can tap into sales taxes and other dedicated revenue sources.

HART will hold more public meetings on its proposed routes in the coming weeks. But it is taking the most responsible tack in managing service with an eye on maximizing expenses. This is the latest example of the costs to this community of not investing in more efficient transit options for the future.