HART opens MetroRapid express bus route along Nebraska Avenue to USF Tampa

05/28/13 Janelle Irwin
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The Hillsborough County Regional Transit Authority, or HART, kicked off its first day of Express Bus service Tuesday along the Nebraska Avenue corridor. MetroRapid uses GPS technology for traffic signal priority and limited bus stops to get riders to their destination as much as 15% faster – and uses brand new buses.

“I like it. It smells like a brand new car.”

That’s frequent bus rider Jeff Stevens.

“It’s cleaner, it’s a lot nicer looking, it’s a little bit more [friendly] – especially the bus drivers seem to be nicer.”

The route travels between the Hidden River regional Park-and-Ride off Fletcher Avenue near I-75 and the Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa. For the most part, the MetroRapid north/south route follows one of HART’s busiest lines – the number 2. Shaquondra Williams was one of the first to use the new express route this morning and said it saved her a decent amount of time.

“… limited stops, and it’s just faster. You get to your destination at least 15-minutes faster than, you know, being on bus 2 because with bus 2, it’s an on and off thing; with every stop somebody’s getting on or somebody’s getting off and it’s packed to capacity to where people are standing up. It’s ridiculous. I like this better – and it’s free!”

HART is offering free rides for the first two weeks of operation – until June 10th. Robert Trout is the assistant manager of retail sales for HART.

“We’re trying to raise awareness, have people ride it and get used to it – understand where the stops are instead of – it doesn’t stop at every stop on Nebraska, but at the green and silver shelter.”

The amount of time saved by riding MetroRapid instead of hopping on the crowded number two depends on how far a rider travels, but Trout said it definitely is faster.

“Route 2 only goes as far as University Transit Center where as this goes all the way out to Hidden River. Route 2 takes about an hour to get up to University Area Transit Center where this takes about 50 minutes to get all the way out to Hidden River which is a few miles further out.”

The time savings comes not only from cutting out a few stops along the way, but also by prioritizing traffic signals using a GPS.

“If the light’s already green it’ll keep it green longer so the route can make it through the light and to its next stop which is usually a far side stop on the intersection area.”

MetroRapid runs at 15-minute intervals except for the four and a half miles between the University Transit Center and Hidden River Park & Ride. HART officials hope the time savings will boost ridership along the route.

“We’ve been to, I’d say probably 90% of the businesses along Nebraska giving out information and it was received very, very positively. A lot of the students up at USF area, a lot of the apartments up on Fletcher – those people were excited about riding because they can get downtown very quickly.”

HART now has a regional Park & Ride at the northern-most point along the MetroRapid route located on the Hidden River Parkway off Fletcher Avenue near I-75. But as of 11:30 Tuesday morning, it sat empty. The first riders didn’t catch the bus until closer to the USF area and the bus didn’t start filling up until passengers near Nebraska and Busch Boulevard. Even then, the bus was never more than half full for the entire duration of the route. All of the passengers were at least fairly regular bus riders. Precious Williams climbed aboard with her two-year-old son. She breathed in the new smell of the bus, but worried the newness wouldn’t last.

“See, these are the rules right here. You’re not supposed to eat, you’re not supposed to drink – radio, cigarettes – which nobody’s going to bring cigarettes or radio, but the drink and the eating part – some people violate the rules. Some drivers allow you to eat; they tell you to go ahead and eat. With the drinks that you get from any kind of fast food restaurant, it’s easy to spill when the bus is turning or stopping. [I’ve] seen so many – it makes the bus just look nasty.”

Regardless of whether the MetroRapid buses retain their new car smell, Williams said she would continue riding the bus and enjoying the new, quicker route.

“It helps me get from school to daycare, to the grocery store, looking for a job. I mean, I use the bus for practically everything where I need to go.”

HART is working on a second MetroRapid route that would run East and West along Hillsborough Avenue. A start date for the second route hasn’t been set, but a community forum is expected in late summer or early fall. That route will connect run between Tampa International Airport and Temple Terrace and could be a viable tool in expanding regional connections.

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