New MetroRapid bus service will be free beginning Tuesday in Hillsborough

05/24/13 Seán Kinane
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On Tuesday the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority will begin its MetroRapid north-south bus service.

It runs from downtown Tampa to the university area transit center every 15 minutes along the busy Nebraska Avenue corridor.

From there it continues every 30 minutes to a park-and-ride lot in north Tampa near Fletcher and Interstate-75.

For the first two weeks MetroRapid will be free. Thereafter it will be the same cost as regular fare.

We spoke with Sandra Pinto, a interim public information officer for Hillsborough Area Regional Trnasit Authority, or HART

"MetroRapid is a new service that HART is providing and, starting next Tuesday May 28th through June 7th, we are going to be offering this new service for free that way our residents and patrons can get used to the new service. So, it runs north of Nebraska and east of Fletcher and it basically is route 2. Route 2 will still continue, but it will ride half an hour. And MetroRapid from our Marion Transit Center to University Area Transit Center is fifteen minutes and then from University Area Transit Center to Hidden River Regional park-and-ride is going to be thirty minutes, so basically it's a new service that's faster.That stretch - that quarter - is 17.4 miles and it's less than an hour and we also have a new GPS system that basically extends green lights and shortens red ones so people can get to their destination faster."

Are there fewer stops as well? Is it kind of like an express service?

"Yes. It's kind of like the BRT Express Service and there are fewer stops and that's why people can get to their destinations quicker."

What are the hours it's going to operate?

"Monday through Friday from 5am to 8pm."

Is it possible that it might extend later than eight, because most of your buses run later than eight?

"Exactly. Well, you know, it's just starting off and so we have to see how everything works out and there's like a transition period. For now it's 5am to 8pm, but there's always a possibility that we will expand it and then this route - north south corridor - is just one of six that we have for MetroRapid and hopefully everything works out with this and then we can implement other ones. Of course with funding and everything, but yeah."

I've seen and I'm sure some of our listeners have seen these MetroRapid stops around town, so you're going with different branding than the normal stops. There's also landscapes and so forth. Tell us a little bit about these bus stops.

"Well the new bus shelters have three different sizes. There's the smaller size which is size A and there's actually one across the county center. There's B which is a little bit bigger than that and C which is our bigger ones that have our TVM's, which are the ticket vending machines where people can purchase their tickets before getting on the bus, which will make the transition faster. They are very distinctive and futuristic and modern looking."

You've already mentioned the red light changes that are going to happen. So that will help the buses go through traffic faster. Will people in cars be able to go faster as well?

"Here's the trick: if you're behind one of those MetroRapid buses, it's likely that you will be able to get to your destination faster as well. Because, you know, like I said, TSP, or Transit Signal Priority, does extend green lights and shorten red lights so that way it improves getting from point A to point B 15% faster."

One of the things that they were talking about when they were developing this MetroRapid system was eventually putting wifi hotspots on the buses so the commuters can use wifi. I understand that is not in place yet, but is it something that you are working on?

"Yeah. We are looking at different cost effective options.You know, when we were looking at it initially that was something that we did want to do, but, I mean, that's costly. And so, just to make everything happen, we'll be exploring that. And, you know, we have been looking at different cost-effective ways to implement that."

And finally, since Tuesday May 28 is the first day of MetroRapid, do you anticipate that people should get there early because there may be a high demand or what do you expect for the demand next week?

"To help alleviate that starting tomorrow we going to have the HART street team and they are going to be placed in strategic areas like, you know, University Area Transit Center, Marion Transit Center, and areas along the corridor where a lot of patrons get on and off the bus. And so they'll be there to help people and educate them and make this process a little bit easier and less painful. I mean, it's always good to get there a little bit earlier just so there's no misunderstanding or confusion, but we will have street teams in place starting tomorrow and all through the next two weeks to be able to help people and answer people's questions."

Is there anything else our listeners should know?

"This is a new service that we are offering to the community and it's because of Hillsborough County that this was able to happen, I mean, it was funded through Hillsborough County. We just want to be able to give back and be, you know, a partner. We are a partner in the community and we just want to be able to provide a service to help people get to their different destinations."

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