The Empty Bus (And The Case for More Frequency)

One of the most frequent arguments I hear from detractors of public transportation has always been something to the degree of this:

Every time I see a bus, it’s always empty!

While I’m not saying they’re lying, they’re not exactly correct either. As gas prices continue to rise further and further and demand for alternatives climbs alongside it, we see more stories of transit agencies getting bogged down by extraordinary ridership numbers. In Tampa, HART has seen 28-months of consecutive ridership growth, and that’s even with cuts in service. And as many a rider can attest to, it’s getting harder to find a seat on the bus.

The problem though is not with the bus capacity, but the lack of resources to add that desperately needed capacity.

Though HART’s 28-months of ridership increases has made for great press, it’s been also causing quite a few headaches for staff and operators alike. Buses are running late more than ever before and transfers are being missed. The list of things that can be done to help mediate these issues is quite long (stop consolidation, off-board fare payments, and TSP just to name a few), but in the long run the only thing that will bring improvements is additional capacity, in the form of more frequent buses.

In the long-term, Tampa and the rest of the metro area needs to seriously consider what it’s transit future will look like. Light rail has been brought multiple times. It was largely the reason why HART’s tax referendum failed in 2010, and it’ll be a hard challenge to overcome for PSTA’s referendum this year. BRT is also an option, one that HART has taken with the start of the MetroRapid program on the Nebraska corridor next year. However, if the citizens of the metro continue to show they don’t want to support transit, HART and PSTA (along with other neighboring agencies) may not be around for much longer.

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