Riders in the Tampa, Fla. area living within a half mile of the stops on two new routes will be able to call for pickup at their homes, from a week in advance to up to three hours ahead of time when Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) begins its pilot project for a community-based bus service on April 12.
The HARTFlex program will offer passenger van service in populous areas with regular stops at crucial destinations such as hospitals and shopping centers. The pilot also will connect to regular and express route bus stops and pickup service.
A few years ago HART had evaluated different flex services, in order to find a model to accommodate its more densely populated areas with smaller roads. “A 40-foot bus is not always the way to serve somebody’s transit needs…In looking at [our] services, we realized we didn’t have solutions to move these particular passengers. So we looked at other properties, went to the drawing board, and out came the idea for HARTFlex,” said Katharine Eagan, Chief of Service Development.
Eagan pointed out that a smaller van-sized vehicle can get into many of these neighborhoods in a hurry and get back out without having to back up. “With half of our buses we’d be stuck in these neighborhoods and [without being able to] back up so we’re blocking traffic for everybody. “We think a smaller vehicle is more appropriate,” she added.
Potential passengers, Eagan said, will likely range from a commuter making a connection to a HART express route, to passengers who need to get to the grocery store or appointments during the day to kids going to the mall. Eagan emphasizes that HARTFlex is not intended as just a service for people with disabilities, but is also an attempt to get riders on board in more areas.
Another convenience the pilot will offer is the ability for riders to subscribe to the service so they don’t have to call every time they have to go to work, or if they have a recurring doctor appointment. “We can make an automatic booking for them,” Eagan said.
The vehicles and drivers for HARTFlex will be supplied by HART’s paratransit system, HART Plus. The HART Plus vehicles were manufactured by Champion Bus on a 2009 Chevrolet 3500 Diesel chassis with a wide body 22-foot cutaway. Vehicles are equipped with wheelchair lifts, 10 passenger seats, and two wheelchair securement positions and will have bike racks.
Eagan explains that HARTFlex will go beyond bringing more transit accessibility to riders in wheelchairs and scooters. “We have a lot of people who are riding because of a mobility constraint, It could be someone who had a stroke, and now they have an uneven gait so they can’t get over curbs and right now if they don’t have access to sidewalks or are not really close to bus stop, we can’t accommodate them with our fixed route service. HARTFlex gets back into their neighborhood and can complete these trips with something that’s closer to our fixed route system.”