With ridership levels down locally and nationally, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) CEO Katherine Eagan says the time is ripe for adapting the agency to a new transit landscape.
After years and years of continuing growth in terms of passenger rides, HART’s ridership dropped more than 6 percent in 2016, a trend that was becoming apparent last summer.
But while the buses aren’t as full as they have been in the past, Eagan says that there are other products and services where HART is seeing growth, such as their taxi voucher program, which provides same-day rides for riders with disabilities.
Transit ridership isn’t just a Tampa Bay area phenomenon, but a trend around the country in the past few years, due in part to lower gas prices.
As stretched as they’ve been with their funding sources, HART has been often been unable to meet the demand for service in the past, but Eagan now says the agency is offering different services to aid the riding public.
Last fall, the agency launched HART HyperLINK, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service that began in the University/Lutz and Carrollwood areas, and then expanded to Brandon in December, where there has been a surge in demand.
“We’ve gone from very, very full buses, to just very full businesses,” she says. “So the question becomes, if you haven’t moved enough folks off of one route to another neighborhood to really free up a bus, if you go from a crushed load to a standing load, how do you meet that?
“So that’s driving this process of a comprehensive analysis this year say, ‘we’ve only got so many resources, which should be the definition of excellent service and how to you match that up?'” she says. “Given that we’ve only had more demand than we’ve had the ability to meet. We’re underfunded per capita. How do you make those decisions of where a thin bus should go, where something innovative should go, how do you invest in technology?”
Eagan says that HART staffers will collect input from a number of sources during the first parts of 2017 to come back with a “refreshed model of service delivery” – with those sources including feedback from the Go Hillsborough meetings, as well as their own community meetings and discussions with consultants and inside their various boards.
While some might argue that fewer rides could jeopardize receiving federal or state funds, Eagan says that funding is available for the new products the agency has introduced.
“How many of us get the opportunity to remake our own entire business?” she says, ever the optimist. “It’s a once in lifetime moment, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”