As we reported in a previous issue, although it is based in Hillsborough County, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) has a brand-new bus route that picks up near Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel in Wiregrass Ranch and transports riders all the way through New Tampa to both downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport (TIA). The new route is a welcome addition to the area. Prior to the introduction of Route 275LX, Wesley Chapel residents have lacked in public transit that could take them into Tampa but HART is set on fixing that with the new limited-stop service from the Wiregrass Park-’n-Ride lot all the way to TIA.
Neighborhood News and WCNT-tv production assistant Giuliano Ferrara recently rode the bus from Wiregrass to TIA. Below is his first-hand account of that ride.
“For $2 you can ride from New Tampa to the airport, that’s the best deal out there.” said Pedro, my driver for this trip and a public transit driver for more than 30 years.
“The service has changed a lot [in those 30 years],” he adds. With the addition of working air conditioning and heating, power steering, and most important, a nice comfy driver’s seat, Pedro told me that the HART buses have come a long way and that Route 275LX is the first taste of a truly comfortable local public transit experience for Wesley Chapel residents.
My first impressions of the bus were overwhelmingly positive. I noticed first and foremost that the HART bus is, without a doubt, the cleanest bus I have ever ridden.
The bus I boarded was one of the nearly 200 that make up the HART fleet and, if they’re all as clean and comfortable as this one, those who rely on public transit in the area, and even those riding a bus for the very first time, should expect to be satisfied with the service. While the seats still left something to be desired in terms of cushioning, the powerful air conditioning should be able to compensate for any lost comfort during your ride.
I arrived at the Wiregrass Park-’n-Ride lot at 12 p.m, fifteen minutes prior to the departure time, to find that my bus was already there and ready to go. At almost exactly 12:15, the bus left the station and my ride to TIA had begun.
As the bus made its way down Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., which is the road that makes up more than half of Route 275LX (in terms of scheduled stops), I was skeptical as to how smooth the bus ride would be when traversing the obstacle course of construction that is BBD. By the time we had reached our first stop, which was to pick up one passenger waiting at the HART stop just before the corner of Highwoods Preserve Pkwy. and BBD in New Tampa, I hadn’t felt a single bump in the road or pothole (of which there are plenty) while traveling the route. In fact I was surprised with the ease and speed at which the bus had reached the stop.
As a daily commuter living in Wesley Chapel, I was happy to be able to relax, sit back and trust that the bus would get me down the road safely, giving me time to stare out the window, which is a rarity for those of us in the area who have to deal with BBD traffic on a daily basis.
It was clear that there are still those out there who would prefer not to be at the mercy of a bus schedule, as there were only three passengers, including me, who got on at the Wiregrass Park-’n-Ride and the bus only stopped to pick up three people at the nine scheduled stops in New Tampa. Although HART provides a punctual and efficient service, most of us would still rather take matters into our own hands, even if that means giving up the ability to relax and not have to stress about traffic.
What HART has already done very well, however, is that they’ve made Route 275LX the best deal in town. The fact that $2 can now get you a one-way ticket to TIA from the Wiregrass Park-’n-Ride is astounding. The gas you would burn on the drive would cost far more than the $2 it will take to ride the bus all the way there. If you’re planning on picking someone up from the airport, or just want to go somewhere downtown and come back to Wiregrass, your round-trip will come to a grand total of $4.
“Two dollars from Wesley Chapel to the airport is an incredible deal,” Pedro reiterated. “An Uber or taxi would cost you $30 to $40, at least.” So, when it comes to value, Route 275LX is definitely the best bang for your buck.
There are some downsides to this otherwise tremendous service, however, the first and foremost being that HART has no facilities to accommodate overnight parking anywhere along Route 275LX. This seemed to be the most pressing concern among those who attended the most recent Economic Development Briefing on July 26th, where HART representatives discussed the new route with the members of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
As it stands, you will still need to get a ride to the bus stop if you plan to take the new route to the airport. The Park-’n-Ride locations take no responsibility when it comes to overnight parking and HART has urged those who wish to utilize this service to not leave their car in these locations overnight. This means that if you have a trip out of town and want to ride the bus to the airport, you will need to sort out some plans for getting back home and may have to rely on someone with a car, regardless of the fact you’re attempting to use public transportation.
Of course, not everyone is going to the airport. I spoke with one passenger who was on her way to the International Mall. Tonya Gonzalez told me she is an infrequent user of HART’s services. She said that the bus was, “a nice way to get to the mall from downtown,” and that, “the $4 round-trip price tag was worth it for a ride.” She also explained that the gas it would take for her to drive from her stop at USF Pine Dr. and BBD in North Tampa to the International Plaza/Westshore Blvd. stop would cost quite a bit more than hopping on a HART bus and would also put wear on her personal vehicle, so the bus is “a convenient alternative.”
At noon on a Wednesday, there were only a handful of passengers who took Route 275LX. Out of the 28 total scheduled stops, we only gathered a total of 10 people, including yours truly, over the course of my trip. This granted me an enjoyably empty bus ride but it could vary depending on the chosen day you wish to ride, as well as what time you do so. A HART representative I spoke with told me that weekdays during rush hour traffic and early in the morning are the busiest times for the route. My bus left on time, rode for exactly 1 hour and 35 minutes, and arrived at the airport right on schedule. While my experience was ideal, I can’t promise that this will always be the case, especially on weekdays during morning rush hour, but it worked out perfectly for me.
As I see it, there are many reasons to take advantage of this new service. I believe that Route 275LX could become a more utilized alternative to driving and could even help alleviate some of the traffic woes that are so prevalent in the area, especially along BBD.
Route 275LX is a step in the right direction and I hope it becomes more widely used. If you have the time, take the bus. It will save you gas and eliminate the unnecessary stress of driving through Tampa.
HART’s Route 275LX leaves the Wiregrass Park-’n-Ride every hour between 6:15 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day.