HART Executive Director Philip Hale, who announced his retirement this week, merits applause for a job well done.
He built a strong team at the public transportation agency, grew ridership and developed Bus Rapid Transit service, where conventional buses make limited stops and have the technology to change traffic signals to help speed trips.
He’ll leave HART in good shape.
But we also agree with Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe that the change in leadership provides an opportunity for HART to expand its horizons.
Sharpe is advocating for a transportation agency that will explore transportation options beyond buses, including rail, and quickly embrace new technology, such as cellular equipment that locates buses and sends that information to smartphones.
Equally significant, Sharpe wants HART to explore partnerships with private operators to augment service and to more quickly meet citizens’ needs.
Such partnerships would make HART a far more agile operation.
Private vendors, collaborating with HART, could service segments of the community that might not be economic for the agency.
Sharpe acknowledges expanding and improving bus service must continue to a priority and rightly believes HART should explore such potential cost-cutting ideas as working with the school system to determine whether the agency could handle certain school bus routes.
With a task force of local leaders developing a comprehensive transportation strategy for the region this spring, and the possibility of a vote on a funding plan next year, the public needs to have confidence in Hillsborough’s public transportation agency. As Sharpe says, “We need an operation that is working on every element of the transportation problem from start to finish and that can engage the public in a whole new way.”
HART is by no means broken. But it can be much more than a traditional bus agency. Board members should position it for the future ride.