More people are taking the bus in Hillsborough County than ever before, giving HART its third consecutive year of record ridership.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit planners expect to record 14.2 million passengers for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, the transit system's highest number ever.
Even during the height of last month's Republican National Convention, the bus system maintained its average daily ridership of 45,000 to 50,000 passengers, although some routes were altered because of street closures and many downtown offices were closed.
"More folks are realizing the value of transit, not only cost savings but convenience for many lifestyles," said Marcia Mejia, spokeswoman for HART.
HART officials hope changes coming to fruition in the next few months will continue to increase ridership.
Bus Rapid Transit service should begin in the spring on a 17.5 mile corridor between downtown and the Telecom Park/Hidden River Corporate Park in the northeast suburbs just west of Interstate 75.
The new service, which will be known as MetroRapid, is designed to reduce travel time along the route by 15 percent, in part by using traffic signal technology to cut wait times at intersections.
The second phase of Bus Rapid Transit will create an east-west route. The route is planned to run 16.4 miles, mainly along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hillsborough Avenue, connecting passengers from Tampa International Airport to the Temple Terrace area.
HART will host an open house Wednesday to update residents about the second phase. The open house will be from 4:40 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Net Park café meeting room, 5701 E. Hillsborough Ave.
The Hillsborough County Community investment tax funded all of the $34.8 million first phase of MetroRapid, which so far is running under budget by an estimated $5.7 million.
HART's proposed budget for the next fiscal year is 0.3 percent higher than the current budget. Planners have included $101.1 million for capital projects and bus, paratransit and streetcar service.
The budget includes an increase in the basic bus fare from $1.75 to $2 on Nov. 11.
That's when HART also will implement a handful of previously announced service changes, including the reduction of Route 28X to one daily trip, the combination of Routes 50X and 61 LX and the elimination of the Brandon Flex service on Saturdays.
Route improvements include extending the Brandon Flex regular service to Brandon Hospital and improving frequency on Routes 30, 34 and 39 from every 35 minutes to every 30 minutes.
The HART board will vote on the new budget on Sept. 24 during a 5:30 p.m. public hearing at its 1201 E. Seventh Ave. headquarters in Ybor City.