When it comes to riding a city bus alone, how young is too young?
HART has no policy regarding the minimum age a child can ride without supervision. That might change soon; Hillsborough Area Regional Transit planners are studying whether to adopt a policy setting a minimum age for unaccompanied travel.
HART planners Monday suggested implementing a policy Sept. 1 that children younger than 12 years old boarding a HART bus or paratransit van must be accompanied by someone older than 12.
Board members didn't make a decision Monday but told staff to further research the issue, including liability issues.
No timetable has been set for the review, but the discussion at Monday's committee meeting indicated there's no simple solution to the issue of transporting unaccompanied youngsters.
Young passengers are not particularly rare on the bus service. An informal survey of regularly scheduled bus runs indicates from 3 to 5 percent of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit passengers are younger than 12, although it's not certain how many travel unaccompanied.
Nor is there a common age among other transit agencies HART surveyed for youngsters to ride independently.
The minimum age to ride independently ranges from 6 at the Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority; 8 in Lakeland; 9 in Palm Beach County; 10 in Jacksonville; 16 in Hernando and Manatee counties; and 18 in Polk County.
"Apparently everybody struggles with this," board member Ron Govin said.
HART board members said the agency could face liability if it carried a youngster on a bus who encountered a problem, or if it left a youngster at a bus stop who might walk alone to his or her destination.
In addition, restricting the age of a passenger could affect HART's mission to serve the community, in particular poor families, board members suggested.
"It's a tough issue," HART attorney Chip Fletcher said.