NEW TAMPA - A professional business park north of East Fletcher Avenue is the latest destination in Hillsborough County's first innovative transit system that uses GPS technology for quicker bus trips to and from downtown.
Area politicians and community leaders gathered early this week under a tent at the Hidden River Regional Park-n-Ride at Hidden River Corporate Park to celebrate the launch of HART's new MetroRapid North-South bus service.
It is the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority's premiere, bus service between downtown and the northeast suburbs.
MetroRapid North-South is a 17.5-mile transit route from the Marion Street Center downtown to the corporate park west of Interstate 75. Buses travel a route along Nebraska and Fletcher avenues, with stops at Telecom Park in Temple Terrace en route to the park-n-ride at Hidden River.
The MetroRapid North-South commute should take about one hour, compared to the 90-minute trip on a local bus route, officials said.
Leaders touted the new service as an investment in future economic development for Tampa, Temple Terrace and Hillsborough County.
"I am happy that Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County commissioners made this really important investment," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said. The Tampa congresswoman stressed the importance of the project "connecting the great cities of Temple Terrace and Tampa and Hillsborough County to get people to their jobs."
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan sees continued growth for HART ridership as more bus riders experience faster trips to work, home and other important destinations, he said.
Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura lauded the project as "a shining example of giving back to the community." Every dollar the community invests in public transportation will result in roughly a $4 economic return, he said.
MetroRapid buses will travel on city streets amid regular vehicular traffic. However, they will make faster trips because of limited stops and new GPS-based technology to extend green traffic signals or shorten red lights.
The Transit Signal Priority technology is designed to shave travel time on the route by 10 percent to 15 percent.
MetroRapid North-South route will serve 59 new bus shelters. The stations are spaced out about every 2,600 to 4,000 feet as compared with local route bus stops at 750 to 1,250 feet.
The route aims to attract riders from Temple Terrace, New Tampa and other northeast suburbs who work downtown and patrons from South and Central Tampa who commute to work in the corporate parks off East Fletcher Avenue.
The Hidden River park-n-ride, tucked in a bend on Hidden River Parkway, has 320 parking spaces. Its distinctive lime green and brushed nickel-colored bus shelter features an automated ticket vending machine, so riders can buy tickets in advance to reduce boarding time.
Hillsborough County contributed $26.5 million and the federal government gave $5 million to help HART create a state-of-the-art transit system. HART returned $8.8 million to the county when project costs were lower than expected.