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The Hope of U-Pass, The Hype of U-Pass

Published: Monday, August 26, 2002

Updated: Thursday, September 4, 2008 14:09

At 4:04 p.m. on a balmy July afternoon, Anita Bidurukontam sits with her legs crossed, waiting for the number 5. With her reflective sunglasses, citrus colored shirt and white slacks, the first year computer science graduate student looks as if she belongs in a sunny café along the Mediterranean coast, sipping an iced tea. But instead she’s alone at a characteristically busy HARTline bus stop along Leroy Collins Boulevard outside the Administration Building. She looks as if she is somehow outside the heat, outside the drone of Bull Runner shuttles passing by.

When she speaks, she does so softly, in few words, with politeness and not a hint of discomfort. She explains that she rides HARTline not because she has to, but because she prefers to.

“It’s more convenient,” she says.

She is reluctant to offer any criticism at all for the county’s public transportation provider, insisting that her buses are routinely on time, with polite and helpful service. Always.

And, at least with this bus, she’s right. The 5 comes into view one minute before the schedule says it should arrive. Bidurukontam, who is on her phone, hangs up and calmly gathers her stuff together.

As she does, the bus rumbles up, slowing down only slightly with the door open and a the driver belts, “Route 5, route 5,” into the bus’ loudspeaker. When he sees that no one is standing at the edge of the road waving him down, he moves on, leaving Bidurukontam at the stop.

The Choice Riders

Despite the mishap, Bidurukontam is exactly the type of rider HARTline is trying to reach on campus. Claiming responsibility for the transit needs of all of Hillsborough County, HARTline (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Line) serves a population of more than 900,000 and makes slightly less than nine and a half million trips per year, according to the 2002 Florida Transit Handbook. But, as impressive as those figures sound, HARTline could be doing a lot better, especially at USF. Sure, there are a number of students who currently ride the bus because they have no other alternative, but it’s the people who have a choice that HARTline wants to convert. And, in a small way, they’re succeeding.

According to HARTline's 2002 Community Report, “Making Connections,” 51 percent of the current HARTline users ride the bus by choice, a five percent increase from the amount of choice riders in 1997.

But that doesn’t mean USF students are riding. Rick Fallin, transportation supervisor for USF’s Parking and Transportation Services said that, based on a survey performed a few years ago, less than one percent of USF students actually ride HARTline buses. And while HARTline regular ridership only accounts for about two percent of the entire population of Hillsborough County, there is little doubt at HARTline that student ridership numbers can be improved.

That’s why the organization has partnered with Parking and Transportation Services to create a program geared specifically towards students. Starting this fall, students will be able to ride any HARTline bus anywhere for free. Whether a student is traveling from their apartment to campus or making a trip between two off-campus locations, all they will have to do is show their student I.D., and they will be exempt from paying the bus fare.

But, according to some students, having to pay a fare isn’t the problem.

Service Matters

Temmira Nicholson, a junior majoring in social work, has been riding HARTline since she was a teenager. With years of riding experience under her belt, Nicholson was somewhat critical when discussing the current bus service.

When asked if she considered HARTline's service to be good, Nicholson responded, “I wouldn’t go for good. There’s times when it can be bad because it’s hot and you’re waiting for the bus, but it comes late.”

Nicholson added that, even when the buses are on time, the drivers are sometimes a problem.

“Sometimes you might meet a real nice bus driver, and sometimes you might meet a real snobby bus driver who’ll get kind of sarcastic with you,” she said.

Lastly, Nicholson noted that cleanliness is also an issue on the bus at times. Summing up the issues she believes HARTline should address to improve service, Nicholson said, “They should have cleaner buses, have more sheds at their stops and have their bus drivers at least improve on how they treat people … and don’t be so late.”

Katie Neely offered a different perspective. Donning a freshly issued Honors Program T-shirt, the freshman said that, as a car driver, HARTline is occasionally a problem. “I think it’s a traffic hazard,” she said. “People drive so fast down here, and then when the bus stops, if you’re behind them … I keep almost crashing into them.”

While the complaint might seem a bit irrelevant at first, the statistics seem to back her up. Based on information from the 2002 Florida Transit Handbook, HARTline ranks last in the state when it comes to safety incidents per mile traveled. While, in many cases, an “incident” is simply a minor safety issue on board, the figure does include auto accidents.

Freshman Carlin Nguyen offered a different perspective. Braving the summer heat in a long-sleeve shirt, Nguyen put his reasons for not riding HARTline bluntly.

“It’s just the time,” he said. “It takes a long ass time just to get to one place. I’d rather drive my car.”

And he has a point.

While travel times from the campus to some locations, such as Ybor City and downtown, are relatively comparable to traveling by auto, other trips aren’t nearly as reasonable. Based on research done by The Oracle, a bus trip to the Brandon Town Center from USF takes, on average, slightly less than five hours round-trip. Going to International Plaza takes almost three hours round-trip. For HARTline riders who have no transportation choice, this is a major inconvenience. For those who have an option, it makes the decision of whether to take the bus a fairly quick one.

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