The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has some good news for students who burn the midnight oil.
Beginning today, nine HARTline routes will extend scheduled hours past midnight on weekdays and offer a few more hours of service on weekends.
The county organization decided to extend hours for certain routes because they had the highest ridership in the system, HART spokeswoman Jill Cappadoro said.
Longer hours and service have also been added to routes throughout southern Hillsborough County and New Tampa.
Discounted fare programs for seniors, teenagers younger than 17, riders with disabilities or those on Medicare are also being offered.
Today’s extension has been months in planning, and Cappadoro said passengers won’t have to face increased fare to make up funds used to purchase the nine new buses and approximately 30 new operators hired to support the service expansion. That money comes from the community’s ad valorem, or taxes paid by local residents.
Routes 1, 2, 6, 8, 12, 30, 32, 34 and 83 all have extended hours to midnight or later during weekdays. Weekend schedules, however, are still more limited than weekday runs, generally starting around 6 a.m. and ending in the early evening.
For local USF commuters, several routes along Florida Avenue, Nebraska Avenue, Hillsborough Avenue and 56th Street have extended night hours, with final trips of the day leaving the downtown Transit Center around midnight.
With up to four more hours of service along nine routes, commuters traveling to the USF area from downtown can catch a Route 6 bus from the Marion Transit Center just after midnight and arrive at Fowler and 50th an hour later. Before, USF-bound bus riders had to hop on the last bus before 8 p.m., getting home by 9.
Cappadoro said the switches were made in primarily urban routes that serve businesses with late-night work shifts, like restaurants, malls and hospitals.
“Before, if you worked the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, we could get you to work, but never get you home,” Cappadoro said.
HART shares a contract with the University that allows students to ride most of HARTline’s system free and offers faculty and staff a discounted price of 25 cents per ride when they show a USF identification card. The contract is set to expire in summer 2007.
However, according to HARTline’s Web site, the discounts do not apply to certain services, including “express routes, event shuttles, In-Town trolleys or the TECO Line Streetcar System.”
Cappadoro said riding the bus is a no- to low-cost alternative to driving for USF students and faculty, considering time often spent searching for a parking spot or walking to class.
“Your time is your own when somebody else is driving,” Cappadoro said. “You can read, you can catch 40 winks, you can have a nice conversation.”
However, those using the bus might have to budget more travel time. After taking a small sample of possible trips commuters would take to and from the University area and calculating those trips with online services such as Mapquest.com and Google.com’s “Transit Labs,” it’s easy to see the differences for drivers and riders.
To compare driving and bus ride times and to find maps and bus schedules detailing HARTline’s routes and hours, individuals can access HART’s Web site, www.hartline.org.