HART student ridership rates increase

As gas prices continue to climb, more students and faculty members have taken advantage of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) U-Pass ridership program for free rides to campus.

According to a HART release, the total number of riders in February was 1,138,046 – an overall 19 percent increase in ridership from January. In addition, U-Pass ridership increased by 18 percent, HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia said.

The U-Pass program allows all USF students to ride HART buses for free with their USF ID. Faculty and staff members can also ride for 25 cents with a valid USF ID.

Various routes take students from USF’s main campus to locations around the Tampa Bay area, yet the routes most used by USF students still remain the three routes closest to home – routes 5, 6 and 18, which run through campus along 40th Street, 56th Street and 30th Street respectively

In addition to escalating gas prices – according to tampagasprices.com, the Tampa average is $3.523 per gallon and the national average is $3.572 per gallon as of Monday night – Mejia said other reasons for the increase include “more late-night services as well as more added shelters along the routes.”

One in seven stops now has a covered bench and some buses now run until midnight, she said.

“Late-night service was added in the last few years because of feedback we received from customers and the public,” she said.

Javaris Edgecombe, a senior majoring in public health, said he started using the HART bus system when he came to USF as a freshman.

“At the time I had no other transportation and I used (the bus) to get to school,” he said.

Edgecombe, who now owns a car, said he no longer rides the bus but still thinks people can benefit from the transportation system, especially with the high cost of gas.

“The bus staff are really friendly and helpful in getting you where you need to go quickly,” Edgecombe said. “If it’s not necessary to drive, then don’t drive.”

Reynaldo Jackson, a graduate student majoring in medical sciences, said he rides the bus occasionally.

“Yes, I own a car, but as a USF student I get a free ride on HART with my USF student ID,” he said. “Sometimes I decide to take the bus just for the fun of catching a ride to school. The trip gives me time to relax and study on my way to school.”

Jackson and Edgecombe said one of the only drawbacks to riding the HART buses is the wait times.

According to the HART program’s website, the waiting period for any one bus stop is, at most, 20 minutes. Jackson said this delay, along with the actual time it takes the bus to arrive at its destination, could take an hour or more out of a typical day.