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Mapping success for bus service

By (editorial)
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

Although ridership is slightly higher than predicted, there are still too many empty seats on THE Bus, Hernando County's fledgling public transit system.

But two transportation advisory committees have hatched several ideas to expand the bus service, and the County Commission is scheduled to review those results at a meeting Thursday in Brooksville. If the commission accepts its staff's recommendation, a public hearing will be held in mid March to further discuss, and possibly approve, the suggestions. Any changes would be budgeted for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The committees, one comprised of technicians and the other of residents, each listed five priorities for improving service and ridership on the buses. They agreed that expanding the hours of service from the current 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., is the most needed improvement. The committees also concurred that adding Saturday to the present Monday-Friday schedule would attract more riders.

Both ideas are sound, and should extend the appeal of the bus service beyond its present base of riders who are senior citizens.

Clearly, seniors are the target audience for the transit service, and the county's transportation planners are well aware of the need to serve that group of residents. However, the county's emerging demographics also dictate a clear need to reach out to other segments of the population.

One of those groups is working people, particularly those in the service industry. By leaving a little earlier and returning later, the buses could serve as reliable transportation for people who work traditional business hours.

Another group that would benefit from extended hours is students. Youngsters could use the bus to return home from extra-curricular after-school activities. At a discounted fair of only 25 cents, the transportation is remarkably affordable. Adding bus service on Saturday also should appeal to young people who are old enough to socialize on their own, but too young to drive.

Those are just two common sense ideas. Other suggestions the advisory committees are offering include expanding service in Brooksville, and farther south in Spring Hill, to reach Spring Hill Regional Hospital and the nearby medical offices.

If the County Commission implemented all the suggestions by the committees, its share of the expense would be no more than $200,000. That's money well-spent at a crucial time as THE Bus seeks to become a fixture in the community.

The commission should keep its focus on the long-term need of the bus service, and do all it can to make it as much of a success as possible -- as early in the process as possible. The committees' well-reasoned suggestions are a step in that direction.

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