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USF shuttles close to reality

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


TAMPA -- After a three-year trip through bureaucracy, off-campus shuttle buses finally are due to arrive at the University of South Florida this fall.

At least, that's the hope.

Tampa's City Council removed one of the last major obstacles this month when it approved an agreement between the city and USF. It lets USF use $3-million of the impact fees assessed by the city to get the shuttles going.

People who have been working on this project are excited to see it coming closer to reality.

"We'll be able to extend (shuttle service) to a very densely student-populated area with the hope of reducing traffic on the campus and surrounding roads," said Rick Fallin, USF's transportation manager. "This should help greatly, especially during the early morning and afternoon periods of peak traffic. For every 10 or 15 people we can get on a bus, that's 10 or 15 cars off the road."

The off-campus shuttles would be an extension of the Bull Runner shuttles already operating on campus. Between July 1, 1999, and March, the Bull Runners gave 127,000 rides. Projected use of the off-campus route is 24,000 rides during the first year.

A survey by USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research showed more than 3,000 students living within 3 miles of campus.

"More than 90 percent just drive to campus every day," said Chris Hagelin, a research associate at the center. "That's why we have such high levels of congestion on Bruce B. Downs, Fowler and Fletcher. If we could provide a reliable alternative, maybe they'd stop."

The first route will take off-campus shuttles north of USF along 42nd and 46th streets from Fletcher Avenue on the south to Skipper Road on the north. That takes it past a dozen apartment complexes, condominiums, dorms and fraternities.

More than 1,100 students live along that route, Hagelin said.

Bus shelters will be built along the route, and buses will operate between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Once that route is established, routes to the east and west of campus will be added as funding becomes available. Money shouldn't be a big problem, said Hagelin, since a number of sources are available. They range from student fees to federal grants and even a small fare from riders. Right now, shuttle services are free.

The last major obstacle will be getting the buses. The time from order to delivery is at least 150 days, said Fallin. "The bus market isn't one that you can just go to a lot and pick up the vehicles you want," he said.

Hagelin said the university also would like improvements to some of the major intersections along the proposed route to ease congestion. That would eliminate the likelihood of delays.

Nobody likes to imagine frustrated students waiting for a bus that hasn't arrived on time.

"For this system to work, it's got to be quick and reliable, or else people will just jump in their cars," he said.

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