Destany Mackey got to test ride HART’s inaugural MetroRapid bus service Tuesday and if her experience is shared by others, the new brand vehicles will be the success the transit company has anticipated.
“I have been noticing the modern green and gray bus shelters going up along Nebraska and Fletcher avenues,” Mackey said. “So today I tried the new bus and it’s a different ride – big gaps between the stations, not so many stops and it’s a lot faster.”
Not often do transit riders get to ride a vehicle with the fresh smell of a new car. That was the case Tuesday as the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority launched a dozen new buses – two more are spares – that cost $393,801 each on the 17.5-mile route between downtown and the Hidden River Corporate Park in the northeast suburbs.
MetroRapid rides will be free through June 7, both to draw passengers to the new service and give those accustomed to riding Route 2, which MetroRapid parallels, a chance to become familiar with changing buses en route to reach Route 2 stops.
The buses are the same type as HART’s newest conventional buses, with 37 seats, but are equipped with Traffic Signal Priority equipment that can automatically shorten red traffic signals and extend green lights at 40 intersections.
Ridership was sparse as expected in the early hours after MetroRapid began running at 5 a.m. and throughout midday.
But it picked up with riders heading to and from work along the route parallel to Route 2 – HART’s busiest – which provides some assurance Tampa’s first new transit system stands a chance to become popular.
“MetroRapid adds a touch of something modern to the routes it travels,” HART spokeswoman Sandra Pinto said. An obvious difference between a MetroRapid ride and conventional bus trip is the specially branded, covered MetroRapid stations built in three types, compared with some bus stops with no benches or cover.
The largest stations equip 12 MetroRapid stops and have ticket vending machines to help speed boardings.
“For me, it’s a chance to do something new,” said HART driver Chris Pearson, who has worked for the transit company since 2004. “So far, so good,” he said midway through his eight-hour shift that began at 11:30 a.m.
But HART officials realize they have a big sales and marketing job to familiarize passengers to the new service.