by LISA MACNEIL
At the August 13, 2019 Board of County Commissioners regular meeting, Planning Director Ron Pianta introduced the update to the Hernando County Transit Development Plan (TDP), which is updated every five years, and proposed a plan for the next ten years. The board voted 5-0 to approve the plan, and to submit to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) no later than September 1, 2019.
Top improvements and expansions in the plan for TheBus, including adding Saturday service between 8 AM and 5 PM, and expanding hours of operation during weekdays until 9 PM. Commuter service to Ridge Manor (twice in the morning, twice in the afternoon) is planned for sometime before 2024, as well as securing a major transfer facility.
Asela Silva of Tindale Oliver, a transportation planning firm, gave a comprehensive presentation to the board, noting that it is not a budget, Capital Improvement Plan or binding in anyway. Although the changes and improvements brought forth in the plan are expected to result in costs to the county, each item will be brought to the board before implementation for approval, which will consider budget impacts individually. Such changes would also be considered annually as part of the budget process.
The TDP is also a requirement by the FDOT, should funding be available for improvements.
During July, Hernando county residents were encouraged to attend two workshops held at the Spring Hill Library and Brooksville City Hall. Email outreach was also conducted to get feedback from those unable to attend. The top improvements were tallied from citizen feedback.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked Pianta about the need for a transfer station. The subject arose in a recent meeting, and was summarily explained that the lease agreement was terminated by new property owners of Mariner Square where the transfer station was located. Pianta stated that the need for a new transfer station was recognized before the Mariner Square lease was terminated, and that the county will need to work it into the ten year plan due to the significant investment and planning effort.
Commissioner John Allocco believes that the county should go to the business owners on Cortez Blvd. with a proposal for erecting a permanent structure for the transfer station. Allocco said, “It shouldn’t be a question of getting (a property owner) to buy in, they should be fighting over which side of the street they have it on … It doesn’t seem like a very good business decision for someone to lose the bus stop in front of their business.”
Allocco, who is also the Chairman of the Transportation Disadvantaged Board asked why more buses are not serving area schools to accommodate students who don’t drive and may want to participate in after-school activities. Pianta agreed, but cautioned there were “severe funding constraints” when mixing public transportation with the public school system.
Allocco suggests removing the “silos” that prevent the two systems from working together.
Dukes added that service to Masaryktown should also be considered, since Ridge Manor is planned. Pianta cited a population density difference between the two, where ridership to Masaryktown may not justify a separate route until possibly 2029.
Silva went on to list several other goals in the ten year plan, such as shared parking in the I-75 vicinity and upgraded fare boxes (Flamingo Fares™).
Hernando County resident Gretchen Samter added that extending hours is also important to keep people working and attending college. “Right now, people can get to work, and they can’t get home … Students can get to class, but not home.” Samter also added that the cost of owning a vehicle, notably insurance costs is putting more people in the “transportation disadvantaged” category.
With several years available for planning, ridership will be surveyed and reported to the board for action if necessary.
The full list of planned improvements:
• Add Saturday service to existing routes
• Extend service hours on existing routes (Monday – Friday)
• Add AM and PM peak hour bus service to Ridge Manor by 2024
• Consider 30-minute headways on major performing routes by 2029
• Continue with the ADA bus stop improvement program
• Continue with a transit stop amenity program for benches and shelters
• Secure a major transfer facility (secure a location and development)
• Implement regional mobile fare payment technology
• Continue vehicle replacement program
• Support land use planning techniques that encourage transit