by Brandon Henry, USF student / planning intern
MetroRapid, Hillsborough County’s first foray into a Bus Rapid Transit service, had its official public debut May 28. From a passenger’s viewpoint, MetroRapid has a lot of promise for your average commuter. From 15-minute frequency to quick service, it covers a 17.5 mile route in about an hour, currently running between downtown Tampa and the Hidden River Regional Park-n-Ride via Nebraska and Fletcher Avenues. New technology, such as traffic signal priority, are introduced, using GPS to give buses priority at traffic signals by extending green lights or shortening red lights as needed.
Judging by its first day in service, MetroRapid offered a very good first impression. The buses are brand new, and the stop shelters themselves a work of art, simple pavilions oozing in a modern sleekness. The service itself was amazingly convenient, especially the 15-minute frequency, lessening the need to plan commutes far in advance or even look at schedules. Other features includes ticket vending machines at the MetroRapid stops, so passengers can purchase their tickets prior to boarding and real-time display boards telling passengers exactly when the next bus will arrive.
Riders were openly delighted at the speed of their trip. It’s also worth mentioning that the trip was completely free, and will be for the first two weeks of service (through June 7), with regular local fares applying afterward. However, some passengers were unaware of MetroRapid’s selectivity in stops, limited to only the signature green-and-gray MetroRapid shelters, necessary in order to offer such quicker service. A couple passengers were insistent on having a schedule on hand, despite the 15-minute frequency. But overall, reception by the public was excellent. As one passenger exclaimed as he exited a MetroRapid bus at the Marion Transit Center, “I love MetroRapid!”