RTS ridership at a new high, but eastside routes a concern


Rosa Brooks, left, and Charlotte Richardson, right, will be affected greatly when the Gainesville Regional Transit System reduces routes on the east side of town due to funding cuts, shown at the Walmart Supercenter bus stop on Route 2, Wednesday, October 10, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. "Why this route?" asked Rosa Brooks. "How will we get to the Health Department, or how will mothers pick up their children after school?"

Erica Brough/Staff Photographer
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 5:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 5:21 p.m.

For the Gainesville Regional Transit System, it's a time of record ridership and continued challenges with bus service on the eastside.

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Rosa Brooks, left, and Charlotte Richardson, right, will be affected greatly when the Gainesville Regional Transit System reduces routes on the east side of town due to funding cuts, shown at the Walmart Supercenter bus stop on Route 2, Wednesday, October 10, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. "Why this route?" asked Rosa Brooks. "How will we get to the Health Department, or how will mothers pick up their children after school?"

Erica Brough/Staff Photographer

Propelled by University of Florida and Santa Fe College students, who compose an estimated 75 percent of the ridership, RTS totaled 10.74 million passengers for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 -- up some 700,000 from the prior year's record.

At the same time, a $120,000 cut in county government's funding for bus service outside the city limits is expected to mean the elimination of the well-established Route 2 on the eastside and reduced hours of service on routes 7 and 13.

At public input meetings in September, residents relayed their concerns about the looming loss of Route 2, which runs from the Rosa Parks Downtown Station to the Walmart Supercenter on Waldo Road and includes stops in the Robinson Heights neighborhood and at Prairie View Elementary, which is a center for the early childhood education Head Start program.

Stacey Shaw lives off Southwest 20th Avenue west of Interstate 75 and takes three buses, including Route 2 -- to get her son to Prairie View.

"I rely on RTS for all my transportation," she said. "Losing Route 2 would hurt me and many mothers and their children."

Doug Robinson, the chief transit planner for RTS, said in response to public concerns, the plan is to expand another route, Route 27, to cover all of Route 2.

The proposed route changes are expected to go to the City Commission on Nov. 1 and would take effect on Dec. 31.

Another challenge for bus service in east Gainesville is the 60-minute headway -- or time between buses -- on the routes in the area. As part of the fiscal year 2012-13 budget, RTS sought an increase of some $778,000 and eight additional employees to enhance service on eastside routes.

The City Commission approved a more modest enhancement -- $140,000 to reduce the time between buses to 30 minutes on well-traveled Route 11. When that takes effect Dec. 31, the Alachua County Health Department will also be added as a stop on that route.

City Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said it is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done.

"We have four routes on the eastside that we really need to get up to every half hour," she said. "People can't rely on it to get back and forth to work or to their medical appointments because the bus is every hour."

The City Commission had hoped to use money from a -cent sales tax for transit to enhance bus service on the eastside -- if voters approved that tax in next month's referendum.

But a divided County Commission voted 3-2 not to put that transit tax on the ballot. Their majority felt planning for the city's envisioned bus rapid transit system -- which the city also had on its submitted project list -- was not far enough along to ask the voters for funding.

As it stands, Santa Fe and UF students make up 3/4 of the RTS ridership and the majority of its budget. University of Florida students pay an $8-per-credit-hour transportation fee for unlimited ridership. Money from UF, including revenues from those fees, amounted to $11.26 million or 51 percent of the $21.6 million RTS budget in fiscal year 2011-12.

Santa Fe students pay a $3-per-credit-hour fee for unlimited ridership, and money from the college made up about $1.1 million or 5 percent of the RTS budget last fiscal year.

Enhanced bus service to the SF College campus began in August 2011.

RTS spokesman Chip Skinner said Santa Fe students were a driving factor in the approximately 700,000 increase in ridership from fiscal year 2010-11 to fiscal year 2011-12.

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