PLANT CITY, Fla. -- After talking with people who live in the Plant City area, Mayor Rick Lott is calling on transportation leaders to take the next steps toward an express route from Plant City to Downtown Tampa.
It's part of the options explored in the Plant City Transit Study, which has been assessing better, faster transit options from Plant City to Downtown Tampa as well as Lakeland.
Plant City is one of the fastest-growing areas in Hillsborough County with over 40,000 residents and strategically located between Tampa and Lakeland, according to Plan Hillsborough.
Currently, there is no bus service in Plant City. In the mid-2000s, HART and Plant City operated the Strawberry Connector service to provide circulator trips within Plant City, which ceased operation during 2008.
Starting in 2012, HART operated a commuter express service (Route 28X – East County Express) from Tampa to Plant City. Unfortunately, HART had to eliminate that service by 2017 since there was not enough ridership to serve that route, according to Plan Hillsborough.
However, Lott said when he rode the route during that time, it took more than an hour to get to Downtown Tampa.
“The individuals in the city, who would be a larger user, would drive out of the city to a church lot… It would zig-zag down and go down through Brandon and S.R. 60 and then back to downtown," Lott told fellow Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization leaders at a meeting on December 1, 2020.
He said that the whole route took more than an hour, which is just too long.
“No one expects to be on a bus for over an hour to get from Plant City to Downtown Tampa,” Lott said.
In speaking with citizens, Lott said the big desire now is express service from Downtown Plant City to Downtown Tampa.
Lott said local leaders have already been looking at a few possible sites as a connection in the I-4 corridor route.
“Even though we have more people coming to Plant City to work than leave, we still have a large population that comes to the Downtown Tampa and West Shore area,” Lott said.
If you look at Plant City, we are now a little over 42,000 people within city limits. However, within the metro area, there are 125,000 people, according to Lott.
He said there is a desire to discuss an option of an “on-demand” service, similar to the Downtowner in Downtown Tampa.
Other Hillsborough County leaders agree the more transportation in the Plant City area is critical to maintaining and supporting jobs and the economy.
“People who do not have a car are not able to get to work or do many of the things that they need to do,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman of Hillsborough County. “As Plant City has grown and invested a great deal of effort in bringing jobs into the city area, it’s critically important that those individuals who do not have a vehicle are able to go to work.”
However, funding remains a stumbling block. The operating costs for the proposed express route, among other new transit options for Plant City, are supposed to be paid for with the All for Transportation Tax Money that voters approved back in 2018.
That money remains tied up in a legal battle as Hillsborough County awaits a decision from the state's supreme court.