Your commute to Tampa could soon include a ride in a Tesla.
The program aims to solve one of the biggest problems in public transportation commonly referred to as "first mile, last mile" because getting to and from public transportation is often the most difficult part of the trip for a commuter.
The HART Hyperlink, which uses an app similar to Uber and Lyft, has been rolled out so far in Brandon, Carrollwood, and the area around the University of South Florida (USF), and could expand beyond that soon.
"Big picture, we're beyond the bus," says Katherine Eagan, the CEO of HART, to ABC Action News on Thursday.
ABC Action News has also learned that, thanks to a new partnership with the Tampa Innovation Alliance, two of the vans used for pickups will be Tesla Model X, vehicles the size of a minivan, and more Tesla vehicles could be added to the program as well.
"The success of the Innovation Alliance is based on being able to get from these incubators to another incubator and this is a perfect way for us to carve out another way to serve the community and for them to remove a barrier for them to be successful," adds Eagan to ABC Action News.
The Tampa Innovation Alliance (TIA), which is funded by some of the major institutions surrounding the University Area, sees the Hyperlink as a way to improve the area for the people who live and work there. Currently the area is notorious for traffic and as a dangerous place for bicyclists and pedestrians.
"Tesla vehicles are an exciting part of the future and we hope at some point we'll have autonomous vehicles moving up and down in the area," says TIA Director Mark Sharpe to ABC Action News, adding that Vision Zero is another important step in the process of transforming the area.
Two Tesla vehicles are being leased by TIA and are scheduled to debut on the streets of Hillsborough County by March. Sharpe says more Tesla vehicles could also be added to the program in the future.
Commuters who already use the HART Hyperlink tell ABC Action News they have already found the program to be a huge benefit.
“It just got to be too much sometimes you know,” Nicole Jefferson said, remembering long, hot walks to catch the bus.
Now, she rides there in the AC of a Hyperlink van.
“It’s convenient, you know, I don’t have to walk all the way down to the transit center,” Jefferson said.
She's been using HART's Hyperlink service for about a month now, using the app to set up rides for $3 a pop. The service picks you up and drops you off at the bus, or gives you a ride home from the bus stop, within a three mile radius.
“You know I don’t have a car, I don’t have a license so this is my main mode of transportation, I depend on it,” Jefferson said.
Hart said they're talking about expanding the service, potentially into Town n' Country, downtown and South County.
“Those are areas that it doesn’t make sense to put a 40-foot bus down through the neighborhoods so we’re looking at those neighborhoods where taking a smaller vehicle in and picking up the customer and bringing them to our bus system makes feasible sense,” Gregory Brackin, Director of Operation Support, said.
They've done about 1,500 rides since launching in November. Jefferson said she hopes they add the service near the building where she works.
“My job is currently outside of a 3-mile radius from any bus stop, so I have to walk,” she said.