Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
News

Bus stop benches clear big hurdle

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BROOKSVILLE - The county got some good news this week about providing benches for people who now have to stand at area bus stops.

Ron Pianta, assistant county administrator for planning and development, got together with Assistant County Administrator for Operations Brian Malmberg to draft an exemption to an ordinance that would allow advertising on benches and bus shelters provided they are on official bus routes and designated stops.

A stumbling block all along had been a county ordinance that prohibits advertising in rights of way, where some of these benches would be located.

The county plans to receive revenue from the companies or agencies advertising on the benches.

County commissioners unanimously approved holding a requisite public hearing on the matter prior to adoption.

County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, who has been pushing the idea for several months, praised staff for coming up with the amended ordinance because the lack of benches is a hardship for disabled residents.

"This is one step that needs to take place," Nicholson said at Tuesday's meeting.

David Philipsen of Weeki Wachee said bus benches will benefit himself and many of the estimated 18 percent of other disabled people in Hernando County.

Philipsen suffers from mild cerebral palsy and relies on public transportation to get around Hernando County.

Currently, most stops have only a sign by the side of the road and people must stand there sometimes as long as 20 minutes. Some feel too exposed and unsafe under those conditions, Philipsen said.

"(This) makes the bus system much better," he said. "It will attract new riders, and it will give them a safe feeling."

Philipsen, recently appointed citizen representative for the disabled on the county's Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board, said he will continue to make sure the program moves forward.

Pianta said the benches will have to be compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires an accessible path to the bench, a sidewalk and concrete path.

Unlike other counties, such as Pasco, the county does not offer seats. Citrus County recently approved a bench program.

Nicholson and his colleagues do not know how much it will cost the county but hope that advertising on the benches would more than pay for the initial cash expenditure.

The county must also determine which bus stops would initially get the benches, although the ultimate aim is to install them at all locations.

Hernando County has been receiving inquiries from companies seeking to advertise on the benches but the county will go through the procurement process and seek bids.

During fiscal year 2012, the system provided more than 72,000 passenger trips, according to a staff report. From July through November 2012, there was a 3-percent increase in ridership from the same period in 2011, the report shows.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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