Shane Nagel, 25, frequently uses Hernando County’s mass transit system to get to his job at Taco Bell in Spring Hill.
The problem has been that he could get to work but had problems catching a ride home because the last ride of the day was between 5:30 and 6 p.m.
Now that the county has added on an extra bus loop and tacked on 95 minutes to the final rides, Nagel believes life will be easier.
But Nagel said the county didn’t go far enough. He said in New Jersey, buses run 24-7 and now that this area has become more developed the buses should stay on the streets at least until 10 or 11 p.m.
“It’s a start,” he said of the expanded routes. “But I think their ‘start’ should have been a little more than is given.”
Metropolitan Planning Organization members had asked staff to explore the feasibility of extending bus route hours to accommodate workers who want to use public transit to go home.
The MPO voted Tuesday on a new transit schedule that will add five hours of service daily.
To accommodate the later hours, the bus times for all three transit routes will start 20 minutes later in the morning.
The last bus will head out of Brooksville at 7:35 p.m. instead of the current 6 p.m. That bus, which follows the “purple” route, covers the most ground and extends from Brooksville into Spring Hill.
The two other routes, known as the “red” and the “blue” lines, will expand hours to 7:07 p.m. and 6:52 p.m., respectively.
MPO Chairman Wayne Dukes said it is imperative that staff track the users of the new, expanded bus service to see if it justifies the extra cost and will continue.
“It’s all about, unfortunately, dollars and cents,” Dukes said.
The extra afternoon hours will see an increase of about $50 per operating day due to the increase in operating mileage — 90 miles — for the extra loops.
The total estimated annual operating expense for these changes will be $68,500.
David Philipson, a regular bus rider, asked the board to consider the needs of the community’s disadvantaged and low-income people who view THE Bus more of a necessity than a luxury.
Being able to accommodate more people on expanded routes would lead to fewer vehicles on the road and help the county lower its carbon footprint, Philipson said.
The new routes would be started by June 3, allowing time to get the word out to the public, advertise and market the new hours and develop new schedules.
During fiscal year 2012, county commissioners approved a service modification to increase the frequency of the fixed-route system from 120 minutes to 75-minute headways.
Since then, ridership has increased about 3 percent from the same period the previous year, according to MPO statistics.
Commissioner Diane Rowden said the news should be welcome to bus riders.
“I think it will help not only with the fact you have people who take the bus because they might not have transportation, you might also have people who don’t want to fight the hassles of driving on State Road 50 during this construction.”
SR 50 is being widened from U.S. 19 to the Suncoast Parkway.
Also at this week’s MPO meeting:
The Hernando County connection would be at the Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College, off U.S. 19.
There is also a study under way by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority looking into the possibility for a more regional route.
Rowden said she would also like to see a bus route to the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, to accommodate people who work there.