Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is a high-quality “train-like” transit service that runs on rubber tires. It brings many of the same features of rail, including speed, consistency, comfort, and convenience, at a lower cost. Around the world, areas that need high quality, high capacity premium transit are increasingly turning to BRT as an affordable and sustainable option. In the United States, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has provided funding to several cities for BRT, such as Eugene, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, describing BRT as a “fast and efficient” transit alternative that is growing in popularity.
The runningway, or where the vehicle operates, can be fully dedicated to only buses, dedicated to buses and turning vehicles, or mixed with other traffic. Stations are typically designed to be more attractive and comfortable than a traditional bus stop, and often include ticketing machines to pay for the fare before boarding, covered seating, lighting, security features, benches, and real-time information about when the next vehicle is arriving. Modern vehicles emphasizing passenger comfort provide amenities such as WiFi. Lower floors allow for easy boarding because there is no step up or down to board, and unique branding making vehicles easier to identify. BRT also incorporates technology like transit signal priority at intersections, advanced communication systems, and automated scheduling to make the service faster and more efficient.
Starting in 2016 and concluding in November of 2018, the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan (RTFP) was a two-year study to identify the vision for transit throughout the Tampa Bay region and define projects that could be most competitive for federal funding. The purpose of the Plan was to identify:
- Regional transit projects that have the greatest potential to be funded (compete for state and federal grants) and implemented
- Regional transit projects that are the most forward thinking and make the best use of today’s technology
- Regional transit projects that best serve our region today while supporting tomorrow’s growth
Meeting the goals above, the RTFP recommended a regional BRT catalyst project along Interstate 275 as the first project to be proposed by TBARTA. This catalyst is the regional transit project being evaluated and designed by the Regional Rapid Transit study.
The Regional Rapid Transit study, or RRT, is the Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study that will advance the RTFP catalyst bus rapid transit (BRT) project connecting Downtown St. Petersburg, the Gateway area, Westshore, Downtown Tampa, the USF area, and Wesley Chapel from concept towards implementation. While we know the project will use I-275, this two-year study will determine the amount of the route that is dedicated (uses a lane separate from cars) versus running in mixed traffic with other vehicles; the number, location, and types of stations; and how the vehicles will get to the stations. This study will also determine approximately how much it will cost and how to pay for it.
To get to these answers, the TBARTA team has begun the design and engineering phase. During this phase, the team will identify environmental and/or community concerns, address and consider how to alleviate those concerns, identify the best vehicle to use, and design how the service will operate.
The goal of the RRT is to connect Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties while delivering all-day modern mobility that provides quick, safe, reliable, frequent, and regional rapid service.
The RRT project addresses multiple regional needs?
• Stronger economic vitality to improve low average wages and low household income
• Lack of walkable neighborhoods
• Need to reduce pedestrian and cyclist’s injuries and fatalities
• Low regional transit use and ridership per capita
• Low regional investment in transit per capita
• Lack of permanent infrastructure investment to support development and redevelopment initiatives that would stimulate the regional economy
• Lack of quick and efficient regional transit services
• Lack of reliable mobility choices for residents attempting to travel to employment, retail, educational institutions, and health care services
• Continued growth in traffic congestion on regional interstates that increase travel time delays and commute costs
• Need to preserve our region’s quality of life, including air quality and job accessibility
The RTFP (see above for more information) identified numerous benefits of expanding regional transit, including:
• Mobility for residents and visitors
• Premium transit experience
• Access to jobs
• Economic development opportunities
The quantifiable benefits to result from the RRT project, including mobility improvements, environmental benefits, and economic development benefits will be details as the study evolves.
TBARTA is completing the Envision 2030 Regional Transit Development Plan for the five-county Tampa Bay region. The RRT project is included in the overall vision for the region and is meant to serve as a starting point for a regional transit network, which can expand in future years to serve other major activity centers in Tampa Bay. The RRT will complement the services of the region’s local transit providers. For more information about Envision 2030, visit here.
The primary route for the service is I-275 between downtown St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel. Between downtown St. Petersburg and I-275, the route is expected to use the Central Avenue BRT route along 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South. The route will use I-275 between downtown St. Petersburg and the Greater Gateway area in Pinellas County, continuing until the apex with I-75 to SR 54. There will also be a potential connection to Tampa International Airport.
The Regional Transit Feasibility Plan (RTFP) identified potential station areas. During the Regional Rapid Transit (RRT) study, the number of stations will be refined to include those that are highest performing, most needed, and feasible.
Freeway BRT is the type of BRT service the RRT would likely provide. The average distance between freeway BRT stations is approximately 2-3 miles. Subtracting the distance of the Howard Frankland Bridge and the portion of the route that travels through the preserve in northern Hillsborough County, this station spacing methodology would give us approximately 12-13 stations. As of October 2019, the TBARTA Board has directed the project team to focus on implementing 12-13 stations. Click here to view the map showing the stations included.
Where to place the stations within the station area is an important piece of the puzzle and will be studied in detail during Milestone 2 of the RRT study. The team will evaluate each station to determine what type of station could work best. This evaluation will not take a one-size fits all approach, but rather study each station area in detail to consider station design that best fits the character and needs of each community. Generally, the project team is evaluating three station types; those located within the interstate, those at street-level and immediately adjacent to the interstate, and those at street-level within each neighborhood. More details will be provided later in the study.
In accordance with the Federal Transit Administration, the RRT project seeks to meet the grant criteria for a dedicated BRT project. FTA requires that the majority of the project be within a dedicated bus lane or a lane dedicated to both buses and turning vehicles. The RTFP recommendation assumed that over 60% of the project would be in dedicated lanes. The RRT will revisit this assumption and also evaluate options to provide a dedicated transit lane along the entire 41-mile route.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is considering modernizing the existing interstate shoulders to allow for both an area for disabled vehicles and a fully dedicated transit lane. This could occur either on the inside or outside shoulder of the interstate. The RRT study is looking at options that avoid the need for any additional right-of-way (stay within the existing interstate footprint) while providing a truly modern multimodal facility. The determination of exactly how and where the lane is located will be determined by the RRT study.
The hours of operation will be determined later in the study. Modeling assumptions include service operating from 6:00AM to 12:00AM, with service every 10 minutes on weekdays. Operation will also include weekends, however the model used does not measure weekend service.
Each station will be different. The amount of parking will depend on the type of station, where it is located and the needs of the community it serves, and how many people are expected to drive to and from the station. The number of parking spaces at each station has yet to be defined and will accurately reflect the characteristics of each community and station. For example, stations located in the suburban areas like Wesley Chapel may have more parking than urban stations located in or near downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg, which may have little to no additional parking. Decisions regarding the amount of parking at each proposed station are anticipated for Spring 2020.
The time to travel from one end of the service to the other will be determined by how many stations there are, whether the service stops at all stations, and how much of the route is in its own dedicated lane (which makes the travel time more reliable and consistent). Until the number of stations and their locations are finalized, the time to travel between destinations is unknown. However, the goal of this study is to identify a service that can offer more reliable travel times as compared to driving the corridor in a personal vehicle.
Getting from your home, work, or other destination to the regional service or vice versa is an important consideration. Depending on where the first mile begins or your last mile ends, options could include walking, biking, driving, taking local transit, using rideshare (like Uber or Lyft), or even riding scooters.
As part of this project, the infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike lanes, will be considered when planning station areas. Parking will be built into the stations as needed, with more parking at the outer suburban stations and less parking (or none) at the more urban stations. The TBARTA team will also work with the local transit agencies (HART, PCPT, and PSTA) to make sure their transit routes connect into the RRT stations.
Yes. RRT is designed to be a catalyst service that encourages further transit development. Robust transit systems need a variety of service types to be successful and to serve the most people. This could include local bus, express bus, BRT, passenger rail, water ferry, and emerging transit technologies like gondolas and hyperloop. From short-distance trips served by local fixed-route transit to long-distance trips served by more regional service, there is a need for all types of transit in Tampa Bay. People want options and TBARTA is committed to serving multiple transit needs.
No, that is not the goal. This project is just one piece of a much larger regional transit network. TBARTA is currently developing a Regional Transit Development Plan to define this network which includes everything from passenger ferries to BRT to rail.
The RRT study is placing an emphasis on evaluating the potential for Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which is compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around high quality transit systems. The goal of this study is to define how each station can best serve the community and encourage economic growth. This will be accomplished by evaluating where the best opportunities for growth are, best opportunities to provide additional workforce and affordable housing options, best connections to local transit, best connections to sidewalks, bike facilities, and other mobility services, and the appropriate level of public investment in each station to attract private investment. The project team will be evaluating strategies to seek and foster seek public-private partnerships at station areas. TOD has great potential at street-level stations.
The suggested fare to ride the service will be determined later in the study.
The estimated project cost to build and operate will be calculated later in the study. The RTFP anticipated that the project may cost approximately $450 million to construct. Decisions made during the RRT study will impact the final cost estimate.
The traditional funding structure for transit projects entering the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) Capital Investment Grant Program, request 50% of the funding from FTA through this program, 25% from the state (Florida Department of Transportation), and 25% from local funding sources. Identifying potential funding sources and the funding percentage breakdown will be completed later in the study.
A modern rubber-tire vehicle will be used. However, the specifics of that vehicle, including size, capacity, fuel, and features will be determined later in the study.
The study is comprised of 5 steps:
- Step 1 Design Options: The team will work with stakeholders, policy leaders, and the public to develop five alternatives to carry forward into 10% Design (Step 2). This includes which station areas to include and how to connect them. Station areas are defined as a ½ mile buffer around a general point along the route. Specific station locations will be determined later in the process. How to connect them will be defined by the alignment. Alignment options include dedicated transit lanes in the shoulders, dedicated transit lanes in the median, express lanes, or mixed traffic. This step concludes with identifying up to five alignment options, or alternatives.
- Step 2 10% Design: The team will start to dig into the station areas to determine if the station should be in the median, near the interstate, or away from the interstate and in the neighborhood. The type of station will depend on the context of the neighborhood, infrastructure available, engineering challenges in place, and the preference of the stakeholders, community, and local policy-makers. In addition to the stations, the team will begin the environmental analysis, evaluate service route options, and develop schematic lane configurations. This step concludes with identification of a Recommended Alternative, and possibly 2-3 backup alternatives, chosen from the five alternatives identified in Step 1.
- Step 3 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): The team will conduct the environmental review of the Recommended Alternative to determine anticipated impacts based on the evaluation of possible environmental effects, safety and security, and station designs that seamlessly connect to local transit, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other multimodal options. This step concludes with a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) to advance to 30% Design.
- Step 4 NEPA/30% Design: The team will define how the LPA interacts with other modes and complete all associated 30% design submittals. This step concludes with 30% Design.
- Step 5 Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Submittal: The team will request a NEPA decision from FTA and submit the Project for FTA Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program rating.
At the end of the two-year study, the final recommendation will be the Locally Preferred Alternative that includes a specific alignment that defines where the route will run in the I-275 corridor and how it will connect to the stations. Design and operational elements that will be evaluated and considered include, but are not limited to:
- Evaluating the appropriate level of investment in the project to be cost effective and receive a favorable rating under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program and the state’s New Starts Transit Program
- Determining optimal station number, locations, and types that best serve each community and provide opportunities for economic development
- Determining the type of vehicle and required and optimal number of vehicles to operate the service
- Evaluating the level of investment for stations placed away from the interstate to provide efficient access to the stations from the interstate corridor
- Determining the optimal hours of operation and frequency of service
- Determining parking needs and how parking will be accommodated at the stations
- Identifying opportunities for investments in emerging technologies in transit including but not limited to autonomous and connected vehicles
- Developing BRT operations plan and implementation schedule
- Developing operations and maintenance cost projections
- Identifying and recommending sources of operating funds
- Developing fare structure and revenue collection/sharing methodologies
- Evaluating opportunities for public-private partnerships
- Identifying additional right-of-way needs
Transit projects take several years to progress from a concept to operations due to the time it takes to study and design the service. The timeline for implementation will be identified later in this study.
Opportunities to be involved in the project will come throughout the study. Check out the Get Involved tab for public involvement opportunities.
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) works to advance regional transportation needs in Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Our purpose is to plan, develop, fund, implement, and operate a regional transit system in this area. Our vision is a world-class transit system that connects and moves the Tampa Bay region.
TBARTA is also required to produce a regional transit development plan (RTDP), integrating the transit development plans of participant counties, with priority assigned to regionally significant transit projects and facilities. Currently under development, this plan is called Envision 2030.
- Develop and maintain a regional transit development plan
- Develop, implement, and operate a sustainable and efficient regional transit system
- Identify and secure sustainable funding sources to support a regional transit system
- Implementation Focus – Give primary focus to developing actionable plans and advancing transit concepts into operation.
- Regional Partnerships – Work with statewide, regional, and local partners to develop and implement regional transit solutions.
- Integrated Planning – Coordinate across counties and communities to implement and operate a regional transit system; coordinate transit planning with land use, economic development, and environmental stewardship decisions to ensure transit solutions address broader regional goals.
- Sustainable Funding - Develop sustainable funding options that reflect public support and leverage multiple financing opportunities.
- Community Engagement - Communicate and coordinate with all local jurisdictions and the diverse public to develop and implement a regional transit system that reflects the diverse needs of the region’s residents, visitors, and communities.
- Innovative Solutions – Leverage emerging technologies and systems to provide mobility choices for residents and visitors.
- Safe and Efficient System – Develop and implement regional transit systems that are safe, efficient, and reliable.
- Environmental Stewardship – Develop and implement regional transit systems that protect and, where possible, enhance the quality of the natural and built environment in the region.
- Economic Development – Develop and implement regional transit systems that enhance the competitiveness of the region’s economy.
- Socioeconomic Mobility - Develop and implement regional transit systems that increase access to jobs, services, and economic opportunity for all residents, particularly traditionally underserved groups.