At 9am this morning about 15 of us gathered at famous local coffee shop Buddy Brew Coffee to embark on a journey with Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe to get the HART of Tampa Public transit problem.
All of us were what HART would call Choice Riders, because we did not necessarily have to ride the bus, and we had other means of transportation. We were asked to imagine we have arrived in Tampa from the airport and were dropped off at the hot coffee spot, Buddy Brew, before having to jump back on the bus and head downtown for a meeting.
As we got our coffee we began chatting each other up while waiting for the 30-Bus. Then someone mentioned the word "cash." I don't think any of us had realized that today HART only accepts cash; not only that, they only accepted exact change, or you must over pay. Panic ensued, and here lies our first problem which would inevitably spark conversations for possible solutions.
Just as the requisite cash was doled out, someone yelled, "Here comes the bus! Everyone get in Line!," and we were on the move. Commissioner Sharpe decided to time how long it took everyone to get on the bus. It ended up being 1 minute and 45 seconds. A HART employee made us aware that 1:45 minutes now put the whole bus behind schedule. Already behind schedule? This seemed absurd to us Choice Riders. There had to be a better solution, a faster method, and our brains began to tick again.
"I've got it all figured out," says Tampa's go to UI/UX guy Justin Davis, as he explains the concept of an experience map - a very useful tool many companies complete in order to find the flaws in user experience (UX) for products or services before they can create a plan to fix them. Commissioner Sharp was thrilled, "I want to do this with HART."
Soon we arrived at the Marion Street Bus Station Downtown. We got off the bus and explored the facility. The consensus: it was not very welcoming to say the least. Linda found the lady's room.. well… not in good shape. I scurried to find an ATM, which charged me a $3.50 transaction fee, and I am sure my not so favorite Bank Of America will also charge me a fee. I didn't even have time to go to the change machine before the bus had arrived and was ready to leave. What was I going to do with a $20 dollar bill and a bus that didn't give change? Not give a $17 tip, that's for sure.
On the trip back to Buddy Brew, more conversations swirled about the lack of WIFI on HART buses (including one solution under consideration that would cost over $40,000 per bus to install…. really??).
Other questions were raised about HART's "no food" policy on the buses. (Have you seen the subways in other cities that are loaded with food, coffee and newspaper vendors?) Could a change in policy actually inspire people to create more small businesses around our local bus stops and stations? No surprise, I figured it wouldn't take long before these ambitious tech entrepreneurs would be identifying new business opportunities!
Once back at Buddy Brew, many of the "bus crew" stuck around to continue the conversations. What an eye-opening experience for the Choice Riders.
All things considered, I observed many overwhelming reasons that would make local bus travel undesirable to me. I felt very stressed during the whole event, and I didn't even have anywhere to go. I can only imagine the stress I would have if I was trying to get somewhere on time.
Truthfully, the overall experience was great. This was an awesome way to get the tech community and HART together to find solutions to a community problem with our government representative.
I loved it, the ideas were flying, and I think one or more solutions are sure to come of it all.
To check out what we were tweeting search the hashtag #tech4transit. Tweet your opinion & Join the conversation!
Or tweet your comments to @goHART !