Commission wants course change for bus routes

The Gainesville City Commission is going back to Santa Fe College to request more money to increase frequency on a proposed new route that would go from Butler Plaza to Santa Fe’s main campus.

The college is funding two new routes, Route 78, from Butler to the main campus in northwest Gainesville, and Route 88, which would run between the main campus and Santa Fe’s new Charles L. Blount Center in downtown Gainesville.

“Route 88 I especially love,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said. “Adding in a service down 31st Avenue is a big deal. That’s a game changer for a lot of people.”

RTS Route 88
RTS Route 88

During an RTS presentation at a general policy committee meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he was concerned that one bus isn’t enough for Route 78. Having a single bus means the bus frequency will only be approximately 90 minutes.

An additional bus would increase the frequency to once every 45 minutes.

Hayes-Santos said the 90-minute gap would reflect poorly on the RTS. 

“We have to worry about the reputation of our transit,” he said. “A good portion of this is happening outside of city limits. I don’t think we should create a new route when we have big issues within the rest of the service.”

Jesus Gomez, the city’s transit director, said during the presentation that the city had initially proposed two buses on Route 78 because of the lengthy wait times, but Santa Fe had said they didn’t have the funding for two buses. 

RTS Route 78
RTS Route 78

The commission also asked RTS staffers to come up with more options for Route 24 and Route 27, which the staff had proposed combining into a single route in the fall. Currently, both routes only have a two-hour frequency and relatively low ridership, Gomez said.

The RTS staff had looked at eliminating the two routes, Gomez said, but decided to propose dropping some infrequently used stops and combining the two routes into one that runs every 60 minutes. But the commission voted unanimously to have RTS instead look again at dropping the two routes and find other ways to use the resources within the RTS system.

The commission didn’t ask for changes on the planned Route 88 or the planned East-West and North-South express routes, which RTS is calling compass routes. 

The city initially is setting up the compass routes by reducing the number of buses on Routes 1, 8, 13 and 20 and diverting them to the limited-stop express routes.

A per-credit hour fee is helping UF pay for two new campus circulators. As students have moved closer to campus, there’s been an increased interest in frequent bus service close to the school, Gomez said.

Circulator 130 will travel four miles in a loop while Circulator 131 will travel a 3.7 mile loop, meaning the bus frequency is about every 24 to 25 minutes.

A continuing driver shortage may delay the implementation of the proposed changes, Gomez said. RTS began reducing service frequency in October 2021 because the number of unfilled driver positions was up to 47.

As of Thursday, RTS had 52 open positions, Gomez said.

In an effort to recruit new drivers, the city has a weekly job fair and is offering to train drivers and help them earn their commercial driver license.

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