Traffic is an issue for everyone in the Tampa Bay Area, but for those without a car, transit is a matter of quality of life.
Lack of access to good transportation is a huge factor keeping poor communities in poverty. In fact, a Harvard study found commute time tops the lists of reasons that limit upward mobility, above crime and education.
Raven Britton from Tampa, for example, has a five-hour roundtrip daily commute. She leaves before dawn to drop her kids off at daycare and head to work. She returns home close to 10 p.m. That’s when she doesn’t work overtime.
“I went to sleep at about two (in the morning) and I had to get back up at about four,” Britton said, as she waited for her third bus of the day. “That's why my hair is a mess.”
That morning it was cold out so she took three of her four kids to the babysitter in an Uber, but that's a luxury she cannot afford every day.
“That would add up, fast,” she said.
She depends on the public bus.
“It takes five buses for me to take my kids to daycare and then get to work,” she said.
In a car, Britton’s commute would be less than half an hour. By bus, it takes her five times as long.
That’s in part because the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) doesn't have enough buses on the road, so, they don't run as often as people need them to.
And unlike other major metropolitan areas, the bus is all the Tampa Bay area has when it comes to public transit.
Public officials have been debating the issue for years, but have yet to solve the problem.
“Our biggest challenge is enough funding to cover the demand,” Katharine Eagan, HART’s CEO said.
The result is marginalized communities struggling to meet the most basic of their needs because they can't get places.
“Better quality of life happens with good transit,” Jae Passmore, a HART bus driver said. “Riding the bus could be the difference between getting your medicine or not.”
She sees it every day.
“I see people who want to take night classes, who want to take that promotion as a night shift manager, but have to pass up opportunities because their sole source of transportation doesn't allow them to achieve that,” Passmore said.
It also determines their access to fresh food and healthcare.
“I take the bus to go grocery shopping, I take the bus to take my children to the doctor, I take the bus for everything,” Britton said.
If she didn’t have to spend so many hours on the bus, Britton says she would spend that time with her kids.
“I would be able to sit down and color with my daughter and be able to hear the things that my son learned today,” she said.
She would also get more sleep and so would her kids. Instead, she's working extra these days to try and save up for the down payment of a car.
“There is no 'I can't.' Like, I have to,” she said.