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Sunday, May 26, 2024

New RTS bus stop offers amenities, controversy

The new Regional Transit System bus station on Southeast Third Street offers new amenities for its passengers, including public restrooms, a covered waiting area and an information booth.

However, some view the new station, which opened Monday, as a way for RTS to distance itself from the growing homelessness issue in downtown Gainesville.

Homeless advocate and former City Commission candidate Pat Fitzpatrick said the property used for the new station should have been preserved for the downtrodden.

"They should have taken that land down there and built a safe space for the homeless," he said.

However, Jon DeCarmine, director of the Alachua County / City of Gainesville Office on Homelessness, said he used to believe there was a link between the new station and the homeless issue, but said the plan to move that station had been in the works for many years.

He said the new station would help clear up any lingering notions about people around the station.

"People automatically assumed anyone hanging around the old station was homeless," he said. "Moving the station would clear some of that up."

RTS Director Jesus Gomez said the new station has nothing to do with the homeless.

He said the new downtown station is safer and has a better atmosphere, whereas the old downtown station presented safety hazards when buses double-parked due to lack of space. The station cost about ,1.8 million and took about ten years to complete.

Gomez said the project was funded by ,800,000 from the Federal Transit Administration, ,500,000 from the city and ,500,000 from the Florida Department of Transportation.

All the routes have been tweaked because of the location change. Many of the buses no longer go by the old station. RTS Marketing and Communications Specialist Theresa Harrison said Routes 5 and 15 still drop off passengers at the eastbound side of Downtown Plaza.

According to the RTS Web site, there were about 353,000 city bus passengers in June.

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RTS is experiencing a full load of passengers now that fall semester has started, Gomez said.

RTS hopes to meet its long-term goal of providing 230 in-service buses to the city. Right now, there are about 100 in service, he said.

Even with the new station, RTS wants to expand. An increasing number of universities have campus bus stations, he said.

"We're working with UF to have a transfer station on campus," Gomez said about their future plans.

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