HART CEO Talks Improving Mobility and Visibility in Tampa Bay at Distinguished Speaker Series
By Elizabeth L. Brown
TAMPA (February 4, 2022) – The head of the public transit system in Hillsborough County knows its fleet of buses and vans have an image problem.
Adelee Le Grand, CEO of HART, told a room of about 25 USF Muma College of Business graduate students that improving branding and increasing ridership are some of the organization’s top goals.
With 132 buses, 85 vans and 10 street cars shuttling 25,000 riders each day, HART’s buses have become moving billboards for personal injury lawyers. Most vehicles are plastered with wraparound ads that show passersby the number to call if they’ve been in an accident or if they’re in pain.
“It’s not the best. We need to do something different. How do we get people to try public transit if the brand is not elevated?” she said. Le Grand was the featured speaker at the Feb. 4 Distinguished Speaker Series at the USF Muma College of Business.
Le Grand compared the branding problem to seeing a plane fly by with a huge 411-PAIN ad wrapped around it, but nowhere is the Delta logo visible. That wouldn’t instill much brand confidence, she said.
“If you want to be taken seriously, you cannot wrap it like we are wrapping it,” she said. “We have to get to the point of branding our buses in a HART brand and not just a billboard.”
HART has seen its ridership dwindle over the past two years due to the pandemic. In 2021, 6.7 million people used the bus system, compared to 9.3 million in 2020 and 13.2 million in 2019.
Although ridership is down, a bright spot has been the increased reliability of service. For 2021, HART vehicles had an on-time performance rate of 82 percent, the highest in the transit system’s history, said Le Grand.
Le Grand also said they are using data analytics to gleam more ridership behavior to improve the customer experience. They are working with a consulting company to use cell phone data that tracks where riders get on and get off and at what time. While no personal data is collected, the data does show a “true travel pattern” so they can understand where people are moving and work toward improving efficiency.
She touched on some of the safety improvements made over the past year, such as installing plexiglass to separate operators and passengers and having cameras monitor the inside and outside of the buses. The upgrades were partially in response to the national uptick in attacks on bus operators, she said.
“Our biggest challenge has been dealing with mental health,” she said, adding that the additional layer of protection is still an “open and accepting environment” and doesn’t make ride the bus “feel like a police state.”
Le Grand has been at the helm of HART since January 2021. Prior to that, she served for five years as vice president at Transdev, one of the largest providers of mobility solutions in the world. Overall, she came to Tampa with two decades of executive experience in public transit in Atlanta and New Orleans.
“What people need to realize is, our service is here for everyone in the community,” she said. “The bottom line is that we are here to support you in getting to places in the community.”