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Citrus Connection Provides Seamless Transit Services in Polk County

By S. Mathur

Citrus Connection is the new name of the reorganized public transportation system in Polk County. Marketing and Communications Manager David Walters says that the merging of three separate systems has made the whole system easier for riders to negotiate.

"Public transportation in Polk County no longer has an identity crisis as the three public transportation organizations who provide millions of trips in Polk County have consolidated operating entirely under the banner of the Citrus Connection." The three separate systems were Winter Haven Area Transit, the Polk County Board of County Commissioners' rural routes, and paratransit service. They now operate under a single management structure.

The merger allows riders to utilize the transit system throughout the county, providing seamless service. As of 2015, Citrus Connection provides more than 2 million rides each year. Some other recent changes that will benefit riders and provide easier connections with statewide transportation include a partnership with the Greyhound line, as well as Sunday services to the eastern side of Polk County. The Winter Haven Transit Terminal serves as the multimodal transportation center, with county and Greyhound terminals in the same location. Greyhound Lines is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation in the US.

The connections across the county as well as with statewide and national transportation are built on a understanding of the importance of mobility. They keep in mind the needs of those dependent on public transit for work and daily life. As Citrus Connection Executive Director Tom Phillips put it, "Creating a multimodal transit system will allow for our transit dependent community to access not only their Polk County destinations but to all over the State of Florida and the US. Freedom of mobility is key to the independence of our patrons."

Thus when the Citrus Connection introduced Sunday service to the east side of Polk County, it provided transportation along Cypress Gardens Boulevard, which is one of the most important corridors in the area. Future improvements to service will continue to be based on the belief of the importance of an affordable mass transportation system for local residents and businesses. Even for those who don't use mass transit, it improves the quality of life by reducing air pollution and preserving resources.

Mobile apps that can show when a bus is about to arrive are another project in the works, says Walters: "We will be testing a new app in August with the help from the students from Florida Polytechnic University. The app will provide real time bus location information, provide an alarm to let you know that your bus is arriving soon. You can set the timer as to when you receive notice that your bus is going to arrive at your stop. We are testing the app with members of staff and through a partnership with Florida Polytechnic, the students will assist us in the near future." At present, riders can find route maps online and also order bus passes online.

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