Another bus service is stopping in Lakeland. FlixBus is planning to stop at Lakeland’s Gow B. Fields Park and Ride, located on U.S. 98 just south of I-4, during its routes between Tampa, Orlando and Miami, according to Tom Phillips, executive director of the Citrus Connection. The district owns the Gow B. Fields Park and Ride site.
The FlixBus website shows current routes between Tampa, Orlando, and Miami that stop at International Drive, Kissimmee North, Fort Pierce, Fort St. Lucie, Port St. Lucie, West Palm Beach, Hollywood, Miami Golden Gables, Miami Beach, Downtown Miami, and Miami Intermodal Center.
FlixBus began in 2013 as a German startup. It now operates Europe’s largest long-distance bus network, according to its website, and runs FlixTrain long-distance trains in Europe. The company operates in more than 30 European countries, as well as the United States and South America.
Along with operating its own buses, FlixBus also has a partnership with Greyhound buses, where it sells their tickets on its website. The fare tickets on the FlixBus website that include a stop at Lakeland Amtrak are operated by Greyhound.
Phillips said he’ll be presenting the agreement with FlixBus to the board of directors of the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District, which oversees the Citrus Connection, during its March 28 meeting. He expects board members to approve the agreement. If approved, the service would start March 30, he said.
“I’m excited. The FlixBus is going to be sitting in the same traffic” that drivers would be in if they took their own vehicle, said Phillips, explaining that bus riders can choose to read a book or write emails instead of focusing on the roadways.
“It’s a huge quality of life improvement. It’s a start,” Phillips said.
If riders choose to use the service to commute from Lakeland to Tampa and Orlando, Phillips added, it would give them about two to three hours of their days back, depending on traffic patterns.
“We had actually planned this deal with them (two) years ago, and then COVID happened,” Phillips said. The plans had called for rides to start on April 1, 2021, but he said they were halted at the last minute.
FlixBus operates similarly to the Megabus in that all of its tickets are sold online. The company’s app offers features such as live GPS tracking, self-check-in, and free Wi-Fi on all its buses. Unlike Megabus, FlixBus utilizes one-story buses.
When booking, there’s also the option to book two seats so no one is riding next to the passenger. One carry-on item and one checked luggage is included with the ticket price, according to its website.
FlixBus has not announced yet the price of fares on its buses from Lakeland’s Gow B. Fields Park and Ride. However, its FlixBus fare from Tampa to Orlando is $14.99 and its fare from Tampa to Miami starts at $24.99.
Free parking is available for passengers in the Gow B. Fields Park and Ride lot. Phillips said it is a well-lit area, outfitted with security cameras. If riders plan to park for longer than 72 hours, it’s requested they contact Citrus Connection to alert security personnel.
When asked if Citrus Connection was looking into providing a shuttle service to the Tampa or Orlando airports, Phillips said taxpayers have nixed that idea in the past. Phillips said in the past, it was calculated to cost around $5-$7 million a year, a third of his budget, to run commuter buses between the Tampa and Orlando airports 24 hours a day. He said that proposal was a part of the 2014 My Ride/My Road tax 1-cent sales tax increase referendum which failed 72 to 28 percent.
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