SCAT

SUN FILE PHOTO

SUN FILE PHOTO

A Sarasota County Area Transit bus drives through the region.

By Warren Richardson

Sun Correspondent

SARASOTA — Sarasota County officials have known for some time that they have a costly and inefficient bus system. But now, they think they have a path to providing better service while reducing costs.

Friday morning, Mark Aesch, CEO of TransPro Consulting in Tampa, the county’s technical expert, led commissioners through several scenarios or alternatives for their consideration as they seek a way to reduce the drain the bus system puts on the county’s general fund.

With a $30 million budget this fiscal year, county taxpayers subsidize $21 million of that budget. The remainder is made up through federal and state grants. Riders contribute a paltry $1.3 million through fares.

In May, Aesch made his first presentation to commissioners after his initial analysis of Sarasota County Area Transit, or SCAT as it is commonly known.

That analysis provided some eye-popping numbers for commissioners which boiled down showed that in 2018 the average subsidy per service hour was $73.05. That amounted to an average subsidy of $7.01 per customer.

In the seven weeks since that presentation, Aesch and his team delved further into the mechanics and finances of the system as well as looking for examples across the nation.

The model Aesch proposed that has commissioners excited for the future utilizes the current bus system with a service provider to offer curb to curb service that reduces costs but increases ridership.

As an example, Aesch picked Route 23 in Venice, which has a total ridership of 12,250 people and costs the taxpayers about $364,000 a year.

Using his proposed model, Aesch told commissioners they could cut that cost to $134,250 per year and increase ridership by 10 percent and still offer curb to curb service.

Toward the end of his presentation, Aesch showed commissioners a color-coded map with all the SCAT routes. Those in green, he said, needed little attention, while those in yellow were where something different was needed. Red areas, he said, “cry out for an alternative method.”

Not surprisingly, in less densely populated South County, all of the SCAT routes in Englewood were designated red, while those in North Port were a mix of red and yellow.

“This gives you an opportunity to become a leader nationally,” Aesch said.

Putting a ribbon on the presentation, interim SCAT Director Rob Lewis told commissioners, “We have all the tools we need to move this forward.”

Lewis suggested he would have an implementation plan ready for commissioners to consider in four months.

By consensus, commissioners gave him the go-ahead.

“This is what I’ve been dying for for two to three years,” Commission Chairman Charles Hines said.

Commissioner Nancy Detert commented during the discussion she was tired of sitting at a stop light looking at a 35-foot bus with only two riders.

“This plan meets lots of our goals. You’ve put in a lot of time, it’s very creative,” Detert said of the ideas.

“I think this is what we needed to hear,” Commissioner Alan Maio added. “It’s a plan to get more riders at less cost.”

With conclusion of their workshop on Friday, commissioners will now begin their annual summer break for the next five weeks. Their next meeting is a budget workshop scheduled for Aug. 21.

Email: jondaltonwr@gmail.com

0
0
0
0
0

Recommended for you

Load comments