SCAT presents route changes

Sarasota County Area Transit Senior Planner Sarah Blanchard, left, listens to an audience question Tuesday at a workshop on bus route changes displayed on a board held by Kimley Horn associate planner Erin Emmons. If approved, the changes would mean one South County route would be shortened, one would become seasonal and one would be eliminated.

Carolyn Hall loves everything about Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) — the bus drivers, the administrative staff, the buses.

Almost everything.

Proposed route changes have her concerned about her mobility, she said Tuesday at a workshop at the Frances T. Bourne Jacaranda Public Library.

A previous one caused her to drop her membership to the SKY Family YMCA because, without a car, she couldn’t get there anymore. The ones presented at the workshop could make it more difficult for her to get anywhere.

Hall lives in South Venice. From a stop not very far from her home she can take the No. 13 bus onto the island or to the Venice Train Depot, where she can connect with other buses to access most of the county.

However, SCAT is proposing to have the No. 13 route run directly from Walmart to the island, then to the depot, skipping such local stops in South Venice.

The reason: money.

Senior Planner Sarah Blanchard said SCAT has been directed to reduce the funding it gets from the county’s General Fund. Routes that have low ridership and don’t get grant funding are being reviewed for potential savings.

The county is also looking into privatization.

About six people an hour rode the No. 13 bus in April, when a survey was done, Blanchard said; SCAT’s standard is seven people an hour.

Shortening the route will allow the bus to run on an hourly schedule instead of every 90 minutes, saving some money and possibly increasing ridership.

Two other South County routes with much lower ridership would also be affected, if the proposed changes are adopted.

The No. 23 bus, which loops around the island, would go to seasonal service, running from around Christmas through Easter, Operations Manager Rick Ferris said. It only had about three riders an hour.

And the No. 100X bus, an express from North Port to downtown Sarasota and the airport, would be eliminated.

There’s a higher ridership standard for an express, Blanchard said: 12 riders an hour. The 100X only gets 2.79.

A representative of Sarasota Memorial Hospital expressed concern about the loss of the express bus. It will hurt the hospital’s recruitment efforts in North Port, he said, from which people take the bus both because of a lack of other transportation and because they can avoid the hassle of finding a parking place.

It might be possible to find a time to run the route once in the morning and once in the evening to meet the need, Ferris said, adding that he hasn’t figured out what the “sweet spot” is.

Also, the proposed changes aren’t locked in, Blanchard said.

“However, we are definitely planning on changes,” she said.

In addition to the ones directly affecting South County, changes to two routes in North County and the conversion of Saturday service times to the Sunday schedule are significant enough to trigger a federal requirement of a Service Equity Analysis.

Kimley Horn consultants are studying the impact of the proposed changes on minority — nonwhite — and low-income residents to see whether the county would have to identify ways to mitigate it.

That’s all it would be required to do, however. Actually implementing any mitigation measures isn’t required, according to Kimley Horn associate planner Erin Emmons, particularly if there’s no funding available.

After the workshop, Hall huddled with Ferris to talk about options for her after she had wondered out loud whether she should sell her house and move to Sarasota.

“I just don’t want to end up in assisted living,” she said.

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