The Sarasota County Commission is on board with the Longboat Key trolley route, with county commissioners pledging support during an Oct. 1 joint workshop with the Longboat Key Town Commission.
But discussions about the route’s future, including its funding and pickup times, are on the commission’s itinerary.
Sara Blanchard, planner with the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) office, showed commissioners figures that showed a slight drop in average daily ridership from April 2010 to March 2011, when pickup times were every 30 minutes, compared to April 2011 through August 2011 and April 2012 through August 2012, both of which came after the route was reduced to once an hour.
“We see a modest decrease, approximately 5% in approximately 200 trips per day,” Blanchard said.
But commissioners questioned the data presented, saying that April through August figures don’t paint a true picture of ridership because the period falls within the typically slow summer season.
“April to August 2011, April to August 2012 is not a true reflection of your ridership,” Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said. “I think most of your riders are going to occur November to May because you have the workers that go out to the Key.”
Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown pointed out that ridership numbers could have been affected by the reduction in the route’s hours. The route now runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. but previously ran from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Brown said that people who might take the trolley to go out for dinner won’t use it if they can’t get back, while workers who might otherwise take the trolley can’t use it if they have to be at work early in the morning.
“We haven’t helped ourselves with the way we have this set up,” Brown said.
Blanchard agreed that SCAT will look into the possibility of restoring 30-minute pickup times. County commissioners will also discuss the route and its future funding during a joint workshop with the Manatee County Commission.
The Sarasota County portion of the route costs approximately $370,000 annually to operate, approximately $26,000, or 7%, of which comes from fares. SCAT operates one bus on the route, while Manatee County Area Transit operates one trolley vehicle along the route.