Officials from both Manatee and Sarasota counties are working together to help increase ridership for the area’s most under-performing route — the Longboat Key route.
At a Friday, Feb. 4 meeting with Manatee County and Sarasota County officials, Sarasota County Area Transit Manager Anthony Beckford said adding advertising to the trolleys will not solve the problem.
“To get the service up to the standard you want, ridership is the key component,” Beckford said.
The Longboat trolley route averages approximately 125,000 riders per year. By comparison, the Anna Maria trolley averages 400,000 riders a year.
Beckford said the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce can work with the county to sell discounted bus/trolley passes at the chamber, island restaurants and hotels.
“The most important thing is increasing ridership, not advertising,” said Beckford, who also warned SCAT will be raising rates in the coming months from 75 cents to $1.25.
Beckford explained that SCAT offers a $60 monthly pass that is valid in both Manatee and Sarasota counties for unlimited rides. Both counties also provide a $40 monthly pass that’s only valid in each county.
“Increasing ridership makes it easier for us to go before the commission and say operating costs per person for this route went from $9 per person to $4 per person,” Beckford said. “Those kinds of numbers mean the commission will be more than likely to try the route for another year.”
Beckford said those types of numbers could get both county commissions to keep rider pickup times at every half-hour instead of moving them to hourly to save money.
Manatee County Area Transit Manager Ralph Hessler agreed, noting that ridership on Anna Maria Island’s free trolley is more important than the advertisements that are placed on its trolleys.
Beckford also said it would make sense to join forces with the Siesta Key trolley route and add them to the monthly pass, which would make it more appealing to Longboaters traveling south.
Chamber President Tom Aposopros, who is working with the Key’s trolley working group to make the route more profitable, was happy to get the feedback.
He realizes, however, the challenges are tough for a route that only averages 1.5 riders per hour. “We are really swimming upstream here,” Aposporos said. “But we are prepared to do everything in our power to help this effort along.”
“The idea is for us to be a positive force in us creating opportunities to resolve additional funding,” said Aposporos, who is also working to get advertising funding for the route.
Aposporos explained that, so far, the committee has:
• Generated “Hop on the Bus” badges and trolley schedules for supporters of the route.
• Come up with an idea to create an easier to read trolley schedule that would discuss fares, stops and the overall service. Businesses could advertise on the schedule. Aposporos also believes a business advertising-funded website could also be created.
• Solicited Key businesses that are committed to advertising on the trolleys when the time is right.
HOP ON THE BUS
Longboat Key resident Jackie Salvino attended the St. Armands Circle Winter Art Festival two weeks ago, an event that draws thousands of people each year. But, despite the traffic around St. Armands Circle, Salvino didn’t have to worry about finding a place to park her car. Instead, she parked outside the Longboat Key CVS and rode Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) Route 18 to the Circle. The ride took between 15 and 20 minutes.
“It was great,” Salvino said. “It’s a safe, cheap mode of transportation.”
Salvino, one of the residents who formed the ad hoc group, Hop on the Bus! with local business leaders through the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce to study trolley usage on Longboat Key, believes that low ridership is the result of the fact that many residents don’t know about the trolley.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]