Sarasota County commissioners balked at privatizing some transit services during a workshop Tuesday, but did give county staff the green light for a study that would help weigh doing so in the future.
Sarasota County Interim Transportation Planning Director Jonathan Paul will oversee an independent cost estimate (ICE) of Sarasota County Area Transit services that will give the county a basis for evaluating bids from private operators and compare the efficiency of county's transit system to those of 11 other municipalities. The study will cost roughly $65,000, which will be allocated from various funds outside of the SCAT budget, according to county staff.
"I'm very much in favor of pursuing a study on this," said Commissioner Nora Patterson, who represented the county as chairwoman of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization last year.
Though the Manatee County Board of Board of County Commissioners has backed off discussions about merging Manatee County Area Transit with SCAT under a single private vendor, the ICE will also include an analysis of the two organizations as a combined entity using data from the National Transportation Database.
The study is slated for completion by June with a presentation for the board coming the following month. Commission Chairman Charles Hines praised staff for their expediency on the project.
Paul has overseen similar studies on impact fees and bus rapid transit.
Commissioners opted to wait for the ICE results before undertaking SCAT General Manager Glama Carter's proposal to fully privatize routes for special needs riders, which are known as paratransit services. Two private operators currently run about 84,000 of those routes, which comprises half of all paratransit routes.
Carter said a similar business plan had "worked well" in Collier County, where she previously served as public transit manager, and could save Sarasota County $1.5 million annually. Commissioner Carolyn Mason was concerned about the possibility of some of the 31 paratransit operators losing their jobs during the transition, and wanted to give more time for the public to get information on the proposed business plan.
SCAT recently held Try Transit Day, during which Carter discussed the launch of two new routes to University Parkway and Siesta Key.
“What we are trying to do now is reallocating resources,” Carter said. “Our goal is to evaluate those routes that have low impact, and reallocating them to the routes that should have more frequency and deserve the increase in service.”
BY THE NUMBERS
31 — The number of SCAT paratransit operators.
2 — The number of SCAT paratransit supervisors.
7 — The number of SCAT scheduling coordinators.
31 — The number of SCAT paratransit buses.
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