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Longboat Key Friday, Mar. 2, 2018 2 weeks ago

Bus route suspension threatens Longboat worker access

Sarasota County has proposed eliminating Route 18, which services Longboat Key.
by: Bret Hauff Staff Writer

Richard Heath takes the bus from Sarasota to Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory on City Island almost every day.

He works there, and Sarasota County Area Transportation’s Route 18 is the cheapest way to go, Heath said.

But, that route is proposed to be  eliminated by the end of the year as part of a broader plan to reduce recurring expenses in the county budget by about $5.4 million.

“Without the bus, I lose my main source of income,” Heath said.

Most of the people riding the Route 18 bus on a recent Thursday morning were employees of businesses along the route, including the Resort at Longboat Key Club.

Resort at Longboat Key Club spokeswoman Sandra Rios said in an email that a number of the company’s employees use public transportation to get to the island for work. Changing or eliminating the bus route, Rios wrote, would “most definitely impact those individuals.”

“Eliminating amenities such as public transportation could have a significant impact on recruiting efforts and staff retention within the local business community,” Rios wrote.

An average of 62 people ride the bus each day on that route, almost five people per hour, according to county ridership figures.

The county pays $136,660 a year for the service which, the SCAT route schedule shows, offers 14 round trips from downtown to Bay Isles for $1.25.

The first northbound run leaves downtown at 6:05 a.m., and the first southbound run leaves Bay Isles at 6:30 a.m. Service concludes for the night at 7:50 p.m.

If all happens as proposed, this elimination of service will be the latest in a series of public-transit cuts on Longboat Key.

Manatee County Area Transit last year dropped its general service in favor of a door-to-door, on-demand operation that required calling a day ahead to reserve service. SCAT offers a similar service, SCAT Plus, but only for Americans with Disabilities Act-eligible individuals, people with disabilities, elderly, transportation disadvantaged and veterans, according to its website.

SCAT last year also shortened its route from a northern terminus at Coquina Beach in favor of Bay Isles.

Nhesel Zarat, a 23-year-old intern with the Harbourside Resort at Longboat Key Club, said she takes the bus almost every day to work because she doesn’t have a car. Zarat said she’ll intern at the Resort at Longboat Key Club for a year, then she’ll return to the Philippines.

“It will affect me a lot,” Zarat said of the route being canceled. “If I take Uber, it’s expensive.”

Her co-worker, Ploy Kittivira, 23, said she also takes the bus to work every day. A canceled bus would make it difficult for her to get to work, especially if a friend is unavailable.

Nhesel Zarat (left) and Ploy Kittivira

Son Ho, 28, from Vietnam, said the SCAT service is good, and he takes advantage of the cheap ride to work at the Islandside resort. If the bus were canceled, he’d have to ask a friend to drive him or use Uber, a more costly alternative.

The ride-sharing service showed a midday price from downtown to Mote at around $10.

Terri Ludovicy, 56, moved  here  a year ago to be with family. She works at Ancient Olive, to which she takes the bus almost daily.

Ludovicy has not purchased a car, she said, because the cost of living in this area is so high.

“I’m going to have to get a vehicle and that’s going to cause more congestion,” the Jamestown, N.Y., native said.

Sarasota County commissioners have proposed cutting the route for the sake of saving money, one of three the county has proposed to eliminate.

Bus service cuts aren’t expected to go into effect until after Oct. 1, and after public input sessions.

Longboat’s route is one of three under consideration for elimination. The other two are:

Route 100: an express route from Venice to  Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which averages 50 riders a day; and

Route 13: a local Venice route that average 60 riders a day. 

Additionally, the entire SCAT system on Saturdays would revert to a more limited Sunday schedule, which would save about $580,000. 

Added together, the SCAT cuts and schedule changes would create a budget savings of about  $933,000.

Heath said he plans to send emails to county commissioners in an effort to keep Route 18 running.

“Above all else, drivers need routes to work,” Heath said on his way off the bus.

I’m the Longboat Key Staff Reporter. I write stories about how decisions and events affect the island, its leaders and its citizens. I received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Emerson College, where I wrote for The Boston Globe. Reach me at 941-336-3468 ext. 333.

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