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Maye Lavinson and Ruth Lerner
Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016 5 years ago

Life on Longboat — without the keys

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The Longboat Key Foundation is promoting a Transportation Awareness Day Jan. 26 to inform elderly residents of different modes of transportation available to them.
by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

When Longboat Harbour resident Maye Lavinson, 94, decided to give up her car two years ago, the decision “broke her heart.”

“Giving up that privilege was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but I knew it was the right thing to do,” Lavinson said.

But what Lavinson didn’t realize when she gave up her car keys two years ago was how difficult it was going to be to get around Longboat Key.

“I’ve lived on Longboat Key since 1970. I hate retirement homes, and I have no intention of leaving the island,” Lavinson said. “But I suddenly realized quickly that getting around just to do run simple errands is very difficult. It’s a big, big problem.”

The Longboat Key Foundation seeks to help residents like Lavinson by promoting a Transportation Awareness Day Jan. 26 to inform elderly residents of different modes of transportation available to them.

Lavinson relies on friends and neighbors for rides to Temple Beth Israel. And she also pays a driving service $15 per hour for four hours twice a week to make shopping trips to Longboat Key Publix and run errands in town and on the mainland.

“That’s $120 a week and it’s not cheap,” Lavinson said.

Ruth Lerner, a friend of Lavinson and a fellow Temple Beth Israel member, is legally blind and has similar problems.

“When you become a geriatric, you can’t drive, and regular trips to the store and the doctor become issues,” Lerner said.

Lerner relies heavily on neighbors, friends and in-home help to help her get to errands, the temple and to do in-home chores.

“There are lots of people on the Key that don’t have opportunities when they can’t drive anymore,” Lerner said.

Lerner and Lavinson approached former vice mayor and Longboat Key Foundation Managing Director Dave Brenner at Temple Beth Israel two months ago about the issues they and many others on the Key face when they can no longer drive.

The issue concerned Brenner, who began reaching out to Longboat Key and transportation officials to research all available transportation opportunities for residents.

“If we can help and inform people on the Key, they won’t move to the mainland for a retirement opportunity with more reliable transportation,” Brenner said. “We want them to stay and continue to do their shopping and eating here instead of feeling like they are forced to leave the island when they give up their car keys.”

Brenner and the foundation began to hold discussions with Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce and Aging in Paradise Resource Center officials, who formulated Transportation Awareness Day.

The options residents will learn about include Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus routes. A SCAT bus will also be on site at the transportation day event for residents to get in and take a look.

“I never knew that these hydraulic buses are lowered so people that can’t climb steps can get on them easier,” Brenner said. “And these aren’t the New York City buses with graffiti all over them that many Northerners remember. It’s a clean, viable alternative.”

Residents 80 and older can also ride the SCAT bus for free.

Longboat Limousine, Independent Transportation Network Sarasota and officials from SCAT and MCAT will attend the event.

Brenner thinks there’s a lot of residents in Longboat condominiums and homes that rely heavily on neighbors and friends to get to and from the store and doctor appointments.

“It’s a quality of life issue,” Brenner said. “The bottom line is to see what we can do to keep people on Longboat Key.”

Lazy Lobster restaurant owner Michael Garey said the need for transportation awareness on Longboat Key is a big one, especially in season.

Garey said he has lost several longtime customers the past couple of years that have left the island for a retirement home after giving up their car keys.

Garey even has some of his employees drive meals to Key customers who can no longer drive. Restaurant employees also drive some longtime guests home after a meal at the restaurant because they can no longer drive at night.

“If we can come up with creative solutions, we can improve the quality of life for many, keep residents on the island, and I and other restaurant owners can keep our clienteles from moving to the mainland,” Garey said.

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