Officials from Longboat Key and Sarasota County are working to find a way to still offer public transportation to the town, at a lower cost to the county.
Although Longboat Key may lose its scheduled bus link to downtown Sarasota by mid-2019, town and Sarasota County officials said they are working to bring new options for transit to the island.
Starting in fiscal year 2019, the county plans to cut the Sarasota County Area Transit bus route that serves Longboat Key, pending an analysis of the service and a public hearing process, as part of a series of recurring budget cuts at the county level.
The change will save the county about $140,000 annually. Two other bus lines are similarly considered for elimination.
“We’re not looking at ways to remove transit,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis stressed at a March 23 County Commission meeting. “But how do we make it better than it is now, and hopefully less dependent on the general fund?”
The answer is still up in the air. Interim Director of SCAT Rob Lewis said there are “lots of ideas on the table,” and the county and town are working together to develop some kind of solution.
Exiting Longboat Mayor Terry Gans asked the County Commission to not eliminate public transportation options for the town.
“[This route] is the only source of public transit in the Sarasota County portion of the Key,” he said.
An average of 62 people ride the bus on Route 18 each day. It runs from downtown Sarasota to the Bay Isles area.
“Those 62 riders are important, they need that ride,” Lewis said. “How that ride is delivered is what we’re looking for.”
Before officially eliminating the route, the county must submit an Equity Analysis to the Federal Transit Authority, since the elimination of this route would be a “major service change.” The analysis must be conducted by an outside firm, and is expected to be completed in December of this year. Then, the FTA will review it, which could take another few months.
Ultimately, the service reductions aren’t expected to take place until August 2019.