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Sarasota Monday, Apr. 19, 2021 1 year ago

SCAT's mobility-on-demand service to start in June

As part of the Sarasota County Area Transit overhaul, a new rideshare service will begin in June.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

County Commissioners have moved forward with the first step in a plan to rethink much of the county’s public transportation system. 

On April 6 commissioners approved a one-year contract with River North Transit LLC of New York City to provide mobility on demand services for one year. The contract includes a not-to-exceed limit of $2,294,834. 

The change comes after commissioners in October 2020 announced a plan to eliminate many  of Sarasota County Area Transit's fixed routes in favor of a ride share program. 

The plan cuts all routes in North Port, Venice and Englewood, as well as unproductive routes in the city of Sarasota and on the barrier islands. One route along U.S. 41 between Sarasota and south county will remain. 

The routes will be replaced with mobility hubs that will allow riders to access an on-demand service scheduled to begin in June. 

The new mobility-on-demand service will link county services with ride-share companies to take them to a bus stop, or when it makes more sense, their final destinations. Riders can use the new service immediately or schedule a future ride. 

“This is something that could really turn into a big benefit for our community,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. 

Nine firms responded to the county’s request for a mobility-on-demand service and four were invited to make oral presentations, according to a county memo. 

The contract offered to River North Transit LLC includes the option of up to four one-year extensions, which will allow the county to reassess the mobility-on-demand service on an annual basis. Should the county renew the contract, the not-to-exceed limit will rise to $2,312,075 for the next four years. 

According to the contract, River North Transit LLC will provide software that allows scheduling and dispatch, a mobile app for county residents to use and a call center to process other requests. 

River North will provide all vehicles and staff needed for the service to function. It also will take care of vehicle maintenance and fuel.  

The mobility-on-demand service will be split into four zones: North Port, Venice/Englewood, Siesta Key and Lido/Longboat Key. Proposed time schedules vary in each zone depending on need, though all routes are shut down from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

The contract stipulates the county has the power to expand each zone’s boundaries should it deem the change necessary. 

Commissioners hope the change will mean more savings for the county’s budget. A consultant hired to measure the old system’s effectiveness found that in 2019 the county spent $20.5 million on its fixed-route system, with an average cost of $100 per hour. 

However, because of little-used fixed routes, the consultant estimated there was a $4 million cost of ineffective service. Commissioners hope that after several years of proposed fixes, the new mobility service will prove to be a positive step for the county. 

“There’s been an enormous amount of effort and time put into this,” Commissioner Ron Cutsinger said. “This is pretty cutting edge.” 

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