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Longboat Key Monday, Jul. 19, 2021 10 months ago

SCAT's on-demand ride service catches on with Longboaters

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Sarasota County data shows from June 5-27, a total of 941 trips either started or ended in Longboat Key.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

District 2 Commissioner Penny Gold is already looking forward to her next trip using Sarasota County’s new mobility-on-demand service.

“I’ll be using it again, and I hope they keep up the good work,” Gold said. “And, I hope people appreciate the discount they’re receiving for using the service and tip well.”

Gold often took Sarasota County Area Transit’s No. 18 bus from Longboat Key to mainland, but that service was cut, in favor of an on-demand system which launched on June 1. She said she prefers the new on-demand service.

“It seems to be a much more efficient way of servicing the citizens who live on the Key because, as I said, the buses only ran sporadically and were not always timely,” Gold said.

Sarasota County media relations officer Drew Winchester said from June 5-27, 941 passenger trips have either started or ended on Longboat Key. Winchester said from June 1-July 11, SCAT had a total of 6,861 trips throughout the county.

As part of the one-year, $2.3 million contract with River North Transit LLC, SCAT replaced many of its fixed bus routes with mobility hubs that allow riders to access an on-demand device.

SCAT charges riders ages 6 to 79 a fare of $1.25 per ride. It is free for anyone age 80 and older, and for children ages 5 and younger. The county is also allowing users to get their first five rides for free.

Sarasota County’s on-demand service runs from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It runs from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

SCAT director Jane Grogg said the county is working with River North Transit to get feedback on the demographics of people who utilize the new service.

“One of the things that I think we’ll be looking at going forward is market segments,” Grogg said. “Who uses what services and for what purposes going forward?

“So is that workers of those locations? And, I’m just going by the location and time of day and that there’s kind of a paired return trip, so that’s a bit of a projection.”

Grogg said two major Longboat Key destination points for SCAT’s service are the Longboat Key Club on the south end of the island and the Publix at the Shoppes of Bay Isles.

“It looked like likely that that was work-related trips,” Grogg said. “Of course, again, I would give the caveat, I don’t know that for sure without asking the riders.”

Grogg noted how Longboat Key’s Publix location is where riders can transfer to Manatee County Area Transit Service to go farther north. MCAT does allow riders to request a shuttle, but it must be done 24 hours in advance.

The county line a few hundred feet north of Bayfront Park is the farthest north SCAT’s on-demand service will take a rider.

Gold said she believed MCAT could consider a similar on-demand service in the future.

“I think after this has a little bit more time and a longer history, I’m sure they’ll be looking at something similar,” Gold said.

There is also the future possibility of one county providing transit service for all of Longboat Key.

“The town of Longboat Key is interested in and has been talking with both MCAT and Sarasota County about how there might be, in the future, a single service provider for the whole Key, so it’s one service for people to go the entire length of the Key,” Grogg said.

If Longboat Key were to adopt a one-county transit system for the entire island, it would likely need approval from the Town Commission, the Sarasota County Commission and the Manatee County Commission.

“MCAT provided ridership data of how many trips they provide now,” Grogg said. “We used that information to project, ‘Well, how much would that cost us if we provided that service?’

“And so really, it’s a matter of some kind of contractual agreement to have that funding cover that service.”

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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