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Longboat Key Monday, May 14, 2018 4 years ago

Survey: Longboat workers impacted by SCAT cancellation

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A proposed cancellation of SCAT Route 18 would impact at least 13 businesses on Longboat Key, according to a survey conducted by the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce.
by: Bret Hauff Staff Writer

Almost 100 island employees would need a new ride to and from work each day if Sarasota County Area Transit shuts down Route 18 between Longboat Key and Downtown Sarasota,  according to a recent survey by the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce.

Of the 57 responses to the survey, 13 businesses on Longboat Key said their employees would be affected by a stop in SCAT service. That halt in transit has been proposed by Sarasota County as a means of reducing a burden on its strapped general fund.

Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren said she was surprised by how many employees could be affected by a change on this route, which connects Bay Isles with the SCAT terminal at 1st Street and Orange Avenue. 

"We're not happy with it," Loefgren said of the proposed change. "It will affect the business community, it will affect how people get to work."

Of all the businesses that responded saying their employees would be affected, The Resort at Longboat Key Club would be most impacted: At least 50 of its employees would lose access to work if Route 18 were canceled, according to the survey.

Jeff Mayers, general manager at the Resort at Longboat Key Club, said that if the SCAT route were canceled, it would affect the Resort’s ability to retain workers and attract new employees. Many of the resort’s staff live in Sarasota, Mayers said.

“It makes it much more difficult for our employees to get here to the Key, to come to work on a daily basis,” Mayers said of a potential loss of SCAT service. “In a very competitive job market, having modified service could present some major problems.”

And although the bus serves half the island, Loefgren said canceling the route would also impact employers in Manatee County because some of their employees transfer from SCAT to an on-demand transportation service provided by the Manatee County Area Transit. 

MCAT changed its general-service bus route to an on-demand service in 2016. 

The SCAT proposal is part of Sarasota County’s larger goal to reduce its general fund by $5.4 million. Route 18, which averages 62 riders on 14 round trips each day, costs the county about $140,000 annually to operate. The proposed cut would take effect for fiscal year 2019, which starts Oct. 1. Two other SCAT routes are similarly proposed for elimination.

“We’re not looking at ways to remove transit,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said 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. 

But canceling the route may not be the final outcome of this decision by the County Commission: The proposed halt of Route 18 must first undergo an Equity Analysis to determine how a service change would impact the communities it serves.

That independent survey, which requires input from public hearings and final approval by the County Commission, could take months to complete.

If all is approved, the route could stop service by August 2019.

Before that happens, the Chamber of Commerce is hosting a meeting June 5 for members of the business community to meet with SCAT officials to discuss alternatives to canceling the route. Loefgren said that she hopes this meeting will produce simple solutions to the complex problem of transportation. 

"They must come up with some simple solution to get people here and not make it complicated," Loefgren said. "It's got to be easy for people to navigate."

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I’m a 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 941-366-3468 ext. 333.

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