Encouraging the public to embrace alternative transportation on, and off, Siesta Key, may require a perception shift on buses and trolleys.
| 6:00 a.m. February 11, 2016
Parking shortages have plagued Siesta Key beachgoers and merchants alike for years.
The solution, many Siesta Key Village merchants say, is a circulator that runs exclusively on the key and shuttles people between the beach, hotels, condominiums and the Village.
Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) is currently negotiating with a private vendor to provide circulator service on Siesta Key.
SCAT and the third party, who are still negotiating, haven’t agreed on any specific details yet, but SCAT hopes to provide free service trolley service on Siesta Key, with links to SCAT routes. More details should be available within a month, Kendra Keiderling, marketing manager for SCAT, said.
Meanwhile, SCAT officials are promoting its routes that travel to Siesta Key as a transportation alternative that could alleviate parking.
But persuading people to ride the bus carries its own set of challenges, which SCAT officials have been trying to address with a barrage of marketing and public awareness efforts.
Read on as the Sarasota Observer hops on the bus service SCAT currently offers to Siesta Key to explore how convenient the option is.
Hitting the route
It’s 1:35 p.m. on the warm but cloudy Sunday, Jan. 31, as the bus for Route 10, one of two routes that serve the key, approaches Westfield Southgate Mall on schedule.
Just one rider exits at Westfield: Edna Conner, 95, who rides from her home on Siesta Key to exercise, leans on a cane, carrying a shopping bag as she walks toward the mall.
“They don’t want me to drive anymore,” she says. “Your reactions get a little slower.”
About a half-hour later, the bus heading out to Siesta Key arrives. The bus, which costs $1.25 each way, seems clean and comfortable, but just one passenger, who says he’s from Pinecraft and doesn’t own a vehicle, is already on board, and a second boards at the mall.
After crossing U.S. 41, winding down Siesta Drive and crawling through Village traffic, the bus arrives at the beach, less than 20 minutes after leaving the mall.
Despite the nearly empty bus, Siesta Key Public Beach is packed. The parking lot has a few spaces open, but they fill up quickly.
The Moore family is unpacking at their car. They are visiting from South Carolina, and though they take a trolley around town during visits to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for convenience, Mike, the father, says they didn’t think to take a bus here today.
The Seaman family is also unpacking beach gear. They say they would rather avoid the beach at peak times instead of looking for travel alternatives from their home in east Sarasota County.
“You don’t come out here at certain times of the year,” said Rob Seaman. “Like next month.”
Living out east, the prospect of transferring to connect to a route onto the key seems daunting.
Still, Jennifer Seaman says that if they didn’t have children, the bus might be an option.
“With kids,” she said, “you end up hauling so much stuff.”
Circulator: The route not taken ... yet
What merchants would like to see is a circulator similar to Anna Maria’s, which is part of the Manatee County Area Transportation system. It’s free and runs daily from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 20-minute intervals.
Because of the high density of amenities and people on Anna Maria, it carries nearly 600,000 passengers per year, most of which is riders moving from one point to another on the island, according to Division Manager William Steele.
Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck, is an advocate for a Siesta Key circulator. His restaurant purchased three trolleys in 2002 to run two routes on the key. Daiquiri Deck asked the county to piggyback onto some SCAT resources, such as a parking lot and signage, but negotiations failed.
Daiquiri Deck retired its trolleys, each of which cost $295 per day to operate, that year. Village merchants instead focused on petitioning the county for a trolley.
“We need an open-air trolley that’s tourist-friendly and easily accessible,” Matthes said. “It needs to be a designated trolley for Siesta Key.”