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Islandwide OnDemand ride-share service to begin this month

The new transit system extends Sarasota County’s Breeze OnDemand service to include Manatee County portion of Longboat Key.

Sarasota County's OnDemand service debuted in 2021.
Sarasota County's OnDemand service debuted in 2021.
Courtesy image
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How does someone get around on Longboat Key without a car? Soon, there will be a new, simpler solution. 

Manatee and Sarasota counties approved the expansion of Sarasota County’s OnDemand service to include all of Longboat Key beginning on Jan. 29.

The approval was included in the consent agenda of the Manatee County commission meeting on Jan. 9 and the Sarasota County commission meeting on Jan. 10. 

The expansion is progress toward a unified public transit system on Longboat Key, something that has been in the works for nearly five years, according to Town Manager Howard Tipton. 

He said he was “ecstatic” about the approval. 

While the process may have been slow, he said that was a positive in this case. 

“The benefit of it having taken so long is the whole OnDemand transit option has really now developed itself,” Tipton said. 

OnDemand is a “curb to curb” ride-share system, similar to Uber or Lyft. Through this system, riders pay a flat fee of $2 per rider. Children under 5 years old are free. 

The service is a part of Breeze, Sarasota County’s public transit system. The four designated zones of the system are: Downtown Sarasota/Lido Key/Longboat Key, North Port Area, Venice/Englewood Area and Siesta Key. 

According to Sarasota County Director of Transit Jane Grogg, ridership numbers for the Longboat Key zone have not been as high as others, but the county is looking at the positive impacts of this expansion. 

“We’re looking at this expansion with Longboat as another way to build that ridership base in this zone and increase our ridership,” Grogg said.

Currently, the Downtown Sarasota/Lido Key/Longboat Key zone extends to the county line on Longboat Key, just north of Bayfront Park. 

The new agreement will absorb the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key into this zone. Service will extend across Longboat Pass Bridge, where riders can then pick up Manatee County Area Transportation routes. 

“We’re very excited about this expansion and building our ridership,” Grogg said. “We’re providing a way to improve access for transportation while potentially alleviating traffic by people sharing trips.”

Breeze OnDemand's modified Downtown Sarasota/LidoKey/Longboat Key Zone extends service north to the Coquina Beach Transfer Point.
© Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap

OnDemand began in 2021 as a way to optimize the public transportation system. According to Grogg, routes were analyzed and this service was created as a solution. 

“We found a number of routes that were not performing well, and those were grouped into areas, and certain routes were identified as underperforming and those routes were eliminated. Then we added the four on-demand zones in the county,” Grogg said. “And the ridership has grown exponentially.”

Within the past year, OnDemand ridership has increased by 96%, according to a memo to the Sarasota County commissioners. 

Up to four people can share one OnDemand vehicle, and riders are able to schedule a handicap-accessible vehicle. Grogg also said that the service has an average pickup time of about 20 minutes. 

Behind the scenes

Tipton said Longboat Key has been trying hard to strengthen relationships with both counties. 

“When you are working with other agencies, it’s all about relationships,” Tipton said.

The joint meetings the town had with both counties at the end of 2023 were helpful in talking about the problems and the potential solution, he said. 

“It was helpful in that meeting to be able to share the logistics of just trying to get around,” Tipton said. “I think that conversation really helped to build some momentum and push it to the finish line.”

The agreement struck between Manatee and Sarasota counties allows for the OnDemand service to extend into the north end of Longboat Key at Manatee County’s expense. It will cost Manatee County $30.67 per trip that begins or ends in the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key. 

Currently, Manatee County operates a Longboat Key shuttle that costs around $200,000 to $250,000 a year. At the Oct. 31 joint meeting between Longboat Key and Manatee County, Manatee County Public Works Director Chad Butzow said that cost includes driver salary and department expenses. 

With the expansion of OnDemand, Manatee County would no longer operate the shuttle. 

Grogg said that the county has been working with the vendor that provides the OnDemand software to give them the new map and implement it into the service. The second part of preparations for the Jan. 29 rollout date includes public announcements, and Grogg said her department is on track to meet that date. 

For more information about the Breeze transit system, go to 



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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