Branded as ‘OnDemand by Sarasota County,’ new SCAT service to begin on June 5

Fare set at $1.25 per ride, after first two weeks of free service for promotional purposes

Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sitting officially on May 18 as the Sarasota County Transportation Authority, the County Commission unanimously approved the proposed fares for Sarasota County Area Transit’s new Mobility On Demand (MOD) service.

And that service is set to launch on June 5, the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) webpages note on the county website.

After June 1, anyone may create an account for SCAT MOD, which has been branded as “OnDemand by Sarasota County,” one of the webpages says. A person may search for the brand in Apple’s app store or in the Google Play store “and tap to download icon,” the webpage directs customers.

SCAT also points out that an individual may call 941-300-1553 to book a ride if that person does not have a smartphone.

The cost for the service is $1.25, as noted in the resolution that won full County Commission support on May 18.

The fee is the same for regular one-way service on SCAT fixed routes, a May 18 county staff memo said.

The Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley is free, the May 18 county resolution noted, and a separate fare system exists for the SCAT Plus service for persons with disabilities who need specialized transportation equipment.

Children age 5 and under, who are accompanying a paying passenger; and persons 80 and over will be able to use the OnDemand service for free, the resolution said.

The first two weeks of the service will be provided for free “to promote it and orient users to the operation,” a May 18 county staff memo noted.

The “OnDemand” webpage touts its “[q]uick easy, affordable rides around town.”

This is one of the OnDemand webpages on the county website. It shows the four zones where the new service first will be implemented. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the pandemic, SCAT has not been charging passengers, the memo pointed out. Fares on the fixed routes will resume on the date that the collection of OnDemand fares begins, the memo added.

The hours for the OnDemand service will be 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays, the webpages say.

Funding for OnDemand is already available in SCAT’s budget, the county staff memo pointed out. “The revenue generated by the new fares would contribute to the provision of SCAT services,” it added.

On April 6, the County Commission awarded the $2,294,834 OnDemand service contract to a New York City company, River North Transit LLC, which does business as Via, Dun & Bradstreet notes.

The Via website says, “[W]e’re building the transportation systems of tomorrow, right now. We develop innovative mobility solutions for on-demand and pre-scheduled transit, powered by the world’s most advanced technology.

“Our partners, from rural towns to the largest cities, corporations, and universities in the world, increase efficiency, reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions, and improve the quality of life for their communities,” the website adds.

“Whether you’re looking for technology to optimize existing operations or looking to launch something from scratch, Via is ready to help,” the website says.

This is a still from one of the videos featured on the River North Transit/Via website. Image from the Via website

Via operates in more than 20 countries, providing more than 70 million rides per year, the website points out.

The Sarasota County contract includes the option of four one-year extensions.

River North Transit will provide the vehicles and all personnel needed to serve four initial OnDemand zones: North Port, Venice-Englewood, Siesta Key, and Lido-Longboat keys, the contract explained.

“Sarasota County retains the right to expand the boundaries of each zone, add more zones and set the service characteristics,” the memo pointed out. “This is a non-exclusive agreement,” the memo continued; it “is based on a fixed hourly cost per vehicle.”

River North Transit also will be responsible for maintenance and fuel, the contract’s Scope of Services says.

Fixed-route modifications to begin June 5

As for changes to SCAT’s fixed-route service: As of June 5, the SCAT webpages explain, Routes 1A, 4, 11, 16, 18, 23, 26,28, 40, 100 and 1713 will be eliminated. The OnDemand service will replace them, the webpage points out.

Additionally, “Modifications of routing and schedules” are planned for Routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 30, the webpage says.

“[L]ittle to no changes” are in the works for Routes 6, 12, 17, 33, 99 and the Siesta Key Breeze, the webpages add.

During discussions over the past several years, commissioners complained about the inefficiencies — and the related expenses — of buses with few riders on certain routes. That was the primary motivation for their agreement in October 2020 to switch to the OnDemand service.

A SCAT bus makes its way through Siesta Village in January 2019. The Route 11 service to Siesta Key ended after the pandemic began in March 2020. File photo

“You’ve got to be able to move with the times,” then-Chair Michael Moran said after the commissioners heard SCAT Director Jane Grogg’s presentation about the Mobility on Demand proposal.

“What we’re trying to do is spend the same amount of money and provide better service,” Commissioner Nancy Detert explained.

Facts about the OnDemand service

The SCAT webpages devoted to the OnDemand service also feature a compilation of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

Among the answers to those questions, the webpage notes, “After you book a ride, the app will display your pickup spot — we’ll either give you the address or business name at your pickup spot to help you find it. All pick-ups should be at your requested location or within a block.”

Further, it notes that all the vehicles will be branded with the logo and colors of OnDemand by Sarasota County, so they should be easy to recognize.

The SCAT webpages on the county website provide these links for more information about specific aspects of the service. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, it says that an individual may reserve up to three other passengers. “Please note that each additional passenger costs $1.25,” unless the person is a child under the age of 6 or a senior over the age of 80.

Another answer explains that after a person begins a ride, the destination cannot be changed. However, the webpage continues, “If you have not yet boarded the vehicle, you can cancel the ride and re-book with a new destination.”

No food or drinks will be allowed in the OnDemand vehicles, the webpages also note. Further, “Drinking alcohol and carrying open containers of alcohol in our vehicles is not allowed,” the webpages add.

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