Former Pinecraft service to be merged into Route 10; other bus service changes planned countywide
In the coming weeks, Kendra Keiderling expects to spend a lot more time walking a beat on Siesta Key, so to speak.
The marketing, public outreach and customer service coordinator for Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) will be visiting condominium complexes, businesses and agencies that handle rentals of accommodations to let them know about a route change that will affect the barrier island starting Nov. 14.
When SCAT was preparing to launch Route 10 in July 2014 as new service for Siesta Key, Keiderling told The Sarasota News Leader this week, “I literally walked to every single condo [building], apartments, rental offices” on the island “and handed them schedules.”
That took her about five days, she added. “I just got the word out there.”
She plans the same type of outreach as an extended Route 10 will replace Route 33, which operated from the Pinecraft community. Pinecraft, whose primary thoroughfare is Bahia Vista Street, has many Mennonite and Amish residents, especially during the peak of tourist season. SCAT’s former director, Glama Carter, told Siesta Key Village Association members in the spring of 2014 that the seasonal Route 33 had proven popular.
The new Route 10 will operate between SCAT’s Cattlemen Transfer Station and Turtle Beach, a county news release says.
When they began last year, Route 10 buses, with “wraps” that included a beach theme, ran from Southgate Mall and circulated through Siesta Village before stopping at a transfer station behind the Michaels store in Sarasota Pavilion in Gulf Gate. The route also served Turtle Beach.
Jason Bartolone, a Sarasota County spokesman, told the News Leader this week that the primary goal of the Route 33/Route 10 change is a desire to improve on-time performance. The new Route 10 will travel onto Siesta Key until just after 10 p.m., he said. While it will continue to serve Turtle Beach, he noted, it no longer will travel to the SCAT Pavilion transfer station at Gulf Gate.
“I think it’ll really bring the ridership up,” Keiderling told the News Leader.
In response to a News Leader request, Bartolone reported that Route 10 carried an average of 40 passengers each day in Fiscal Year 2014 and 58 in fiscal year 2015.
“It typically takes three years for a route to really be developed,” Keiderling pointed out, adding that she felt SCAT did pretty well in that first fiscal year.
Keiderling expressed her appreciation for the support of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, accommodations on the island and the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) since Route 10 began operating.
However, SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen told the News Leader this week that his organization continues to hope SCAT’s management will agree to launch a trolley service for Siesta Key in the not-too-distant future.
“We have still been trying to point them in the direction of a true trolley,” he said on Nov. 4. The discussions go back years, he added, noting that Rocky Burke — who was hired late last year as the new SCAT director — is the third person in that position with whom SKVA representatives have held discussions on the proposal.
The first of those SCAT directors was Anthony Beckford, who resigned in 2012 after a negative evaluation and the discovery that about half the buses in the fleet carried expired fire extinguishers. The second person was Glama Carter, who was hired in August 2012 and then fired in July 2014.
The SCAT directors “seem to find ways around doing what we’re actually asking,” Jacobsen said. He and other SKVA members feel “money is better spent on a trolley than more buses,” he told the News Leader.
SKVA officers and board members long have pointed to the success of trolleys on other barrier islands, including Anna Maria.
“For some reason, we can’t convince Sarasota County to get on board,” Jacobsen said. “A trolley just seems to be a better fit for Siesta.”
Other SCAT changes
Along with the combination of Route 10 and Route 33, SCAT will offer the new Route 80 Express, which will provide one daily trip each way to the Laurel Road-Knights Trail area Monday through Saturday, the county news release says. “This bus will travel from North Port to Sarasota and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport via the Cattlemen Transfer Station, stopping at PGT Industries, Tervis Tumbler and Nielsen Media Research,” the release adds.
Conversely, some trips will be discontinued on Routes 90 (SRQ Airport/downtown Sarasota/Venice/North Port) and 100 (SRQ Airport/downtown Sarasota/North Port), the release points out.
During a May 15 workshop with the County Commission, SCAT Director Burke noted that half of the funding for Routes 90 and 100, provided by the Florida Department of Transportation, would end in August of this year. Therefore, if the service were to continue at its current level, the county would have to pick up that extra expense.
Route 100 began in 2011, Burke reminded the board, while Route 90 was launched in 2013. In July 2014, he said, SCAT eliminated under-performing routes for those buses. For the 2016 fiscal year, he proposed cutting trips that averaged fewer than 10 passengers per revenue hour. The goal was to keep the early morning and evening service, he pointed out, to assist people traveling from South County to North County for work.
Chair Carolyn Mason asked Burke and his staff to “make sure that we do everything we can to communicate this to the riders. … I want us to minimize the calls and emails” from the public, questioning what had happened after the changes were implemented.
“Yes, ma’am,” Burke replied. “I understand.”
The county news release also says SCAT’s Venice island supplementary reservation service will begin Nov. 14, providing transportation to and from Venice island bus stops already served by the existing Route 13. These extra trips will take passengers to the SCAT bus stop located on Golf Drive, the news release adds.
That pilot service will operate Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the release notes. Passengers may call 861-1234, Ext. 5, to schedule next-day reservations.
Yet other SCAT routes that will experience changes beginning Nov. 14 will be Route 14 (Southgate Mall/Bee Ridge Road) and Route 17 (downtown Sarasota/U.S. 41/Venice). Further, Route 9S (Venice/U.S. 41/North Port) “will be merged into a continuous, one-fare Sunday route from Sarasota to North Port, with earlier morning and later evening service,” the news release says.
For more information about the route changes, the release adds, visit www.scgov.net/scat or call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 861-5000.