County on track to add nine new bus shelters a year for the next five years

During a Nov. 19 advisory board presentation, the new SCAT director acknowledges his frustration with the slow pace

SCAT Director Rocky Burke. Image courtesy Sarasota County
SCAT Director Rocky Burke. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) has set a goal of completing nine new bus shelters annually over the next five years, its director, Rocky Burke, told members of the Sarasota County Tourist Development Council (TDC) during their Nov. 19 regular meeting.

He is hoping to obtain more funding from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Federal Transit Administration, he added, to increase that number because “a lot of locations need [the shelters].”

As of mid-May, when Burke provided an update to the County Commission, SCAT had 148 of its own shelters in place, plus 45 Lamar facilities that feature advertising, for a total of 193. Twenty-two new SCAT shelters were installed in the 2014 fiscal year, he added.

The county has 2,044 bus stops, Burke noted during that May workshop.

On Nov. 19, Burke reported to the TDC that the shelter total has grown to 210.

TDC Vice Chair John G. Ryan, president and CEO of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, told Burke voiced concern about the goal of nine per year, given the number of total bus stops. “I would love to see some more impact on [that],” Ryan said.

“It’s pretty tough on people using the bus when you have to stand out there in a monsoon or 92 degrees of weather,” Venice City Councilman Bob Daniels added.

“Very much so,” Burke responded. “I’ve been in this business for probably 25 years,” he continued. “For the area that we cover, I was really surprised at the lack of shelters that we have.”

Burke was hired as SCAT director in late 2014.

He told the TDC members that a couple of county commissioners frequently question him about the slow progress on installing new facilities. “It is a priority,” he said of adding shelters.

A SCAT rider awaits a bus at the Southgate Mall shelter. File photo
A SCAT rider awaits a bus at the Southgate Mall shelter. File photo

During County Commission workshops in 2013 and 2014, board members pressed then-SCAT Director Glama Carter about the high expense for shelters. In February 2014, county staff members explained that compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), utility and drainage considerations and land acquisition expenses all contribute to a new SCAT shelter costing between $15,000 and $34,000.

On May 15, Burke noted the same range, pointing to the necessity of ADA compliance and engineering costs as the driving factors for the total expense.

He told the County Commission that he and his staff were “working really hard” with partners to speed up the process. For example, residents of Pinecraft — home to many Amish and Mennonite residents in Sarasota — have helped SCAT secure new shelter locations. He added that he and his staff were working with the Cities of Venice, North Port and Sarasota and with Englewood leaders to acquire more rights of way for the facilities.

At that point during the 2014 fiscal year, Burke continued, county workers had constructed 17 pads that were awaiting shelters. From the 2016 fiscal year through the 2020 fiscal years, he noted, he expects to have about $900,000 in his budgets to cover the installation of nine shelters each of those years.

Burke also showed the board a slide comparing SCAT shelter costs with expenses of such facilities in peer communities. The low end of the range was $3,983 for just a shelter and bench, while the highest figure was $9,500. The average for the peer communities, the slide showed, was $5,906. SCAT’s average was $5,625.

A graphic compares bus shelter costs. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic compares bus shelter costs. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Further, the slide noted that on average, the peer communities had bus shelters at 10 percent of their stops; the Sarasota County figure was 9 percent.

Vice Chair Al Maio predicted that after a consultant completes a comprehensive operations analysis of SCAT, county staff probably will reduce the number of bus stops.

A painted SCAT bench sits on the Ringling College of Art + Design campus. File photo
A painted SCAT bench sits on the Ringling College of Art + Design campus. File photo

Burke told the TDC members last week that he expects the analysis to be completed in July or August of 2016.

Maio also suggested in May that Burke and his staff make sure the number of pads installed each year exceeds the total number of shelters, “so we’re always ahead of the game there.”

Further, Maio told Burke that he felt if pads were in place, some community organizations would be willing to pay for benches.

“Just incrementally eat away at this thing,” Maio added. When SCAT can provide a bench, he pointed out, “at least people aren’t sitting in the ant-infested grass on a rainy day.”

Burke responded that amenities such as the benches and shelters are “super important” to SCAT’s operations.

On one other shelter note: Burke reported during the May 15 workshop that the county’s contract with Lamar for its 45 advertising shelters expires in May 2017. “So we’re making sure we begin that conversation [with Lamar],” he said, adding that he does not want to lose those facilities.

“They don’t take the shelters, do they?” Maio asked.

Cindy Zambella, the long-time manager of SCAT’s finances, replied, “That is a potential occurrence, so that is why we need to plan [to avert that].” She added, “We’re going to make sure that we have a plan.”