Manatee-Sarasota joint transit system agreement elusive, officials say

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 15, 2013 


A Manatee County Area Transit bus picks up passengers in Bradenton in this 2010 file photograph. Officials are considering bus routes to Lakewood Ranch. File Photo -GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald


MANATEE -- An effort to find a practical way to jointly operate Manatee and Sarasota county transit agencies under a private manager has stalled.

The two counties have yet to reach a consensus on how a joint system would operate regionally, said Nick Azzara, Manatee County information outreach coordinator.

The immediate obstacle is an interlocal agreement between the two counties to specify details of such a merger, Azzara said.

It remains in draft form, said Rob Eschenfelder, representing the county attorney's office. Manatee officials forwarded their version July 23, and so far it is still under discussion, he said.

The two commissions, at their last meeting, directed their respective county administrators to prepare an interlocal agreement to guide the merger.

Eschenfelder said Monday: "We're not there. There's nothing to talk about."

The two county administrators, Manatee's Ed Hunzeker and Sarasota's Randall Reid, did not wish to present a draft with more questions than solutions, said Azzara.

Manatee County officials asked for more time to review the proposal, Sarasota County spokesman Curt Preisser said.

He and Azzara confirmed a Tuesday meeting between the two commissions to discuss the topic was canceled.

"We fully expect it to be rescheduled," Preisser said.

Azzara expressed similar sentiments.

"We will continue to work with Sarasota staff on a feasible solution for the two commissions to consider at a later date," Azzara said.

Some Manatee County routes already run into Sarasota County, and vice versa. The merger option would encourage more seamless travel across county lines, officials have said. The basic concept is to hire a private company to manage and operate both systems with each remaining under original county ownership. The existing systems are called Manatee County Area Transit and Sarasota County Area Transit.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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