MANATEE -- One day, Manatee County bus riders may be able to pay their fares by flashing smart cards or their smart phones as they board, officials said Tuesday.
Eventually, they may be able to ride transit vehicles across the eight counties of the Tampa Bay region, using a common payment card and fare system, officials told the Manatee County Commission.
A transportation working group is studying such a possibility, which could be used on transit vehicles across the Tampa Bay region, including Manatee and Sarasota, said Jeffrey C. Seward, chief financial officer for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, and chairman of the Regional Revenue Collection Project.
"We will kind of change the paradigm" as riders become accustomed to the convenience of electronic digital equipment, he predicted.
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The Florida Department of Transportation has awarded $1.9 million for the project, and the TBARTA regional transportation agency has contributed $267,500, he said.
Special funds have been set aside for pilot projects in smaller communities, including Manatee and Sarasota counties, Seward told Manatee County commissioners.
Manatee County transit officials will be testing "smart card" technology using their new bus fare boxes.
Bus Route 99, which connects downtown Palmetto via U.S. Highway 41 to downtown Sarasota, will probably be the first line selected to see how well smart cards work, said William Steele, Manatee's transit division manager.
No local matching monies will be required, Seward said.
Commissioners were enthusiastic.
"It's a good opportunity for the counties to come together, work together," said commissioner Vanessa Baugh.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino noted that such a system would provide "ease of operation for the consumer," while commission chairman Larry Bustle called it an important "step toward bi-county cooperation."
In other business:
County utility officials said they had completed the first phase of a repair project at the Lake Manatee Dam at a cost of about $19 million. They plan a much-smaller, second repair phase to compact soils and fill voids downstream from the dam's spillway, but as of Tuesday, no decisions as to how the second phase would be done had been made, they said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.