MANATEE -- For Marice Sardo, like many Manatee County Handy Bus riders, the paratransit service is her only way of transportation.
The Manatee County resident relies on the service to go to medical appointments, buy groceries and visit her husband in the nursing home.
"I try to never abuse it because I am so thankful for it," Sardo said during Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting.
Sardo was one of several Handy Bus riders who spoke against the proposed increase in paratransit rates from $2 to $3 during the meeting.
No action was taken by the commission, which requested a work session to talk about the proposed fare increases.
Commissioner Charles Smith said there is nothing like hearing the testimony from Handy Bus riders who are the "people that live it everyday."
"I think we can find a better way in funding this," Smith said. "They are asking for us not to increase the fare to have the ability to go to doctor appointment, go to hospital, get food. This is the only means of transportation."
Facing higher demand for services in Manatee, county officials proposed increasing the Americans with Disabilities Act services from $2 to $3 each way.
William Steele, with Manatee County Area Transit, said existing fares have been in place for 20 years where ridership has increased.
"We want to serve our folks," Steele said. "The question is can we maintain a higher level of service particularly as our population ages? That really is the nexus of the issue. We are not trying to hinder these folks in traveling at all. It is simply a higher level of service."
The proposed increase will generate approximately $85,000, which will allow for two more full-time operators, Steele said.
"The intent is to enhance the level of service to meet demand," he said.
For 80-year-old Allan Hollar, who went blind after suffering a stroke 20 years ago, he can't live without the paratransit service.
"The best thing that ever happened in Manatee County is Handy Bus," he said. "I think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread."
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she hopes they can find the money elsewhere.
"These are the most vulnerable of all of our citizens in Manatee County," she said. "This commissioner is going to want to keep the rate the same."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitternote>