MANATEE -- Despite answering multiple surveys over the phone about the proposed increase in Manatee County paratransit fares, Valerie Matice wanted to make sure her voice and other riders' voices were heard.
At 2:30 p.m. Monday, Matice was picked up from her Anna Maria home by the Handy Bus, arriving at the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization office 50 minutes early for the county's first of two public workshops about the proposed fare increase.
"I have taken money out of my budget to come here," she said. "There are people that don't even have extra income to come here or who have more problems than I have. Because handicapped, it's a voice that's often not heard."
During the first 30 minutes of Monday's public workshop, Matice was the only member of the public there to give feedback on the proposed increases.
Matice questioned why there aren't different fare levels for paratransit riders as well as why the county hasn't explored placing advertisements on the buses like the fixed-route buses.
Facing higher demand for services, Manatee County is proposing to increase the Americans with Disabilities Act services from $2 to $3 each way. County staff is also proposing rate increases for transportation disadvantaged services and veterans transportation, which would generate an additional $78,700 in fare revenue.
"We want to provide ample opportunities for everyone to provide input if they want to," said Ryan Suarez, the county's transit planning manager.
The public will have another opportunity to give their feedback from 1-4 p.m. Wednesday in the commission chambers in the Manatee County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. The county has also been calling Handy Bus users, and there is a survey posted on the county's website.
"We want to reach the largest number of people possible," Suarez said.
The survey will be open through November at which time county staff will gather feedback from the public. At a public hearing tentatively planned for late January, the staff will present the feedback along with the county's recommendation to increase the fares to the commission. If approved, the new fares could be implemented in March.
Matice, who is also planning to attend Wednesday's workshop, said the people who have dialysis treatment on Monday, Wednesday and Friday can't come to either meeting.
"It seems like those of us who are handicapped are getting lost in the shuffle," Matice said. "There are just a lot of questions to ask."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.