As a way to increase frequency on the bus routes that run along Manatee Avenue West and Cortez Road, bus service to Lakewood Ranch could be eliminated.
The proposal to end the State Road 70 bus service at the Wal-Mart just east of Interstate 75 is one of several proposed changes to the Manatee County Area Transit system that the county commission will consider at its meeting Tuesday. All proposed MCAT-related changes, including the proposal to increase Handy Bus fares, will be considered beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the commission chambers.
“We are really trying to re-purpose some of our service to beef up that core network,” said Bill Steele, transit division manager. “It is to enhance those two corridors.”
With the exception of U.S. 41 and Anna Maria Island, all other routes in Manatee County operate at 60-minute frequencies and the proposed restructuring will allow Route 6 and Route 3 to operate at 30-minute frequencies.
Other changes proposed include ending Route 99, which services Sarasota, at the downtown Bradenton station, and making changes to the Longboat Key route. If approved Tuesday, most changes could go into effect in November, with the exception of the Longboat Key changes and increased frequency on Cortez Road.
“We will be able to improve reliability of service,” Ryan Suarez, MCAT planning manager, said of turning the Route 99 bus around in Bradenton instead of Palmetto. “If we can keep the 99 on time, we can keep most of our other routes on time.”
Should the commission elect to follow staff’s recommendation to cut the service to Lakewood Ranch, the commission is also being asked to authorize staff to submit a request to Florida Department of Transportation to amend the requirements of a state grant that had been used for the Lakewood Ranch route.
“We want to use our money where it is best going to be utilized,” Suarez said.
In the future, Steele said he could see adding some of the service back to Lakewood Ranch. The county has not received any negative feedback about the proposal to end the Lakewood Ranch service, he added.
“We are better served building up those two corridors,” he said. “At some time in the future, we will come back to Lakewood Ranch.”
With respect to the proposal to increase the Handy Bus fares for both the Transportation Disadvantaged and Americans with Disabilities Act from $2 per trip to $3 per trip, the additional revenue would be used to maintain level of service, Steele said. The fare increase would go into effect in October, if approved.
Right now, the Handy Bus is doing 350 trips per day and should the board decide not to follow the recommendation to increase the fares, the number of trips could be reduced to 325 per day, Steele said.
“We are really pushing our operators too hard to maintain that level of service,” he said. “We can’t continue to do that higher level of service. We would like to add two operators to maintain that 350 trips per day.”
The Handy Bus operators are working double shifts and on off days, Steele said.
“We just can’t continue this,” he said. “They are just working too hard.”