LAKEWOOD RANCH -- News that Manatee County Area Transit is beginning its long-awaited bus-route expansion to Lakewood Ranch in January was well-received Tuesday afternoon at the DeSoto Transfer Station in Bradenton.
"It's about time," said Billy Moskowitz of Bradenton, a regular MCAT rider, when he heard that Route 6, which currently serves the Cortez Road corridor originating from Bradenton Beach to DeSoto Station, would be venturing east of Interstate 75 into Lakewood Ranch.
The new bus route, which officially begins Saturday, Jan. 3, will stretch along State Road 70 from DeSoto Station to the Walmart at U.S. 301, Sam's Club and Manatee Technical College's main campus, across the interstate to the college's Lakewood Ranch campus on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, and farther north on the boulevard to Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, where it will turn around at the school's patient parking lot.
To promote the new route, bus fares will be suspended in January for riders boarding the bus anywhere east of DeSoto Station, according to a Manatee County spokesman.
One-way bus fares will increase slightly in February to $1.50, discounted fares will
remain in effect for seniors, veterans, the disabled and students with proper identification, and bus pass options with savings will accrue for frequent travelers.
Manatee County commissioners approved the route extension earlier this year after extensive research and pubic input, along with a new North County ConneXion bus extension servicing Rubonia from the Walmart Supercenter on 10th Street East in Palmetto.
MCAT Manager Bill Steele said the new route extension will benefit educational facilities and businesses that are flourishing in Lakewood Ranch
"This important service initiative demonstrates the commitment of Manatee County commissioners, county administration and MCAT staff to developing transit solutions that meet the travel needs of the community, support economic development and connect citizens to their jobs and schools. We received a lot of inquiries from representatives at the schools advocating for the students on their behalf, and January is the peak riding season, when students return to school."
Steele added that MCAT officials are continuing to work on long-range plans for service improvements that will strengthen the east-west bus corridors of state roads 70 and 64, before concentrating on additional service along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
Heidi Pooley of Bradenton said she's been waiting for months to travel by bus to Lakewood Ranch. Pooley, who uses a service dog because she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, says she's been riding the Manatee County buses since 1996.
"I like it because a lot of people work in Lakewood Ranch. There's a lot of activities and stores that we couldn't get to depending on buses for transportation. Extending this route will open up a whole new world for us bus riders," Pooley said, as she boarded a bus with a friend at DeSoto Station.
More information about the new Lakewood Ranch bus route is available at mymanatee.org/mcat.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.