SCAT Seeks Public Feedback, and Finds It

Government

BY JOHN WITTE SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY DEC 3, 2019

Celeste Welch is at Selby Public Library on a Monday night. She's there with her young daughter, who's there with a golden retriever, who's wearing a sign that says “Don't Touch Me, I'm a Service Pet.” The golden retriever looks at all the strangers in the room with an unmistakable yearning, but manages to stay near his mistress. He's got a job to do. The young girl wears thick-rimmed glasses and brown curls, and stays close behind her mother. How did this threesome end up at the library on a school night?

This was the first of four planned open houses, hosted by the Sarasota County Area Transit, to gage public opinion on our bus system and to gather feedback on what needs improvement. Of the handful of residentsand patrons gathered in Selby’s main auditorium, most were regular users who had limited and very specific requests for their bus routes. A bench here, a later route there. One older patron rides over an hour to his gym, and a late bus caused him to miss a connection, leaving him stranded far outside his ability to walk home. More patrons complain of missed connections. A regular bus user raises his hand and praises the system. He describes the disastrous consequences that a privatized transit system would have on Sarasota. The attendees all applaud. Kristopher Browning of TransPro Consulting responds to these comments one on one—the county has opted for an individual approach, rather than a public presentation. “I’m not going to lecture to you tonight,” Browning tells those in attendance. “I’d rather hear from you about your concerns.”

When Welch raises her hand, she asks about accommodations for the nearly blind. SCAT Plus, the county’s existing service, requires 24 hours notice, and her daughter often has doctor’s appointments while she’s at work. “In a few years,” she tells SRQ , “she’ll be a teenager. What if she wants to see her friends downtown? The transfers will leave her there alone for an hour.”

Browning nods and writes down her concerns. The purpose of this workshop is not to comment on the possibility of a contract service for the disabled, like the one that exists in the city of St. Petersburg. The point is to listen to the community, and integrate their concerns into a larger master plan.

Browning, it's worth noting, continually steers the conversation back to financial sustainability. On the posterboards behind him are graphs that demonstrate the concentration of riders on the county's most popular routes. "We need to find the balance between providing customer experience, and making sure that there is enough ridership to sustain routes."

The remaining open houses can be attended at the following locations and times:

  • Tuesday, December 3, 10:30 am -1  pm 
    Gulf Gate Library, 7112 Curtiss Ave., Sarasota

  • Tuesday, December 3, 3:45 pm - 5:45 pm 
    Shannon Staub Library, 4675 Career Ln., North Port

  • Wednesday, December 4, 10:30 am - 1 pm 
    William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library, 300 Nokomis Ave., Venice

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