Public Transit and the Free Flow of Ideas



Beginning Aug. 1, students, faculty and staff from both Ringling College of Art and Design and New College of Florida will ride free on Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses with the simple presentation of a valid college ID. The result of months of negotiations between county governments and the aforementioned educational institutions, the Universal Pass or U-Pass program allows Ringling College and New College to pre-pay for student, faculty and staff use of county buses, but it’s a move that Manatee County officials are saying will benefit the entire community in the long run.

The agreement follows a trend in public transit, says MCAT Manager Bill Steele. Lump-sum payments expedite the process for everybody, he says, allowing for more efficient boarding, meaning more efficient transit in general. The fare is still collected—even if in advance—and nobody has to fumble for change. Use is unlimited—card-carrying collegians can access not only the main routes leading to school, but all feeder routes possibly necessary to reach those main routes.

But more than streamlining the system, Steele sees the U-Pass program as an investment in education and impetus for economic development. Not in the immediate sense, he says—new businesses won’t sprout from the earth—but in the long view, one that sees value in further assisting and encouraging education in one’s community. “We’ve removed a possible impediment for people, especially students, to use transit to get to school and get the skills and training they need for meaningful employment in the community,” says Steele. “And hopefully that employment is here locally.”

Steele hopes to see increased ridership following the change, but notes that students already represent a “significant ridership,” especially along US 41.

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