Manatee County Area Transit plans major service changes

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) wants to implement major changes to its bus service. Today the organization held its fifth and final public workshop to get comment from the community.

"I thank God every day for the bus system because it’s saved me a lot of headache," says MCAT rider Susan Sandau, who’s among the 2 million people who use the Manatee County Area Transit bus system yearly. She says that without MCAT, she would not be able to get back and forth to work.

"All I have is my bike,” Sandau says. “My bike is my sole transportation, and with the bus I can plan my day much easier that way. … It’s made my life much easier than if I had to ride my bike 6 miles every day to work, which is how far I have to go”

While Sandau had a lot of good things to say about the public transportation system, her comments weren't all positive.

"One day I had to wait 30 minutes for that one bus to come around, so if they had more on the road for the longer routes it would be much better," Sandau says.

That message of needing more buses and routes is not a new one to county officials.

One high-demand route yet to be realized is one that includes Lakewood Ranch. “There is currently no service to Lakewood Ranch, and we think there is a high demand for that," says Nick Azzara, Public Information Officer for Manatee County.

In addition to adding service to Lakewood Ranch, officials also hope to add service to and from Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. They plan to pay for the changes by implementing a 25-cent rate increase for a single ride, as well as make changes to the prices of some frequent-rider passes. MCAT plans to use the extra money to expand routes. It’s a change officials say is necessary if they are going to keep up with the demand.

“It’s just going to be very important to the growth of the community, and the county is working on its 25 year growth plan so we need to get these buses in place," says MCAT director William Steele.

Many riders say they are willing to pay the higher fare.

"I think its pretty okay,” says rider Jennifer Smith of the bus fare. “If you were to pay for gas or a cab to go where you’re going it would be a lot more expensive."

And tomorrow, April 25th, you can ride the MCAT for free as part of "Try Transit Day."

Here’s a full list of the changes MCAT hopes to implement:

Realigning Route 16 to connect to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, along with transfer opportunities with Sarasota County Area Transit.

Extending Route 6 along State Road 70 to provide a link between Gulf beaches and Lakewood Ranch

Adding new service to connect Palmetto and Rubonia.

Fare increases from $1.25 to $1.50; a day pass would increase from $3 to $4; and monthly passes would change from $30 to $40. Weekly passes would drop from $15 to $12. A 25-cent transfer fee would be discontinued. A new half-fare discount for active and retired military personnel is also being proposed.