Sarasota County, Fla., to Offer Public Ride-Hailing Service

Sarasota County, Fla., has partnered with a subsidiary of Via Transportation to provide an on-demand public transit option. Some fixed routes of the current transit system will be eliminated.

The Via logo on the side of an on-demand transit vehicle.
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(TNS) — With a $2.2 million contract with a New York-based ride-hailing company in hand, the Sarasota County Transit Agency is gearing up to transform the area's public transportation system. And it could come as early as June 6.

River North Transit LLC, a subsidiary of Via Transportation, will help SCAT implement its new vision for public transportation that will link county services with the ride-share company.

"This is a big win for the community," said Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who sits on the Sarasota County Transportation Authority. "It's innovative and it's a better service and experience for riders."

Unlike traditional fixed-route transit, the on-demand system will enable riders to request that a vehicle come to them and take them to a stop nearest to where they want to go. Think of it like an Uber or Lyft but with a few added restrictions.

Sarasota County decided in October that it would like to redesign its public transit system, citing a consultant's estimate that the county is losing an estimated $4 million a year running certain routes with poor ridership.

Beginning in June, the county will cut all fixed routes in North Port, Venice and Englewood. Unproductive lines in the city of Sarasota and on the barrier islands also will be trimmed. Major routes, including the one along U.S. 41 that takes riders south from downtown Sarasota, will remain. Other major fixed-route commutes may get faster.

While the changes may cause temporary headaches, officials say the new system will be a much better fit for the county.

For now, service will be split into four zones: Siesta Key, Lido and Longboat Key, Venice and Englewood and North Port. The on-demand service will run 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The service also will operate 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

HOW


Let's say you want to go to the grocery store. As long as you and the store are in the designated zone, you can be taken directly there and back. If you want to go within zones, you have the option of being taken to a bus stop that will take you the rest of the way.

The new system is designed to help solve what's known as the "first-mile, last-mile" problem — how to get riders from the bus stop to their final destination, whether it's their home, workplace or grocery store.

"The biggest complaint is not being on the bus, it's getting to the bus stop and waiting for the bus," Ziegler said.

Fares likely will remain at $1.25 for anyone 6 to 70 years old. Children under 5 and passengers 80 and older might have an opportunity to ride for free.

The new service will be operated by River North, the consultant, which will handle day-to-day functions such as procuring vehicles, hiring bus drivers and creating and managing an app for users. The county will also have the option in the future or retaining other ride-service companies.

Last year, the county's consultant, TransPro, said the new system likely would amount to a 10% increase in ridership.

TransPro estimated that in fiscal year 2019, the county spent about $20.5 million on its fixed-route system. That equated to about an average cost of $100 per service hour.

In an effort to promote the service, SCAT plans to provide the service for free for the first two weeks.

Unlike on fixed-route systems, the county is not required to offer fare discounts for seniors and other residents. The fare likely will mirror the one you're used on the fixed-route service at $1.25 for anyone 6 to 70 years old.

Riders can pay their fares while making the reservation online, in the app or by paying cash to the driver. The application and website will accept credit cards, debit cards and prepaid cards.

Riders can request a ride via a mobile application from your app store, at scgov.net/OnDemand, or by calling a dedicated call center at 941-300-1553. Customers may also email questions to support-sarasota@ridewithvia.com.

The ride will show up within 30 minutes of the ride request.

The on-demand vehicle, which looks like a minivan, will pick up customers and take them to their destinations within the same zone. Other customers traveling similar routes may ride along.

Implementation of the plan has been impacted by the state of emergency caused by COVID-19. Over the course of the emergency, SCAT removed most of the fixed-route service already planned for elimination because of low customer usage and a reduction in available workforce. During the emergency, SCAT has provided mobility on-demand service in the areas where fixed routes are not operating for essential trips.

Routes 6, 12, 17, 33, 99 and the Siesta Key Breeze will have little to no changes, according to the county.

Modifications of routing and schedules to fixed routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 30 will change on June 5.

Fixed routes 1A, 4, 11, 16, 18, 23, 26, 28, 40 and 100 will be eliminated.

Visit scgov.net/scat for more information.

SCAT Plus will continue to operate within Sarasota County. SCAT Plus offers service to individuals who are unable to use fixed-route service because of a disability and who live within 3/4 mile of a fixed-route service. Certification for this service is required.

This is a curb-to-curb service, within 3/4 mile of the existing fixed-route service as noted on the map below. The hours of operation are the same as the fixed-route service. Certified customers must make an advance reservation. The area where SCAT Plus will operate is changing. Customers who formerly used SCAT Plus in the new on-demand service zones will be able to use the new service for trips within that zone. If you are a SCAT Plus customer and unsure of which service to use, call the Sarasota County Contact Center (941-861-5000).

©2021 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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