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Date of Issue: February 03, 2010

Bus pass improvement talks continue

There’s a possibility that in the future public transportation users in Sarasota and Manatee counties could purchase bus passes from vending machines.

The idea was brought up at the Jan. 25 Manatee Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting at New College in Sarasota. Also, talks about a consolidated bus pass for Sarasota/Manatee transits as well as evening connections from the mainland to the Island continued.

Holmes Beach mayor Rich Bohnenberger, the Island liaison to the MPO, said the process that would establish the vending machines is moving slowly.

“It’s difficult to sell bus passes at major supermarkets like Publix,” he said. “It would be great for the public, and apparently Publix is interested in doing it. I’m supporting it, but if the rest of the chains want to get involved then we’d have to go through the process again.”

Bohnenberger said other companies such as Sweetbay and Albertsons, would likely have to be onboard with the idea prior to starting up the vending machine plan.

Earlier this month, the MPO asked MCAT and SCAT to organize a committee to discuss the bi-county bus pass and bring ideas to the MPO.

But the MCAT/SCAT committee is hung up on how much to charge for a pass. A monthly bus pass for MCAT is $30, and for SCAT is $40. MPO executive director Michael Howe said MCAT and SCAT would have to agree on identical price for individual county passes before moving forward with a consolidated bus pass.

MCAT and SCAT have agreed on a price of $50 a month for the consolidated pass.

“It would be kind of like you see now where you can buy the SunPass at the grocery store for toll gates,” Howe said. “We want to make that bus-pass option available to the public, which not only brings more awareness of the option of public transportation, but also gives them easy accessibility.”

Even with the implementation of a consolidated pass, which would be called an ‘R’ pass, the options to buy just an MCAT or SCAT pass would remain, Howe said.

Bohnenberger said the convenience of selling bus passes in vending machines could result in more people to take the bus.

The MPO also plans to possibly create an MCAT route that connects from the Island to the mainland as late as 10:30 p.m., when the last trolley arrives at the Manatee Public Beach. The reason for the connecting route is to reduce congestion on State Road-789/Gulf Drive by encouraging people coming from the mainland to the Island for dinner, sunsets, or entertainment, to take the bus.