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OPINION: Sarasota Traffic Congestion

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Larry A. Kelleher, Managing Editor
Source: Sarasota History Alive
Photo Credit: Sarasota History Alive
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - OPINION: Sarasota Traffic Congestion photo

As more people visit and move here, it is inevitable traffic will continue to increase. Perhaps this is the time for our community to consider a different route to take while the planners are working on a permanent solution to a complicated problem. On a similar note, forget about paying out-of-state companies to come to Sarasota to create jobs when we can simply utilize the manpower and creativity we already have here. With that in mind, join me on a pleasant yet fanciful journey that will provide us with a sophisticated and practical solution:

Imagine stepping into a luxurious circulator shuttle bus, after you park your car at the closest mall, or shopping center, near your home. This state-of-the-art efficient vehicle will take you to your ultimate destination, while you relax and forget about traffic during high season, or the daily rush hours. This service will initially only be available on US 41 from south Venice to the Sarasota-Bradenton airport, and the keys. Each 21-seat circulator bus is equipped with free WiFi for you to use your smart phone or tablet, individual directional A/C vents, a large screen TV, comfortable seats with safety belts, an attendant with CPR and First Aid training, a wheel chair lift, and other thoughtful amenities. We all know texting and talking on your cell phone while driving is dangerous, but doing it on the shuttle bus creates no problems on the road, and you can enjoy the ride without safety concerns or distractions.

Today’s large hybrid SCAT busses cost on average $500,000 each, and are rarely filled to capacity when traveling their assigned routes. They will be sold or traded-in to acquire a fleet of small coach circulators. Though it will take many more shuttle busses and drivers to accommodate this service, consider the tax base currently supporting public transportation; the savings from using smaller circulators should be a considerable factor in weighing this solution.

Each circulator bus will be “wrapped” in an imaginative design indicating its destination for riders to easily recognize which bus to board, and not have passengers deal with confusing numbered routes. A map/flyer shows color coded routes that make it easy for residents and visitors to understand a circulator system. The maps will be available at all libraries, bus stations, online, and at hotels. Shuttles arrive every 15 minutes for your convenience, and they will be the only ones permitted to use the designated express lane for this service on US 41. The bus driver will not be distracted by passengers, as the bus attendant personally addresses their needs.

Your automobile is securely parked in an insured and leased section of the shopping center’s parking lot. This section is replete with a tent canopy to shade your car, a manned kiosk stocked with beverages, sundries, and reading materials for you to purchase and enjoy while you are being driven to work, cultural attractions, the medical complex, the judicial sector, downtown, St. Armand’s Key, festivals, sporting events, the marina, or the beaches. If you are heading to the beach, or have large items to transport to work, the bus attendant will stow your gear for you in the buss’s exterior side compartments. He or she will also serve as a tour guide for visitors and be in a position to recommend restaurants, upcoming social events, cultural destinations, shopping venues, sports events, and so on.

Your smart phone is able to show you how far away your bus is from you while you are waiting under a covered bus stop that has comfortable benches and, at least, a fan overhead to keep you cool during the summer months. Of course, you can always sit in your car while you wait for the bus, or enjoy the kiosk’s amenities adjacent to your car. Tasteful and comfortable outdoor furniture will be provided for you to sit in the café atmosphere (think ‘Chill Lounge’). Local companies will sponsor the furniture, potted plants, and durable rugs which serve as advertising for them. The kiosk staff member also serves as your concierge to have your car washed or detailed, by a mobile service, while you are at work, or are off on a shopping excursion. No time to take your clothes to the dry cleaner? The kiosk concierge will arrange for them to be picked up and delivered by the dry-cleaning company’s delivery service.

The circulator service will operate from 6:00 a.m. – midnight every day of the week. When you get back to your car from work, you are already at the mall or shopping center and can do some quick shopping, hit the gym, grab a bite, or pick up some groceries since you are already there and know where to find your car.

There are many things to consider with such a proposal, and it would take a good deal of planning and research to evaluate if this is a worthy and desirable service that the public would accept and support. I envision this idea only being implemented with full cooperation of government, and private enterprise.

In 2015, Sarasota County allocated $13,600,000 for public transportation which is derived from your property taxes. More than likely you contributed to those property taxes, however a very small percentage of us actually use the inconvenient SCAT bus system for assorted reasons. Every individual who pays property taxes (including renters who pay their landlords), should receive a courtesy card pre-loaded with a number of points based on what they paid in property taxes. The card is swiped when getting on the shuttle bus and ‘spends down’ until it runs out of points. When that occurs, you simply pay a $1.75 fare per ride, if that is what the true cost will be after factoring in all the expenditures associated with such a venture. In time, with a higher rate of passengers using this unique service, the operation’s expenses should level out making it an affordable, convenient, and a popular alternative.

The courtesy card points are transferrable to others if you will never use public transportation. Visitors, who stay in hotels or condos, may purchase a card for the duration of their stay in the county. Beyond taxes, revenue streams would be generated through reasonable fares, kiosk rentals, and advertising on the shuttle coaches.

Customers, who do not have a car and need bus transportation regularly, will still enjoy regular bus service because the circulator shuttle service will be implemented incrementally over time. This will enable transportation professionals to adjust current routes and schedules for other parts of the county. However, there should be no need for the large and expensive SCAT busses for passengers who do not own cars; the 21-seater should be able to handle their requirements for regular non-express service.

If circulator shuttle busses are considered as an attractive option for commuters and visitors, just think how much we can reduce the amount of traffic converging onto US 41 alone on any given day. After this ‘experiment’ is studied and/or implemented, the service can be added to other north-south routes on major roads.

Perhaps the county, municipalities and the media should conduct fact finding sessions for our ever-increasing traffic challenge. Let’s not wait until we have total gridlock and visitors shun us.