Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A First for Area: Bus Service to St. Pete

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A First for Area: Bus Service to St. Pete

Article excerpt

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

MANATEE COUNTY -- For years, elected officials, business interests, civic leaders and public transportation planners throughout the Tampa Bay area have talked about the need for regional transit that crosses county lines.

In 2004, Manatee County Area Transit and Sarasota County Area Transit erased a barrier by jointly offering Route 99 -- bus service on U.S. 41 from Sarasota to Palmetto, with stops in the downtowns, the airport, several colleges and other destinations. That route now provides 750,000 passenger trips annually.

MCAT hopes for another breakthrough in regional transit on April 1, when it launches Skyway ConneXion -- its new passenger service to St. Petersburg.

The agency arrived at the idea for the across-the-bay service serendipitously.

To transport residents daily to Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center in St. Petersburg, MCAT used to rely on one of its smaller paratransit vehicles. In October, though, it decided it needed that vehicle to transport disabled residents within the county.

So, it switched the weekday service to Bay Pines to a 35-foot, 35- passenger bus.

Yet that bus tends to be only a third full, carrying about 10 veterans to and from their Bay Pines appointments.

That underutilization got MCAT director William Steele and his colleagues thinking: Why not welcome other passengers aboard the same bus to St. Petersburg, provide them stops for other destinations while enroute to Bay Pines and, instead of one trip a day, offer two?

"We've already got the ridership to Bay Pines," Steele said. "We've repurposed what we're doing and opening it to the general public."

The Skyway ConneXion bus will depart from the DeSoto Station, Downtown Bradenton Station and Palmetto Station each morning and afternoon.

The entire one-way journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Passengers can get off at three other stops in St. Petersburg and transfer to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses to reach destinations within that county from downtown to the beaches. …

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