Host: The backbone of transit in Sarasota and Manatee counties may get a little stronger soon, and bus riders living, working, studying, shopping or playing along US 41 may enjoy shorter waiting times. Our news team reports.
Johannes Werner: On a slow Friday morning after Thanksgiving at about 10:30, the 99 pulls into the terminal in downtown Sarasota – the only bus in a station with six bus bays. Half a dozen passengers get off, most of them settling on one of the benches to wait for a connecting bus. At least when it comes to waiting for the 99, there’s good news for those bus users.
MCAT already added one bus to Route 99 during rush hours. Photo: Manatee County
During their meeting last week, Sarasota County commissioners gave the go-ahead for the county’s newly named transit agency to apply for $970,000 state grant for what planners call “Transit Corridor Development”.
Breeze – that’s the new name of the bus operator in Sarasota County – will use the money to increase the daytime frequency of rides along Route 99 from every half hour to 20 minutes.
Route 99 is the regional bus route with the highest ridership. It runs from downtown Sarasota to downtown Bradenton, mostly along US 41, and it is jointly run by Breeze and MCAT, the Manatee County transit agency.
Since 2016, MCAT and Breeze have offered half-hour frequency during daytime on the 99 – which is not great, but the best transit users can get in this area. But now it’s getting better. MCAT recently added one extra bus during morning and evening rush hour, to the five buses already running along the 99 route. And the state grant will now allow Breeze to catch up with MCAT and add another bus to the mix as well.
Three-fourths of the state grant will go towards salaries and benefits of bus drivers. The rest will be used for bus maintenance.
The grant expires in mid-2025.
One remaining disincentive for Route 99 users is a confusing fare situation. For passengers, it’s kind of a lottery – they win if they get one of those light-blue buses operated by Manatee County. That’s because last fall MCAT made all bus rides free, in a temporary experiment to boost passenger numbers. That experiment is set to expire next year.
If it’s a Sarasota bus, passengers need change or a card at hand. Breeze charges regular passengers per ride, and it raised those fares last fall. The Sarasota transit agency does not offer any discounted weekly, monthly, or yearly tickets for regular commuters.
One Breeze employee told WSLR News, off the record, that there are no plans to follow MCAT’s free-ride experiment.
Sarasota County communications officials did not respond before deadline.
Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.
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