FL: Manatee Bus Riders Give Input to Transit Officials

April 25--MANATEE -- It was a small audience, but they were all knowledgeable, dedicated bus riders, as county transit officials Thursday completed a series of five public workshops focusing on newly proposed routes and fares.

Heidi Pooley is disabled, and her husband, Bill Pooley, is blind.

"We do everything by bus, except church," said Heidi Pooley, 59. "The church picks us up now."

She loved the idea of extending the Route 6 bus line, which now starts at Coquina Beach and runs east down Cortez Road to DeSoto Square mall.

Manatee County Area Transit is proposing to extend Route 6 further east along State Road 70, which currently does not have service, to link Gulf beaches and Lakewood Ranch.

"It will be better for him to get home safely," she said, pointing to her husband, adding, "It would be much quicker, much safer."

The transit agency also proposes to re-align Route 16 to connect to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, and add new service through Palmetto and Rubonia.

Alice Coleman, a retiree

who lives near State College of Florida, said the Route 6 expansion would work well for her, too.

"This expansion would be great," she said. "That's part of the county I can't get to now."

Younger people would like to be able to take the buses out to Lakewood Ranch for employment and educational opportunities, she said.

Officials also are proposing fare increases. That annoyed Bill Byers, 61, who is blind.

"I do not like the plan today," he said. "I don't need anything in Lakewood Ranch; lots of people are really complaining about the rate increases."

Asked if the fare hikes would adversely affect him, Byers replied that he might not use the buses as much.

Proposed fares for riders would increase from $1.25 to $1.50, a day pass would increase from $3 to $4, and monthly passes would go from $30 to $40. Weekly passes would drop from $15 to $12, and a 25-cent transfer fee would be discontinued. Most people have been receptive to combining new service with higher fares, said William Steele, the county transit division manager, during the workshop at the Fountain Room in downtown Bradenton.

Ridership has been growing over three years, and is inching up toward 2 million a year, Steele said.

The transit agency will continue to gather public comment through May via social media networks, comment cards on buses and online surveys.

In June, officials plan to present their findings to county commissioners.

Information: mymanatee.org/mcatplan, call 941-748-4501, comment via Twitter @ManateeGov or go to the MCAT Facebook page. Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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