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Metropolitan Planning Organization board tells Manatee and Sarasota transit systems to work together better


Bus riders who have Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) passes can't use them on Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses. SCAT riders can't use their passes on MCAT buses, either.

Today, members of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Board of Directors unanimously told staff members that a unified fare system for the two transit systems was long overdue and should be implemented as soon as possible. The board also told staff that route maps given out by one system should also have route information for the other one because ridership is so intertwined between the two counties that it makes no sense to have separate route maps for each one.

Moves to merge the two systems are being put on hold for the time being due to the poor economy, but may be revived at some point in the future -- unless both local systems end up merging with the regional Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

MPO board member Jon Thaxton said, "I would like to bypass a Sarasota - Manatee merger and jump straight into TBARTA." But Thaxton and other board members acknowledge that a TBARTA merger is "off in the distant future," and that it might be a good idea to give Manatee and Sarasota County residents some familiarity with TBARTA long before any merger takes place by putting TBARTA signs or decals on some local buses.

Board member Joe McClash brought a motion to the floor to rebrand both MCAT and SCAT buses used on the shared "Route 99," which runs from Sarasota to Palmetto, as TBARTA buses, albeit with low-cost decals rather than expensive repaints. After a brief discussion, this motion won unanimous approval.

Other MPO actions
Everyone agrees that traffic to, from, and near St. Armands Circle is a mess this year. MPO District Traffic Operations Engineer L.K. Nandam is monitoring the situation closely and is working with St. Armands merchants. One suggested fix would be overhead signage pointing toward the various circle exits, an idea merchants had nixed earlier for esthetic reasons but may reconsider. Another thought is to check traffic light timings on the mainland side of the Ringling Bridge, especially the one at Fruitville near where Tamiami Trail, John Ringling Drive, and Bayfront Drive meet in downtown Sarasota. The board voted to study this matter further, with special attention paid to input from St. Armands merchants and nearby island residents.

Board member Donna Hayes wondered why the MPO had an estimate of the number of jobs created in Sarasota County with federal stimulus funds but there was no similar estimate for Manatee County. Staff members promised to remedy this oversight, and also noted that the two counties have qualified for 36 projects worth a total of $29 million in federal funds; that 15 are completed, 13 are under way, and eight are out for bid.

FDOT's District One Secretary, Stanley M. Cann, reported not only on the St. Armands traffic problems and how stimulus funds are being used here, but also on work being done to have simple, easy--to-follow guidelines for median landscaping, and issues with U.S. 41 traffic and pedestrian safety near University Parkway and the nearby universities.

The entire meeting agenda is available as a pdf download here.

The next regular MPO Board Meeting is scheduled for April 26, 2010.


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