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Come on, and take a (nearly) free ride

At 50 cents a ride — about a third of what folks pay in other parts of the country — Sarasota County’s bus fares have long offered local folks one of the few good deals they get in this ever-more-expensive town.

Now, the County wants to raise the fare from 50 to 75 cents to offset $750,000 from its looming budget crunch, and they’ve invited the community to comment at three upcoming weekday meetings to be held from 4 to 6 p.m.

Most working folks punch out around 5:15 p.m. If they are bus riders, that means getting from their cubicle chair or from under the chassis of the car they’re working on, or away from the dust-bunnied households they clean for, in time to walk to the nearest bus stop, wait, then ride a circuitous route on a frequently stopping bus in rush-hour traffic, to arrive before the meeting ends at 6 p.m. – all in less than forty-five minutes. Not exactly making it easy for bus-riding worker-bees to voice their concerns.

When the County announced its proposed fare increase, they were careful to specify that it would affect everyone, including persons with disabilities and the elderly. Should they maybe have mentioned that the single biggest block of potential bus users — roughly 2,500 County employees – will continue to be given a free ride?

According to its website, Sarasota County employees can ride the bus for free, anytime, anywhere. Not just to go back and forth to work, but to go to the movies, the Farmer’s Market, the beach, wherever.

I’m not saying County employees don’t deserve a free ride … heck, I’d like one too. And the 25 cent increase, that’s chump change, right?

But 50 cents roundtrip, 300 days a year? I’m here to tell you that for some of us, an extra $150 bucks is all that stands between affording a medical prescription or new pair of glasses … or not.

How about a program where each County employee who doesn’t use the free pass could donate it via a lottery system to some needy citizen who surely would? There’d be some administrative overhead, but I’ll bet it would help fill at least some of the half-empty buses rattling around town.

Or, why not keep the feel-good 50 cent fare for everyone and sell advertising instead? In Raleigh, North Carolina, businesses shell out $1,250 a month for huge vinyl wrap ads plastered onto public buses. If Sarasota sold advertising on just 50 buses, there’s $750,000 right there.

I hate to think of even more advertising in my field of vision. But if it means continuing to be able to provide cheap transportation to those who need and deserve it the most – the environmentally responsible, disabled, elderly, or the simply poor folks who can’t afford a car — then I’ll happily sit in my ancient Camry, or on the back of my bike, and stare at advertising as big as a bus … just as long as all County residents – not just County employees – can take a (nearly) free ride.


Posted on August 8th, 2007Comments RSS Feed
One Response to Come on, and take a (nearly) free ride
  1. […] would affect everyone, including persons with disabilities and the elderly. I wrote at that time (in my column in the Pelican Press) that I thought the county might have mentioned in its press releases that the single biggest block […]

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