SCAT offers students access beyond campus

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One of the bus stops for route 99 located in front of ACE.

Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) provides students with an environmentally friendly transportation option to access groceries, explore off campus locales and reliably get to work on time. With buses running throughout the week from around 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. depending upon the bus route, the Council of Green Affairs (CGA) furnishes New College students with the ability to ride SCAT for free with only the swipe of a student I.D. card.

Bus routes that have stops near campus are the Two, the 15, the 99 and, on Sundays, the 215. By taking one of these routes to a transfer point, like the one at First and Lemon in downtown Sarasota, students can be connected to other routes that reach into Sarasota and beyond.

Students can board the 15 and Two routes from the bus stop at the airport. The 99 heading northbound into Palmetto and southbound into downtown Sarasota also stops at the airport but has alternative bus stops near campus, these are located in front of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library and the John and Mable Ringling Museum.

One of the responsibilities of third-year student and Transit Coordinator under the CGA, Ryan Feller, is to be the liaison between SCAT and the college.

“I’m involved with the contract we have with SCAT that allows students to ride for free,” Feller said.

He elaborated that the college’s arrangement with SCAT was negotiated a few years ago and that a flat fee is paid from the New College Student Association (NCSA).

According to the 2013-2014 NCSA budget Google Drive spreadsheet, an anticipated $6,200 will go towards funding students’ access to SCAT this year.

Feller stated that he would be meeting with SCAT in the near future to discuss the college’s use of the bus system.

“One of my jobs for the next few weeks is to meet with the folks at SCAT and look at how much ridership we actually get and how much we pay per ride,” Feller said.

A survey created by the Catalyst posted to the Forum, asked students how often they used the bus system, if ever, and if students would continue to use this form of public transportation if it were not free. Out of fifty students who responded to the survey, 82 percent said that they have utilized SCAT services at some point, while 18 percent said that they had not. When asked if students would continue to use the SCAT bus service if it were not free to students, 58 percent of responders replied ‘no,’ 6 percent replied ‘yes’ and 36 percent replied ‘yes but not as frequently.’

“It’s a popular program, I see folks at this bus stop all the time,” Feller said, referring to the bus stop across from the Jane Bancroft Cook Library where this interview took place.

Third-year Marie Carr utilizes the bus system because she does not own a car. She rides the bus weekly. “At least once or twice a week usually,” Carr said of how often she rides the bus.

“If I have to go grocery shopping, run any errands and in the future I’m hoping to use the bus to get to and from work,” Carr said of why she rides the SCAT buses.

The 99 route is shared between Sarasota and Manatee counties. Every other half hour, give or take, alternate SCAT and Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) buses run the route.

Due to the college’s current contract with only Sarasota County and not Manatee, bus fare for students is only free going southbound into Sarasota. Students trying to head north into Bradenton might be asked to pay the $1.25 fare unless they have the good fortune of having a lax bus driver.

Feller explained why it is important to give students access to viable transportation options.

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The MCAT shares the 99 bus route with SCAT. Students can ride these buses for free so long as they are heading Southbound into downtown Sarasota. Students will be asked for fare on the Northbound buses.

“Transportation is obviously a very important thing for accessing jobs, for getting into the community,” Feller said. “I think having public transportation access for students is a fantastic way for the school to offer more resources that expand students’ boundaries beyond the campus into the community.”

Thesis student and Environmental Studies Representative Vanessa Chastain said that she does not ride the bus now as much as she used to, as she has recently gained access to a car.

“Last year, I would take weekly grocery trips on the bus,” she said. When asked why she rode the bus, Chastain cited its convenience and it being a more environmentally friendly transportation option.

“The environmental reasons associated with [carbon dioxide] emissions are a factor,” Chastain said. “For certain purposes like going to the grocery store from campus, I don’t really see a reason not to use the bus because it takes maybe a little bit more time, but it’s not that big of a deal and it’s the right thing to do.”

Student government also plans to provide students an alternate method of transportation through the implementation of a revamped bike-share program, which in the past had fallen into disrepair because a lot of the bikes were not returned in a timely manner.

This semester, through the work of Feller and the CGA, the bikes are being improved and the rental policy re-examined. According to Feller, the bikes are being repaired, new locks and new lights are being added and several of them are being outfitted with large baskets, ideal for carrying groceries or books.

Rental bikes will now be due before the Fitness Center closes the day after the bikes is rented.

“The reason we’re doing that is to make sure that bikes are available at any given moment and a student can come get them at any time,” Feller explained of the new rental policy.

All SCAT bus route schedules, as well as closures for holidays can be found online at the SCAT website. Students can also plan their bus trips by using Google Maps. If a bus appears to be running late and students would like an update on its status, they can call the SCAT hotline at 941-861-1234.

Information for this article was taken from www.scgov.net/SCAT/Pages/default.aspx and the survey on bus usage was created using SurveyMonkey

 

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