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Caloosa Spirit


Catalina 42 mkII


A Window on the World

As live-aboard cruisers, public transportation is a necessity in any metropolitan area that we visit. We have spent the last year cruising Southwest Florida, and during that time we have utilized the bus systems in several cities. We have found varying degrees of convenience and effectiveness, but in all cases the bus systems have been invaluable in meeting our shopping and sight-seeing needs.

In Sarasota we were able to ride the bus (Sarasota County Area Transit—SCAT) to visit the Mote Aquarium and Pelican Man Bird Sanctuary. Visiting both sites made for a very enjoyable day. On another sight-seeing day we took the bus to the Ringling Museum and Mansion. We also could reach a Wal-Mart (a very important resource for us) on a single bus ride of about 30 minutes. A primary bus terminal is adjacent to the main library within walking distance of Sarasota’s harbor. Although we never made the trip, the SCAT system extends as far south as Venice. The one-trip fee of $.50 per person is extremely reasonable, and the buses generally seem to run on time (although most run only once each hour). The down-side of the SCAT system is the lack of service on Sundays. We like to attend church on Sunday mornings when we can, and as life-long United Church of Christ members, we usually try to find a local UCC church to visit. If a UCC church is not within walking distance, we must rely on public transportation. So no bus service on Sundays gave us a problem. Obviously, we couldn’t do any shopping or sight-seeing outside of walking distance on Sundays, either. All in all, however, we’ve been grateful for the opportunity to move around the city of Sarasota as well as we have.

In Ft. Myers some of the buses (Lee-Tran) run on Sundays, but not the one going by the UCC church. The best feature of the Lee-Tran system is the Trollee that services Ft. Myers Beach. For $.25 one can ride to and from any beach access, restaurant, shopping plaza, or hotel/condo anywhere between Ft. Myers Beach and Bonita Beach. We took our laundry to a laundromat on the Beach Trollee. Also, during the winter season, the Park & Ride Trollee provides free service across the Matanzas Pass bridge. It’s designed to encourage tourists to park on the mainland, thereby alleviating traffic on the Beach road. The big plus for cruisers, however, is that the free Park & Ride travels from the Matanzas anchorage to Summerlin Square, a shopping center hosting both a West Marine and a Winn Dixie. In season, all the Trollees run every 20 minutes. (Out of season, however, an hour passes between Trollees.) Summerlin Square is a transfer point for buses that go to the airport and to Wal-Mart and other shopping centers. With the transfers a Wal-Mart excursion is an all-day event. While it’s possible to ride a series of buses all the way from Ft. Myers Beach to the City of Ft. Myers, it’s a lengthy trip. We did it one day, but we left too late to do much in town once we got there. We had to make the return trip early enough to avoid getting stranded. Another day, by leaving very early, we did manage to make the trip to go to the Edison-Ford Winter Estates. As in Sarasota, most of the buses run only once each hour (often late), and the routes are somewhat spotty in coverage. The cost for a single bus ride is $1.00, with an additional $.15 for a transfer. An all-day pass allowing unlimited rides is available for $3.00 per person. We’ve found the Lee-Tran service to be adequate rather than outstanding, but we’re grateful for what is provided.

The crown jewel of public transportation that we have found so far is in St. Petersburg—Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA. This bus system covers all of the Pinellas peninsula from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg, and also provides some service to Tampa. We’ve found that we can go anywhere in Pinellas County on any day that we choose. This includes any beach, any shopping center, any attraction, and even any church. The one-trip fee is $1.25, higher than either Sarasota or Ft. Myers, but we usually purchase an all-day pass for $3.00 each. That allows us to ride as many buses in one day as we choose. The service is so extensive—both routes and times—that we can do several errands in one day. In the downtown area there is a central terminal at Williams Park, within walking distance of the Vinoy anchorage and the Municipal Marina. There are several other terminals throughout the service area, making transfers a simple matter. The outstanding public transportation available in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area makes this an attractive location for a cruising hiatus.

In comparing the bus systems we’ve sampled, we’ve made some observations:
1. All these bus systems offer a valuable service to cruisers. They all have service to and from their respective local airports, so flying to visit friends and family doesn’t have to involve an exorbitant taxi fare.
2. Most bus drivers are friendly, helpful, and competent. We can usually depend on any driver to help us find the right bus for our destination, and to stop where we need to stop, even if we don’t pull the cord at the right time.
3. The convenience of the bus route and the dependability of the schedule are proportional to the utilization by the general public. In Sarasota and Ft. Myers where the routes and schedules are barely adequate, far fewer people ride the buses than in St. Petersburg, where the coverage is superior. In St. Pete it is not unusual to have to search for a vacant seat. In Ft. Myers we have frequently shared the bus with only the driver.
4. All buses are now wheelchair-accessible. However, only in St. Pete have we observed this feature in use on a regular basis.
5. All buses now come equipped with bicycle racks. This is an excellent feature in Ft. Myers, where one must often travel some distance off the bus route to reach one’s destination.
6. A convenient and dependable bus system is a real support to senior and wheelchair-bound citizens and others who, for one reason or another, are unable to drive their own vehicles. It is also an indication of a city which values improving air quality, alleviating traffic congestion, and providing service to its residents.
7. Riding a bus provides a window on the world, both outside and inside. In addition to getting a tour of the city, we also get an up-close-and-personal encounter with the colorful variety of other bus riders, including a peek into their daily lives. In our cruising life, this is an enriching experience indeed.

Posted Thursday June 3, 2004

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  1. hello i really like the way you discuss about your opinion about public transportation becuase it is very important for the communiunty. i want to share this news with you, SCAT celebrated the new SCAT Downtown Bus Terminal in case if you not know, you can view the photos at:

    http://www.transitgallery.com/showalbum.php?uuid=11&aid=634

    I hope you will like the photos!

    Again, thanks for the great story and hope hear from you!
    joseph brzezowski    03/01/2005 08:12 PM    #
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