ENGLEWOOD — The lack of a unifying transcounty public transportation system affects accessibility to needed services for those who cannot afford to own cars, according to Pat Knox.
Knox is outreach minister for St. David’s Episcopal Church in Englewood and works with low-income families and individuals.
“We’re divided between two counties,” Knox said. “One of the problems with our cold-night shelters is (the poor) can’t get here on the weekends. Everything goes back to money in the long run.”
Seasonal residents are also having difficulty using the current public transportation system.
Tricia White, a seasonal Englewood resident from England lives in Charlotte County on Placida Road.
“Not everyone can afford to drive a vehicle,” White said. “I feel businesses are losing out from a lack of connected inter-county bus service. I think having one will help people save on resources.”
Public transportation in Englewood can be a confusing experience since the town straddles two counties and neither wants its buses crossing the county line.
Englewood residents in Sarasota County have Sarasota County Area Transit, or SCAT. Residents looking to take the bus in Charlotte County must rely on Dial-A-Ride or Sunshine Ride for bus service. Neither one crosses the county line.
SCAT users must rely on Route 16, which starts at the Venice Train Depot and comes into Englewood where it travels along State Road 776, Old Englewood Road, Pine and Dearborn streets before making its final stop at Englewood Community Hospital.
Dial-A-Ride services Charlotte County west of the Myakka River (excluding the barrier islands, but including the Charlotte County portion of Gasparilla Island). It serves all of mid-Charlotte County between the Myakka and Peace rivers.
Sunshine Ride is reserved for physically or otherwise disabled 60-year-olds and older who are on Medicaid, qualify as low income and live in rural areas.
None of the services run on Sundays.
There is a demand for expanded services in Englewood but no budget for it, according to Glama Carter, SCAT Transit General Manager.
“People are happy with the route for Englewood,” Carter said. “There is more demand for more express buses. Our budget is just enough to maintain, not expand service. At this point, we’ve had a lack of funding. There’s great demand. It’s a good problem to have. Ultimately in the end it comes down to funding.” Charlotte County transit systems are funded by grants.
“Right now, most people have been satisfied with our services,” said Fred McKenna, Charlotte County transit operations supervisor. “Saturday, we work four routes with limited service.”
Dial-A-Ride has seen a slight increase in funding this year, according to Rich Weingergen, financial consultant for Charlotte County Administration Services.
“There might be room to change things around,” Weingergen said.
Voluntary transportation services like FISH of Englewood are finding themselves overwhelmed by demand for service.
“We’re in desperate need of recruits,” said Bonnie Littrel, president of FISH. “We’re the only service who will cross the county line.”
Volunteer drivers are reimbursed at 30 cents a mile. FISH is funded by area churches, auxiliaries and Rotary Clubs. People who want to use the service must call the day before for reservations.
County commissioners from Sarasota and Charlotte say they’ve heard some concerns.
“I haven’t heard anything from the Englewood end about more bus service,” said Charles Hines, a Sarasota County commissioner. “What we heard about is federal dollars were heading more towards Manatee County than Charlotte because more people work in Manatee. We have a lot of very expensive projects coming up. We have to be very smart about it.”
An exploratory joint meeting between the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization and Charlotte/Punta Gorda MPO will held at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Morgan Family Center, 6207 W. Price Blvd., in North Port. County staff and elected officials will consider options and the financial feasibility of establishing a fixed route transit service in the North Port-Englewood-Port Charlotte areas, according to a press release.
“I don’t know if there’s anything planned for fixed routes for Charlotte County,” said Charlotte County Commissioner Bill Truex. “We could have a transfer station in Englewood down the line,” Truex said. “We’re going to be evaluating our options whether a system should be private or keep it public. We’re in the early stages and it’s too early to tell.”
Charlotte County is working with a consultant on a possible pilot fixed route from North Port to the Parkside area in Port Charlotte, McKenna said. This will come up for discussion Monday.