Riders on SCAT

I recently decided to ride the local Route 16 SCAT bus to make sense of what public transportation is like in Englewood.

I’ve ridden public transportation in New York City, San Francisco, St. Louis, Houston, Tampa and even Taiwan. Some had train systems to work with the busing service. They all had one thing in common: They were crowded.

It’s nice to know that the citizens of Englewood can have access to public transportation, even if it’s two separate counties and neither crosses into the other’s territory. If there’s one observation I can make about my first ride on our public transportation, I don’t think I remember seeing a bus so empty.

Perhaps it may be due to my timing.

I went on the noon bus toward Englewood Community Hospital. I was picked up on West Dearborn Street near the Bay City Grille, under construction just opposite Elsie Quirk Library.

All I could hear when I stepped on board was the loud air conditioner standard in all mass transport vehicles. There was Deborah Salter, an older passenger from Venice, sitting at the front of the bus. She was hoping to get to a job interview in Englewood.

Moments after I boarded, Keila Turner, the driver, explained the limit of the route to Salter. The bus wouldn’t be leaving Sarasota County, and the county line was within a few blocks. Salter resigned herself to the situation and told the driver that she’d just go back.

I asked Turner if it’s usually this empty. She said it is busy in the mornings and afternoons.

I asked about Salter’s experiences on the bus. She said she liked SCAT, and it’s not usually empty. Sometimes in Sarasota, there is only standing room available.

Even when the bus broke down, she said another would be available promptly, and she was never late to where she needed to go.

Salter said this was the first time she had ridden in a while. She has a Florida driver’s license but does not have access to a vehicle. She’s trying to find a job, but it’s difficult to get around, she said.

How many are in a similar position?

Salter used to live with her husband in Nokomis. He had to take four buses to work in Venice as a pressure washer. He got up at 5 a.m. and came home around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. It didn’t make sense, she said. They decided to move to Venice to be closer to work.

The Englewood route ended at Englewood Community Hospital. We made good time because no one else came on board.

I asked her about the kind of work she was looking for. She said she was hoping to do food prep. She used to be a server, she said, but no longer could meet the demands of the work.

About 20 minutes passed and the bus was on the road again on its way back to Venice. We went by the intersection of Indiana Avenue and Dearborn Street, where another passenger finally was picked up near Publix.

The new passenger had earbuds on and was listening to her MP3 player. As the bus started toward Venice, I asked the newcomer if she would like to talk about her experience. She politely refused. I decided to get off at State Road 776 and Donovan Road, knowing I probably wouldn’t see any new Englewood passengers on this run.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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