During a lunch meeting with Special Gathering staff, the option of using SCAT as a way to get to our Cocoa office was discussed.  Several employees are now using SCAT regularly to get from their home to the office.  As gas prices are rising I believe many people may be seeing it as a viable option over driving their own vehicles.  I was reminded of an article I wrote for Space Coast Business Magazine and published in the December 2007 issue.  Here it is:

Hey, Buddy, Can You Get Me a Ride?

       Can public misunderstanding, impossible circumstances and lack of funding ever become a formula for victory?  These are the three haunting ogres most non-profits face on the road to achievement.  In the decades Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT) has struggled for growth, Brevard transportation has fought all three giants.  However, as David gallantly faced Goliath, Brevard transportation officials have stood their ground, using imagination and efficiency to become one of the top transit systems in the US. Whether dealing with service sector employees, the elderly, or people with disabilities, local transportation is a needed commodity for employers, the workforce, and the medical profession.

     Historically, SCAT has been closely identified with persons with disabilities.  Because of their strong presence in the disability community, many local residents made the wrong assumption that SCAT is only for people who are disabled or elderly.  While a vigorous advertising campaign has helped SCAT to overcome the phantom of inaccurate public image, economics and rising gas prices have forced people to seek alternative transportation.  SCAT has become the answer.  Therefore, employees working in the service sector are an increasing segment accessing public transportation. 

     When service workers need transportation to go to work from Cocoa to Cocoa Beach, they are able to access SCAT which has a convenient route that takes them to their place of employment.  More and more hotel personnel working at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel are using the transportation services provided by SCAT to get them to work on time.   Transit Director, Jim Liesenfelt reported, “This route really hums with passengers.  All during the day and evening, it is full of people riding to and from work.”

     The second obstacle facing transit planners was the geographic complexity of the county.  Often development of public transportation appeared unworkable. The topography of the land mass was not going to change.   Long and slender, Brevard County is approximately 70 miles long but merely 20 miles wide.  The Atlantic Ocean provides our eastern boundary; and there are several major bodies of water which additionally divide the county:  The Banana River, Indian River, and St. Johns River.  For the transportation planner, route development becomes a logistical nightmare.  

     Several decades ago, SCAT used imagination and innovation to partner with VPSI, Inc, bringing to Brevard the concept of leasing vans to employers and commuters, thus providing affordable transportation to and from many worksites.  Using van and car pools, Volunteers in Motion became another answer, reaching down into the southern part of the county.

     Additionally, lack of funding haunts public transportation.  Part of the charm of Brevard County involves the modest municipalities, giving us small town appeal coupled with metropolitan amenities.  Yet this means that SCAT must work with 15 city governments, plus the county board to acquire local funding.  The largest city, Palm Bay, sports 75,060 residents.  However, Melbourne Village’s population is 719.  Eleven cities have less than 20,000 inhabitants.  Most of these townships do not have the budget to provide transportation for their citizenry, thus impacting the necessary funding for SCAT. 

     Renaissance Planning Group reported in October 2007 that SCAT receives only $1.95 of local funding per capita.  Other transit systems in comparable counties receive significantly more from the local matches.  Volusia boasts $15.79 per capita in funding.  Lakeland Area Mass Transit receives $26.59 per capita. 

     While lack of funding, the layout of the county and public perception has meant slower growth, SCAT has used this measured escalation to their advantage.  SCAT has concentrated on keeping their service personal and efficient.   “Our drivers know their ridership.  They are able to meet the unique needs of the people using the system,” Liesenfelt told the Local Coordination Board in October 2007.  

     Proving his point, in 2003 SCAT was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Public Transportation System Award by the American Public Transportation Association.  The criteria used to select the winner includes attributes such as efficiency and effectiveness; achievement in safety and operation; and customer service.

     SCAT has provided more than one million rides to people living in Brevard County in 2007.  But increasingly the question is “Hey, Buddy, can you get me a ride?”  Demand is blossoming.  More and more people require public transportation to get to work in Port Canaveral, Brevard Community College Campuses, Florida Institute of Technology and medical appointments.   Increasingly, tourists ride buses.  Teenagers are discovering the route that travels from Palm Bay to the beaches.  SCAT stands in the gap looking for innovative and  progressive ways to overcome obstacles, providing Brevard’s mobility necessities for employers and employees.