Several decades ago the local transportation provider was called CATS.  It was primarily used for people with disablilites and for the elderly.  It was primarily a provider for people who would later be classified as “transportation disadvantabed.”

Understanding the growth that would be coming to Brevard, the name was changed to Space Coast Area Transit, using the acronym SCAT.  However, it is now time for another change.  Indeed, as the transportation needs and services have increased, many people remain stuck in the idea that Space Coast Area Transit is still a provider for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Therefore, led by Jim Liesenfelt, County Transportation Coordinator, one of the changes that needs to be made is a transition from the perception of limited provision to a service that endeavors to meet the transporation needs of every citizen who desires to access public transportation.  Liesenfelt hopes that the name change from SCAT to Space Coast Area Transit will also alter the perception.

In reality, Space Coast Area Transit has become much more than a limited transit line.  It is now used primarily for working people who need a safe, convenient way to get to and from work.  In addition, there is a growing youth population who travel on the buses.

If you have a transportation need, it may be that Space Coast Area Transit may be able to meet that need.  Give the office a call at 321-633-1878.  Or visit their website at http://www.ridescat.com/.

 

Jim Liesenfelt

Congratulations to Jim Liesenfelt and all those working at Space Coast Area Transit.  They have been named Top Transit Provider in Florida.

Click and Read more…

           Several times a week, Diane Wibber catches public transit to travel from Rockledge to Titusville.  When she moved to Titusville three years ago, she did not want to give up her employment at Pizza Hut in Rockledge. Faced with the issue of how to get from North Brevard County to Central Brevard, Ms. Wibber knew she could trust Space Coast Area Transit to provide her with the rides she needed.  

            Even though Ms. Wibber is developmentally disabled, she quickly picked up the routine involved in getting to her work place.  SCAT, which is responsible for providing community transportation for all of Brevard County, has a bus stop close to her home.  Her drop off spot is only one block from her employer.  Like 44 percent of her fellow riders, on the days Wibber serves in the restaurant, she rides the bus to and from her job.

            On Fridays, Wibber saves the seat next to her for her pastor, Rev. Richard Stimson.  He boards the bus in Port St. Johns on his way to his Rockledge office.  During their 20 minute ride, Ms. Wibber and Stimson discuss upcoming or past events.  If the pastor is preoccupied with e-mails or answering phone messages, Ms. Wibber sits quietly, reading a book or enjoying the landscape.

            Only a year ago, this scenario of pastor and parishioner sharing a ride to work via a SCAT bus would have seemed improbable in Brevard County.  Of course, people with disabilities and the elderly have drawn on Space Coast Area Transit for decades.  Yet, it wasn’t until the fuel crisis of 2008 that professional men and women began to access the buses.

            With the advent of $4 a gallon gasoline and a renewed emphasis on conservation, people began searching for more affordable and greener ways to get to work.  It wasn’t hard to discover the fixed-route service offered by SCAT.  In a matter of weeks, ridership jumped 15 percent. 

            While this may have been expected during the oil dilemma, it was what happened after gas prices lowered that stunned everyone.  The rider census on the fixed routes didn’t dip. In fact, according to a published report prepared by Renaissance Planning Group, “SCAT continues to gain new ridership.” In a recent survey of 1,054 passengers conducted by the group, Renaissance found that 10 percent of the commuters surveyed were riding for the first time.

            Accessing SCAT is an economic option for Brevard residents heading for work.  Additionally, it is most exploited by those employees who need it the most.  The 2008 Rider Survey prepared for the Brevard Metropolitan Planning Organization by Renaissance reported three interesting facts.

            First, 76 percent of SCAT riders have an annual household income of $25,00 or less.  This is below the County’s median income.  Second, it was encouraging that a disproportionate number of the riders are younger–in the 25 to 44 age range compared to the County overall.  In addition, two thirds of the SCAT riders are employed, which suggests the same proportion probably use public transit for work.

            The ridership survey noted that improvements were needed in hours of service, frequency and travel time.  Two-thirds of the survey respondents identified “more frequent service” as the most glaring necessity.  In other words, the riders see more bus service in more places as the greatest public transit need.  Though there are continuing complaints about the lack of routes, the overall satisfaction of a majority of the travelers was “good” or “excellent.” Even the “route frequency” and “hours of service” categories received an overall rating of “OK” and “Good.”

            Always looking to learn more about Brevard County transit needs, Jim Liesenfelt, Transit Director, expressed the consensus sentiment revealed by the increasing number of riders SCAT has experienced even though oil prices have dropped.  Liesenfelt’s conclusion sums up the issue, “These continuing increases confirm that there is a demand out there for some basic level of transit that we are just now beginning to provide.”

This is a response to an e-mail I sent to Jim Liesenfelt regarding the State and County cuts which could be expected to effect Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT).

As of right now, we aren’t targeting any cuts to the disabled.  When I first arrived at Space Coast Area Transit, the Board’s mission for us was to serve the elderly and disabled.  In the late 90’s, the Board also wanted us to add focus on “Welfare to Work.” So that’s what we’ve done. 

 

If we “only” had to take a 20 percent cut in our local funding, we’ll be in decent shape. The reduction in fuel costs will let us cut 10 percent of our local funding right off the bat. We’ll probably have to reduce some fixed route service to reach the rest of the 20 percent; but it will be the lesser used routes like Route 5 (Mims), Route 24 (North/West Melbourne) and Route 26 (beaches south of Patrick).  We know this would affect some individual riders. There might be a way to help some of those folks with paratransit. 

 

Now a 40 percent cut…I really don’t know what will happen.  To be honest, I haven’t worked out that scenario.  It’s just too scary. 

 

Our budget is due on May 1, so I will have a better picture then.  At 40 percent, we have to cut $580,000 in staff and services.  The cost for 40 hours of bus service per year for just the driver’s salary and fuel is about $65,000.  Therefore, we’re looking at removing about 360 hours of service per week or almost 19,000 hours per year.  We run about 70,000 hours of fixed route service a year.  That’s a 27 percent cut to service on the road. 

 

We also have funds called balance forward. It’s basically funds left in the bank on September 30 each year.  These are funds left if we come under budget or generate higher revenue than budgeted.  I imagine that there will be a push to take that money away from us.  Since we don’t have reserves, we have always used that balance forward each year to provide transportation service.  Keeping as much of this funding will help to dampen the upcoming local funding cuts. 

 

In theory, you would cut the lowest performing routes.  However, we have to look at connectivity, time of day, time of week, etc. to determine what to cut.  In my mind, paratransit and contract routes are the base that would be one of the last things to cut; but I still could see us tweaking the contract routes.  If we did that, the biggest change the Med-Waiver folks would see is more part-time drivers on the routes and we make our scheduling more efficient.  Once we come up with something, it’s still up to the Brevard County Commissioners to make the final decision.

 

It doesn’t hurt to let the Commissioners know what’s important to your customers and how it helps to provide their independence.  Right now, we are doing okay with our state funding.  No cuts to the Transportation Disadvantaged funds or our general state transit aid are projected.  However, that could change starting next year, so we have to be vigilant. 

 

A real bright spot is that even with gas prices dropping, our fixed route ridership is up about 15 percent for the year.  Interestingly, it’s paratransit service that is struggling, since a number of our disabled riders have lost their jobs.  I’ve let Brevard Achievement Center and the School Board folks know about this.  We want them to know that if they had clients that needed transportation to work, we are there to help. 

This is an incident as recounted by a pastor at First United Methodist Church of Melbourne.  She was commenting on a Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT) bus driver’s involvement with a member of The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community which meets at First UMC each Sunday.  Years ago, Special Gathering members opted to use their leisure Transportation Disadvantaged funding to come to church. Therefore, SCAT is the transportation provider that helps to transport our members each Sunday morning.   Here is what she shared:

I couldn’t believe what happened several weeks ago.  I was getting ready to leave the church when I saw one of the SCAT bus drivers bound from her bus to embrace one of The Special Gathering members.  The driver hugged the member with such love and concern.  “I’m so happy to see you again,” the driver said.  “All of us have missed you so much.”

I was really impressed.  Here, this wonderful woman was showing such love and concern for a person with disabilities.  I was really convicted. I have seldom seen that kind of concern coming from anyone.  I was touched to see real Christ-like love shown by a woman who stopped her job to embrace a Special Gathering member.  I knew I had seen the love of Christ on display.  For me, it was a sermon without a pulpit.

Those of us within the mentally challenged community are blessed to be able to have people, like the SCAT drivers, who care about us and who are willing to show that love and concern. 

Thank you, SCAT for the years of concern and care you have given to us as you have transported us millions of miles to work, to shop, to the movies and to church.  We appreciate your faithfulness toward us. 

    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.