Getting there in style
It is possible to hop on a GoLine Bus in Indian River County, transfer to St. Lucie’s Treasure Coast Connector, transfer again to a Martin County MARTY, and get off at the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach. Local transit systems are comfortable and affordable, with convenient stops and apps that provide real-time updates.
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Residents of big cities are well-acquainted with public transit. Because of traffic congestion and long commutes, affordable alternatives to driving not only save time, money and car maintenance, but also lower the carbon footprint, thus helping the environment.
The tri-county area is doing its part to meet the needs of its citizens today and in the future. Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties provide bus service; St. Lucie also offers bike rentals by the hour. Even better, the three systems connect so that riders could potentially ride from Sebastian to Indiantown, and even into Palm Beach County.
St. Lucie County has a no-fare system. Prior to 2017, it charged riders. Port St. Lucie resident Jill Basurto paid $50 for a monthly pass for St. Lucie County’s Treasure Coast Connector (TCC).
“I ride to work every day; people like me don’t always have $50 for the bus at any given time,” Basurto says, adding that she appreciates the fact that the county did its research, inviting riders to participate in a survey which provided important input to better meet community needs.
A new survey is offered now on the St. Lucie County government website (stlucieco.gov — search ‘transit survey’). Because the grant that makes free service possible expires September 2019, the county is gathering vital information before applying for another. One of the people hoping for optimum survey results is Cathi Petagno, senior specialist with the transit department.
“When we went to a no-fare system,” she says, “our busiest route, along U.S. 1, went from 18,000 in a month to 45,000. The surveys are important.”
TCC currently operates seven routes weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and six on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Proposed changes include service to Hutchinson Island, additional stops elsewhere, and more frequent stops.
A past medical issue fires Petagno’s current passion as an advocate for public transportation.
“I wasn’t able to drive myself for some time,” she says, “and began using a bus stop near my home.”
She had no idea that one day she’d be helping others find affordable, reliable transportation for the county.
“We’re happy to help people plan their routes if they’re having trouble.”
Petagno says that the last bus experience for many was going to elementary school, which is completely different from today’s public transit system. TCC buses are air-conditioned and clean with comfortable seating with straps and poles for overflow riders. The free RouteShout app for computers and smartphones gives information in real time, making transfers and planning easier. TCC, which transported 312,399 riders last year, has won multiple awards for its marketing videos too.
Karen Deigl is the CEO of Senior Resource Association, which has contracted with Indian River County to run the transit system in addition to other services. The association was the recipient of the 2018 Urban Community Transportation System of the Year Award for its dual system, GoLine and Community Coach. Weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., GoLine operates 15 bus routes from six hubs, covering the county from Fellsmere, through Wabasso and Vero, to south county with a connection to St. Lucie. It also operates Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and expects to tally 1.3 million combined trips this year. GoLine has always been free and also uses the RouteShout app.
“We did an in-depth analysis and found that we’d actually lose money if we charged, because of the way the government and matching funds work,” Deigl says. “We would also lose about 25 percent of our riders.”
Martin County’s MARTY buses connect Stuart, Hobe Sound and Indiantown with Jensen Beach weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. MARTY access commuter buses operate an additional route from Robert Morgade Library to the VA Hospital in West Palm Beach, also stopping at The Gardens Mall. Full fare is $1.50 with discounted prices for day passes or the 20-4-20 ($20 for 20 stops). Seniors and those with disabilities pay half fare; all payments are exact change only. MARTY buses use the free MyRide app for real-time updates.
For those with limited income or no vehicle, transit systems enable people to make it to the college for classes, get to that doctor’s appointment or job interview, keep jobs and go shopping. For those living farther than three-quarters of a mile from a designated bus stop, pickup service is available for applicants who are eligible. Each system has easy-to-understand websites to answer questions about its services.
Treasure Coast transit riders are a diverse group. Eighteen-year-old Tanner Neuberger depends on TCC to get to college each day.
“I’m used to driving everywhere,” he says, “but I’m saving up for a new car.”
Gladymar Villegas rides the bus to work and to school and, on a day off from work, she uses the bus if her children have a doctor’s appointment.
Leroy Coffee works from his home. After his car broke down, the bus was a lifesaver for him.
“I have to get supplies for my work at home; eat,” he says. “I ride about every other day. It’s real convenient.”
While reasons to ride vary, and there are a few differences within the three-area transit systems, all serve their populations well, providing safe, dependable, clean and user-friendly transportation with wheelchair accessibility. Whether you’re a “regular” or new to the idea, GoLine, TCC, and MARTY can get you there in style.
COMMUNITY BUS SERVICES OFFER RIDER CONVENIENCE FOR MANY REASONS
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
As a child, I rode a few buses and trains, but my lengthiest experience with mass transit was in India. During our year there, we traveled from village to city by trains that were packed with humanity inside and on top. We rode diesel-belching buses and rickety rickshaws. It was great!
During my teens, I was wooed one summer by a Port St. Lucie fellow who rode the bus to my house in Fort Pierce. We’d ride downtown and cool off at the library or have ice cream at Dipper Dan’s. Since then, however, I hadn’t been on a local bus until recently.
What do you need to know, in a nutshell, about bus service on the Treasure Coast? It’s dependable. The buses are clean and cool. The bus drivers are helpful and friendly, as are the riders. Bus transfers might seem intimidating, but there are always folks who will help. The RouteShout app is, as one rider told me, “a lifesaver.” And, in St. Lucie and Indian River counties, it’s free, the exception being Martin County.
The downside? Additional time must be allowed. Buses don’t spend a lot of time at each stop, but it adds up. Some routes are busier than others, especially during peak times. You may have to stand. You may, as many people did during one leg of my own journey, offer a seat to a middle-aged woman.
County Commissioner Kathy Townsend and Port St. Lucie Councilwoman Stephanie Morgan ride Treasure Coast Connector regularly, taking personal videos and posting them online to promote community transit and (I would think) to maintain a closer connection to their constituents. It would be a great idea for other officials to follow their lead. But anyone would benefit from taking a ride, experiencing a tremendous community service available to all, meeting people you might never encounter otherwise, and saving the planet a little in the process.
I’ve suggested community transit to folks who are, for one reason or another, without personal transportation, only to have them turn up their noses, as if there’s a stigma attached. If anything, taking the transit communicates a willingness to invest whatever time and effort is necessary to get to school or employment. It shows innovative thinking, commitment and responsibility. It says, “My job (my class, this appointment, this errand) is important.”
Riders, drivers, and transit officials, I salute you.