A picture of public transit in the early 1900s found trolleys on streets clogged with horse carts and jammed with people. As it developed, public transit traditionally served downtowns with streetcars, subways, or buses operating on fixed routes and on fixed schedules. Through the 1950s, public transit was a profitable industry owned and operated by private companies.
With the coming of the automobile age, urban areas changed dramatically. Cities and their suburbs had grown around the public transit lines radiating out from the downtown area. The automobile allowed people to go anywhere. As a result, decentralization of retail, financial, and industrial sites into the suburbs moved rapidly after World War II. In the post-war era, automobile ownership became almost universal, providing instant mobility. Brevard County’s public transit developed almost exclusively in the automobile era. In 1959, there were less than 25,000 people in the entire county. Brevard County has no dominant downtown with a concentration of retail, financial, and service businesses typical of older cities that were developed before the automobile; its industrial employment centers are dispersed. During the 1950s and early 1960s ridership on public transit declined rapidly. Public transit’s financial viability, as a “for profit, private sector enterprise,” also declined rapidly. By 1964 many private transit companies were losing money. The federal government intervened with a program to buy privately owned public transit assets and operate them in the public sector. By 1974, the federal role expanded to include operating assistance. By this time, most public transit systems were publicly owned and subsidized similar to roads, bridges and highways.
In 1974, the Federal government dramatically increased its role in public transit, in part, because of the 1973 Arab oil embargo. More federal grants were available for buying buses and new grants became available for paying operating expenses. Many communities that had no existing public transit operations took advantage of new federal funds and began public transit operations. This occurred in Brevard County through the formation of the Brevard Transportation Authority. The original idea of the BTA was that all local governments and the Florida Department of Transportation would participate. As it turned out, the Brevard County Board of Commissioners and the municipalities in Central and North areas of the county declined to participate. Although its name implied that it served the entire County, BTA served only the area south of the Pineda Causeway, or roughly one-half of the County’s population. The BTA attempted to provide traditional public transit service using fixed routes and fixed schedules. Because of low-density development in the service area, results included low ridership, high subsidy per passenger, and a decline in public support. By the time the BTA went out of existence in 1985, there were only two participating municipalities out of the original ten that had formed the authority in 1974.
During 1974, the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners also set up a transportation system. Although Brevard County had no traditional public transit system before 1974, there were several non-profit agencies that operated transportation services for their clients. In 1974, these separate transportation systems were melded into a single agency called CATS, or the Consolidated Agencies Transportation System. Under the Board of County Commissioners, CATS was charged with providing service to senior citizens for medical, shopping, and congregate meals and to the economically disadvantaged for medical and other life sustaining needs. Over the years, CATS services expanded, ridership increased, and public support grew. The cost to the Board of County Commissioners was minimal since CATS drew support from many funding sources. The service was also free to the passenger thus enabling CATS to maximize user support. Transportation was provided by subscription service to social service agencies and demand-response service during the middle of the day for senior citizens. Although both the BTA and CATS transportation systems were formed in the same year, there was very little cooperation between them. In fact there were constant disputes over service based on the BTA’s belief that CATS was duplicating services offered by the BTA. Over the years, the relationship grew more and more pronounced. In 1983, the BTA announced that unless a clear definition of service parameters between the two systems was effected, it would discontinue service. At that time, the Brevard Metropolitan Planning Organization was updating the urban area’s Transit Development Plan. That plan recommended a two year demonstration of cooperation between the two agencies and, if the experiment was successful, a merger of the two systems. The consultants based their recommendations on the fact that there was stronger support for the specialized transportation provided by CATS. BTA, in fact, was providing service mainly to senior citizens who were already qualified to ride the specialized serviced provided by CATS.
A two-year demonstration began in October 1983. By October 1984, it was obvious to local officials that cooperation between the two was already succeeding. The BTA turned all of its assets over to the county and went out of existence on September 30, 1985 and the merger was accomplished on October 1, 1985. A countywide contest was held to determine the new name of the system. The new system named Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT) would be operated as a department of the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners. Space Coast Area Transit was not designed to be a traditional system. The service was available to anyone, and a fare was charged, but those were the only two aspects of the service which were similar to traditional public transit systems. The service was designed around the special needs of the elderly and the disabled. SCAT continues to provide service to those groups that had been served by CATS.
SCAT also serves not-for-profit agencies through separate contracts with those agencies. A typical contracted bus route starts out its day picking up developmentally disabled adults and transporting them to training centers and sheltered workshops. Around the lunch hour, senior citizens are transported to designated meal sites. In the afternoon the bus reverses the route and takes everyone home. SCAT also operates paratransit services to serve the mobility needs of those who are unable to utilize fixed routes. Paratransit is generally a curb-to-curb service accessed through a trip-by-trip reservation. SCAT provides such services to meet the needs of the transportation disadvantaged citizens of our County.
Additionally, Space Coast Area Transit oversees the Volunteers in Motion Program. This program relies on volunteers to provide transportation services to qualified elderly citizens of Brevard County. Brevard’s Vanpool program began in 1982, when the BTA received a federal demonstration grant to promote ride-sharing as an alternative to traditional public transit service. The concept was based on using vehicles smaller than buses with volunteer drivers and passengers sharing all of the operating expenses of the service. The BTA began the ridesharing program with its own staff, but in 1985, it was bid out competitively. Two proposals were received and the contract was awarded to Vanpool Services, Inc. (VPSI). The program has grown from 6 to over 100 vans in the last 20 years and has become one of the largest public/private sponsored vanpool program in the State of Florida. Space Coast Area Transit purchases the vans with federal and state capital grants. The vans are then leased to VPSI, which in turn subleases the vans to commuters and human service agencies. Commuters that live in the same area and work in the same location form vanpools of seven to fifteen people that typically meet at one of Brevard County’s Park-N-Ride lots. Passengers save money, time and gas by riding to work comfortably in state-of-the-art passenger vans provided through this program. Vans are leased to commuters at a flat rate that includes all maintenance, insurance and administration. Vans are also leased to social services agencies to provide more specialized service than can be provided by Space Coat Area Transit’s subscription or paratransit service.
In 1994, SCAT unveiled its first illustrated bus, joining leading transit systems throughout the nation who use transit vehicles to generate advertising revenue and increase interest in the public transit system. Due to a grant received from the Florida Department of Transportation, Space Coast Area Transit was able to hire a professional advertising agency to develop a comprehensive marketing plan. Maps and schedules are now being designed in a format that makes public transit easy to use and understand.
In 2001, Space Coast Area Transit introduced trolley service to Cocoa Beach. The trolleys are actually buses designed to look like trolleys. The service runs from Port Canaveral to 13th Street in Cocoa Beach. A ride on the trolley costs just $1.25 with a reduced rate of 60¢ for seniors, veterans, disabled, and students. There is no charge for children under five or for transfers to fixed route bus service. Bikes and surfboards are welcome.
In 2003, Space Coast Area Transit was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Public Transportation System Award by the American Public Transportation Association. The annual award recognizes a public transportation system providing more than one million and fewer than four million trips annually. A criterion used to select the nationally recognized winner includes attributes such as efficiency and effectiveness, achievements in safety and operations; customer service; financial management; minority and women advancement; policy and administration; community relations and advancement of industry initiatives. According to SCAT director, Jim Liesenfelt, “The award was a great tribute to everyone involved with our organization. SCAT’s strongest resources are the contractors we have carefully selected to partner with and our highly trained staff. We have 100 plus employees who are 110% dedicated to getting their customers where they need to go, when they need to get there, wherever life takes them.” By combining a unique mix of fixed route and paratransit service, vanpooling and dedicated volunteers, Space Coast Area Transit is committed to combining their resources with emerging technology to ensure Brevard’s current and future transportation needs are addressed. In 2007, SCAT launched new services, including an interactive trip planner as well as evening and Saturday service on most routes.
On September 24, 2007, for the first time in the 34-year history of public transit in Brevard County, Space Coast Area Transit served over one million fixed route passengers boarding in a one year period of time. The historic event occurred at 8:03 am on the Cocoa Beach trolley at Shepard Park. Millionth rider Kathy Brady, an employee at the Country Inn and Suites in Cape Canaveral, was the recipient of a one-year complimentary pass on any of the Space Coast Area Transit bus and trolley routes. After riding her bike to a bus stop in Sharpes that morning, she transferred from a bus to a trolley as she had done many times during the last 12 years. Her ride took an unexpected turn when she was suddenly surrounded by shouts of congratulations, photographers and presents, including a flat screen TV. All of the gifts were donated by SCAT’s vendors, Florida Today, Central Florida News-13, Clear Channel Outdoors and Space Coast Advertising. “We wish they all could have been the millionth rider,” stated Transit Director, Jim Liesenfelt. “As our county continues to grow and congestion on our roads becomes a way of life, we hope more and more of our residents will use public transportation as a primary method of commuting as an alternative to continuously building new infrastructure.” Since the 2007 launch of expanded service, SCAT has had impressive ridership growth. From 2006 to 2010, the annual fixed route passenger trips increased from 912,025 to 1,604,020, an increase of 691,995 or 43%. The average growth has been 15% a year for the past four years.
In October of 2010, Space Coast Area Transit received four first-place marketing awards and was awarded best of show for their social media marketing efforts at the 36th Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) Annual Conference. They also won First Runner Up for safety in a medium size system, a coveted award issued by FPTA to recognize the best transit safety record in the State. The awards for marketing included signage and a cable television commercial that was funded by the Florida Department of Transportation to increase transit ridership on the congested 520 and A1A corridors. Using play on words, the campaign featured a medieval “knight” to promote “night service” on the two routes serving the 520 and A1A corridors, Route 4—520 Connector and Route 9—Beach Trolley. Another first-place award was given for a campaign honoring Space Coast Area Transit’s ten-millionth transit rider. Elements focused on the significance of how many people ten million really is, by comparing the number of riders to the entire population of LA, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia being loaded into buses. Space Coast Area Transit vendors donated a prize package for the ten-millionth rider that included a 60″ flat screen HDTV, an i-Phone, flip video camera, and a behind the scenes tour and VIP luncheon at News 13.
The last first-place award that went on to win best of show was for Space Coast Area Transit’s Facebook and Twitter social media marketing. Through the use of FBML, their facebook account acts as a mini website, featuring schedules and maps in both English and Spanish, as well as vanpool and Park & Ride lot information. Riders can also receive Tweets from the local transit service by following their Twitter account, SCATBus. Jim Liesenfelt, the Director of Space Coast Area Transit said that “being recognized for having effective community outreach was very gratifying, however, passenger safety has always been the number one priority. To be acknowledged as having one of the top safety records in all of Florida is a tribute to all the Space Coast Area Transit employees who work hard every day to provide mobility to our residents, in the safest possible manner,” he said.
Also in 2010, Space Coast Area Transit teamed up with Google Maps to provide a trip planner on their website using the technology of Google Transit. Step by step directions for the entire route, including transfers and travel times are available in text, and on the map. Travel times and transfers are provided for each leg of the trip. Directions can be reversed to plan a return trip, and print out a map and text directions. Customers can access maps and schedules from everywhere on their mobile devices. In 2011, Space Coast Area Transit was named the Outstanding Public Transportation System by the Florida Public Transit Association (FPTA). Transit systems throughout the state of Florida were compared to determine the winner. Quantitative measures included an analysis of functions such as the number of passenger trips, vehicles operated and hours of service in comparison to overall operating expenses. Qualitative measures, such as safety, customer service, and community relations were also rated. Wes Watson, FPTA’s executive director, stated, “Many transit agencies in our state are doing an outstanding job, especially in light of the tight economy generating a need for increased services while simultaneously creating a decrease in the revenue from which those services are derived. However, when we analyzed the comparative data, it was clear that Space Coast Area Transit was truly deserving of this award.” Jim Liesenfelt, director of Space Coast Area Transit, said he felt both humbled and gratified. “To be recognized as the most efficient transit agency when compared with all your peers throughout the state is very humbling. At the same time, to have our County Commission and the outstanding employees in our department recognized on a state-wide level as good stewards of the trust that the citizens of Brevard County have placed in us—from both a financial and a customer service standpoint—is a badge of honor that all of us are very proud to wear.”
Highlights of 2012 included record-breaking bus ridership of 11% or 2,040,000 passenger trips, and an all-time record of 2.6 million system-wide passenger trips (including vanpools and Paratransit). Melbourne and Titusville signed agreements to help fund additional bus service within their cities; Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and Palm Bay contracted for additional bus shelters and benches. 17-year-old Paratransit buses were replaced with 18 new buses. Communication with riders increased through Facebook, Twitter and a quarterly E-Newsletter. Space Coast Area Transit received 4 first-place statewide community outreach awards—including one for their new mobile website and QR code. Over 4,500 volunteer hours were logged in our Volunteers In Motion program. A Transit Development Plan that provides guidance on how to expand transit service through 2022 was completed.
During 2013, an all-time record of over 2.8 million system-wide passenger trips went on the books— a 7.7% average increase over the prior year and a 19% increase in one month alone. Newly designed bus stop signs replaced ones that were worn out. Made of a high intensity reflective material, the signs are much more visible, especially at night. A QR code on the signs link passengers to a mobile website, where the Google Maps Trip Planner details which routes to take. Additionally, a Bus-4-Life game app was created and subsequently garnered 1 of 4 first-place marketing awards—and the Florida Public Transportation Association Judges’ Choice Award. A savings calculator was created on 321transit.com, allowing customers to see how much they really save by riding the bus or vanpooling versus commuting by car.
In January of 2014, Brevard County residents—6,600 to be exact—embraced a New Year’s resolution to try out their local bus service on the first annual Resolve to reThink Your Commute Day. Space Coast Area Transit co-sponsored the event with reThink, a program of the Florida Department of Transportation that promotes transportation options to commuters, and CareerSource Brevard, a place where people come to learn business skills and set out on a career path. At a kick-off ceremony where community leaders spoke about transits economic, business and environmental benefits, Brevard County Manger Howard Tipton stated, “Transit service benefits our people, our businesses and our local economy as well. Commute options not only benefit our residents, but also the businesses that need to get their employees to work, and the tourists who are visiting the Space Coast. Providing commute options in our region puts us on the map, and makes us more attractive to the high tech types of industry we are actively pursuing.” “Resolve to reThink Your Commute” was named Member’s Choice at the Florida Public Transportation Association Annual Marketing Awards competition. Other 2014 highlights included the commencement of a new bus route in Rockledge and Viera, implementation of a fare increase raising the base fare to $1.50, construction of a new transfer station at the Melbourne Square Mall, and a new record-breaking ridership of 2.94 million total system boardings.
In 2015, Space Coast Area Transit started the New Year in style. During the 2nd Annual reThink Your Commute Day kick-off ceremony held at the King Center for the Performing Arts, a “Students Ride Free” funding agreement with EFSC was renewed. Ancel Robinson, president of the EFSC Student Government Association, began the celebration by stating, “Without transit service, our students would be lost. I know, because I am one of them. Richard Laird, Vice President, Financial & Technical Services at EFSC also shared that, “The college’s long standing relationship with Space Coast Area Transit remains invaluable and is among the most important that we have in Brevard. It adds an element to higher education that is often overlooked: the critical role that public transportation plays in our cities and neighborhoods.”
Additionally, Space Coast Area Transit: facilitated 2,374,498 passenger boardings on the Fixed Route network, an increase of 2%; assisted FDOT in opening a new Park & Ride Lot for car/vanpooling at Hope Community Church in Titusville; received a first-place marketing award from the Florida Public Transportation Association for an employee-driven motorcycle safety awareness campaign in honor of deceased co-worker, Art Churchill; created a Speakers Bureau Video to connect community members with transit services— presented it to over 40 agencies; awarded a “Best Workplace For Commuters” designation—over 70% of Space Coast Area Transit employees are available for commuter benefits; provided 5,200 client trips to Brevard’s elderly and mobility challenged through Volunteers In Motion (VIM); and celebrated as the Florida Commission for Transportation Disadvantaged named VIM driver Joseph Leacock the State of Florida Volunteer of the Year. Leacock drove 110 days and provided 1,320 trips, donating 1,449 hours of service over 5 years. For Bus Schedules or Paratransit Information call the RideLine, 321-633-1878. For Vanpool Leasing call 321-952-4562. To Volunteer, call 321-635-7999. For Transit Advertising Rates, call 321-726-6611. Hey, your ride’s here! Space Coast Area Transit . . . Moving Brevard into the Future.