Starting Friday, April 1, 2016, you’ll have a new way to cross Tampa Bay between Pinellas and Manatee Counties! Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) will be launching its new Skyway ConneXion express bus service between Bradenton and St. Petersburg via I-275 and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The service will start out as a pilot that will have two trips during the day, Monday through Friday. The first trip will start out in Bradenton during the late morning and make a round trip to St. Pete and back, with a second round trip crossing the bay during the afternoon.
The idea for the new Skyway ConneXion service originated from the fact that MCAT was already doing Paratransit runs between Bradenton and the Bill Young VA Hospital at Bay Pines. Recently, demand for this trip has grown to the point to where MCAT began to use a Gillig Phantom transit bus instead of a cutaway van. Since the Paratransit trips are already funded, the new service will not require additional dollars to operate as-is. If demand for the new service increases, MCAT will consider adding in trips to meet customer needs. For the long term, I’m sure that MCAT will need to embark on securing state dollars for further expansion, which include FDOT Urban Corridor Project funds, which play a role in various cross-county express bus services across the state.
While the Skyway ConneXion is a new service, this isn’t the first time that cross-county service between the Bradenton/Sarasota and Tampa Bay areas have been planned. In 2011, Sarasota County Area Transit proposed two routes – one between Sarasota, Bradenton, and St. Pete, with the second going to Tampa. However, funding issues led to this proposal being abandoned. In the future, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) may launch a cross-county limited express route from southern Hillsborough into northern Manatee.
Since the Skyway ConneXion is an express bus service, there will be very limited stops along the route. The southern portion of the route will connect MCAT’s three major transfer hubs – the DeSoto Station by the DeSoto Mall, the Downtown Bradenton Station, and the Palmetto Station. From there, buses will travel northward along US 41 to US 19 and I-275 and cross the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Once in Pinellas, buses will exit the interstate at the US 19/Pinellas Bayway/54th Ave S interchange and travel northward on US 19 (34th St S). The first Pinellas County stop will be situated at the intersection of US 19 and 50th Ave S, adjacent to Bay Pointe Plaza, where MCAT customers can connect to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus routes 11 and 19. The next stop is along US 19, just shy of the 1st Ave S interchange by Checkers. This stop is just a short walk away from PSTA’s Grand Central Station, where customers can connect seamlessly to numerous destinations throughout Pinellas. From there, there is one more street-side stop along Tyrone Blvd and 68th St N, next to the Tyrone Square Mall, before the route terminates at the VA hospital at Bay Pines.
A one-way cash ride on the Skyway ConneXion will be $3.00 if only traveling within Pinellas or Manatee Counties, and $5.00 if you decide to cross county lines. An all-day $10.00 pass is available and will be valid across all MCAT operated bus routes. It is currently unclear if PSTA will be providing any sort of incentives (such as a free PSTA transfer) for MCAT customers.
More information about the Skyway ConneXion service can be obtained at MCAT’s website.