City’s Uber-Like On-Demand Transit Service is Back On Track

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on June 24, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

At its Tuesday meeting the City Commission approved a $248,880 competitive bid exemption contract with Via Transportation, Inc. to provide Key West Transit with the hardware, software, training, marketing, and support for a one-year On-Demand transit pilot program – set to begin within three months of contract signing. The pilot proposes to eliminate Key West Transit North and South Line routes and evening Duval Loop and replace it with an on-demand, bus stop-to-bus stop service that would work like Uber. Officials say the change will provide better service. This is good news because a healthy, green, and prosperous island needs a well-functioning transit system as an alternative to the congestion and pollution the increasing number of cars brings to our paradise. And our beleaguered workforce needs a decent option to the spiraling costs of commuting by car. Let’s dive into why this is a necessary move, discuss what this might look like in practice and venture how this change may help the diminished Duval Loop and potential future services.

If You Can’t Find Drivers – Try a Different Tactic

The agreement with Via is good news as the program was talked about during last year’s budget process as an alternative to a long planned but more costly program of hiring more drivers to provide more frequent service. As has been widely reported, it’s been nearly impossible to hire drivers at the existing wages with housing costs going sky high in the Keys. So, if you don’t have enough drivers, this is a necessary move, because there’s really nothing more one can do than try something radically different. We give Key West Transit credit for trying something where they say they can provide more service with less drivers. Says Director of Transportation Rod Delostrinos:

“On-Demand Transit allows for the City of Key West to use its transit resources more efficiently. Transit vehicles within the city area will eventually operate only with trip requests thus eliminating empty or near empty vehicles from continuous circling of set routes. Fuel savings, better personnel utilization given a 55% shortage of CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) drivers, and reduction in carbon emissions are a few of the anticipated positive impacts.”

While There’s Been Delays, It May Be Worth the Wait

Originally the City hoped the program would roll out last December and then again at the end of January. It didn’t happen because the project was more complicated and costly than originally thought. More money was needed than the $45,000 initially set aside. Thus, the delay in waiting for an FDOT grant available this summer that will cover $250,000 of a one-year pilot project now costing $312,500. 

One of the complications with the service is its reliance on a smart phone as the optimum way to use the service meeting the reality that some transit customers, especially the existing transit-dependent ones, might not have them. As a public service, Key West Transit is obliged to offer an alternative way to access the bus for people without smart technology. This necessitates a call center to take phone calls for trips and kiosks that can do the same at the most used bus stops. 

Key West Transit is run on a shoestring and just doesn’t have the people for a seven-day-a-week, round the clock call-center. Nor does it have any real marketing staff. The contract with Via provides both a call center and marketing assistance

So, by delaying the project Key West Transit was able to find additional money to cover needed items that will make the project work better. In the end, we’re hopeful that’s a good thing.

How This On-Demand Project May Work

The on-demand transit pilot will eliminate North and South Line fixed routes completely. It will also eliminate evening Duval Loop service. The buses that would normally serve those routes would then be available for on-demand service. 

Customers would download an app on their smartphone. Using the app, just like with Uber, one would select a pick-up point – the nearest bus stop, a drop-off point, again selecting the nearest bus stop, and a time for travel. The software behind the scenes, figures out the best routes and for efficiency combines this with other traveler’s needs, and comes back with an appointed time and route. Usually within a 15-minute window. You then go to the bus stop and get your ride. As with an Uber or Lyft, you’ll be able to track the progress of your ride.

Customers should be able to book in advance and book regularly recurring trips, like ones to and from work, or more intermittently scheduled trips like to the gym or doctors. We understand you may also be able to pay via the app, so you won’t need to carry around the exact $2 fare needed for each trip. 

Customers can also do this by telephoning the call center. Via will operate the call center and has options for going 24-hours a day if needed. The project also has money to set up a few kiosks at the most used bus stops. A kiosk would be placed at the bus stop and a person could follow the prompts to get a pick-up in real-time.

Expansion of Service Hours May Follow

Mr. Delostrinos believes the efficiencies inherent in the system, responding to demand, rather than the need to put a bus out on a schedule, means his team may be able to use less drivers and buses and thus expand the span of service. This could mean we’ll soon see service until 3:00 AM, allowing for late shift workers to rely on the bus. This is a development that should help Key West workers.

How On-Demand Transit May Help the Duval Loop and a Potential Stock Island to Downtown Shuttle

If the transit agency is right and they can provide more service using less drivers that opens possibilities for better service on the Duval Loop and for partnering with the County and a private sector micro-transit vendor to bring frequent service to downtown for new residents on Stock Island.

We’ve documented how the lack of available drivers has degraded the service on the Duval Loop. Ridership is currently 1/5 what it was in 2019. That’s partly because service that used to be every 15 minutes is now between every 30 to 40 minutes. And the lack of CDL drivers has necessitated using smaller non-branded vehicles on the route. If the efficiency in drivers is real, meaning that the agency can meet the demand for service using less drivers, than theoretically that may mean they have enough workers to put two drivers on the Duval Loop route at a time and get back to 15-minute frequency. That could be a huge win for a service that has been hemorrhaging riders as the frequency has decreased.

We’ve discussed the need for more transit and bike options from the 667 new housing units coming to Stock Island over the next couple of years. As a result, the County is exploring a partnership with the South Florida based private company called Freebee to provide its on-demand ride hailing service to residents to help mitigate congestion on U.S.  1. If this happens it is likely there’d be some micro-transit available from one’s home on Stock Island to a central hub, where a frequent direct shuttle could take residents right downtown. However, for this scheme to work Key West Transit would need to cobble together enough drivers to make a frequent shuttle from the island work. So, IF they can provide the on-demand service with less drivers, theoretically that may mean they’d have some extra drivers to put on this potential new service. We promise to follow-up in the coming weeks with a story on the potential service with Freebee. 

The Transportation Director also notes that analyzing the customer data – where people get picked up, dropped off and when – generated by the on-demand system will enable Key West transit to potentially develop new efficient fixed route, circulator and/or express services in the future. 

When Life Give You Lemons, Make Lemonade

We’ve advocated Key West leaders follow their own multiple plans to invest more dollars in transit, hire more drivers and increase frequency on fixed routes. In the current year the City set aside $2.8 million or $5,417 per employee to raise salaries and help address the increasingly urgent housing affordability crisis. It seems little of this has found its way to Key West Transit bus drivers as starting hourly rates for CDL drivers are $20 an hour and $16 for non-CDL drivers. Perhaps most of the money went to those white-collar workers already at the top of the wage scale. 

The transit agency says these low wages, combined with the housing shortage, means 45% of their CDL positions are open. Since City personnel leaders seem loathe to pay blue collar bus drivers more to address the situation, the transit agency has little choice but to try this pilot program. They are counting on the fact that this can be done with less bus operators than needed on the current fixed routes. Again, good for them in thinking outside the box and trying to make lemonade.

Key West Transit’s Success is a Win for all of Us

With increases in the number of housing units on Stock Island and the continuing increase in visitors, 77% of whom arrive by car, traffic and parking congestion continue to be a top concern. We should try to get more people on bikes to help. And for those who can’t bike we need to provide excellent transit options, or they’ll just drive. According to AAA it costs nearly $10,000 a year to own and operate a vehicle. This on-demand pilot project has the potential to give people that cost-saving option. Let’s wish Key West Transit the best in making this work, because their success will be our island’s success.

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You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on June 17, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

There are 667 new housing units scheduled to open on Stock Island beginning this September and rolling out over the next two years. Traffic over the Cow Key Bridge is sure to increase as most work, shopping and entertainment trips into Key West will be made by car. We’ve made the argument that the City and County need to invest in improving the awful transit options that currently exist between the two islands to alleviate some of the expected traffic. Since the distance between these new housing projects and the Historic Seaport and Duval Street are between 4 and 5 miles, many of these trips could be made by bike. So, we’re making the case to also focus on improving the safety and ease of bicycling between these new housing developments and downtown. Here’s 10 things we can do to help achieve more bikes and less cars over the Cow Key Bridge daily.

New Housing Coming to Stock Island Means More Traffic

Construction has been moving along briskly at the 280-Unit Wreckers Cay at 6155 2nd Street – adjacent to Boyd’s Campground. Tenants are expected to start moving in about September 1, 2022, and officials say they’ll bring the eight new buildings online at about one a month or so with the project being fully occupied by this time next year. The Key West Housing Authority’s 104-unit Garden View Apartments on College Road is under construction and should come online in late 2023. 

Just a few weeks ago we learned that Roy’s Trailer Park at 6500 Maloney Avenue gave their 108 owners notice they have six months to relocate because the property will be redeveloped from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments. That’s a net of 132 additional housing units at Roy’s bringing the total of new workforce housing units on the island to 516.  Add in the 148-transient condos and 3 workforce condos – total 151 – recently approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club, also on Maloney Avenue, and that’s 667 new units and a ton of potential new cars crossing Cow Key Bridge. There’s a lot of concern about traffic, especially along U.S. 1, because visitor traffic is increasing too. 

Transit Between the Islands is Awful, We Don’t Know When It Will Get Better, So We Need More Options

The likelihood that all these new residents will use transit instead of driving is almost nil. At least with today’s transit system. Census data shows less than 1% of current residents use the bus to get to work. Buses come along every 95 – 120 minutes on the Lower Keys Shuttle and every 80 – 95 minutes on the North and South Line routes that serve Stock Island. That kind of unreliable service isn’t going to entice anyone out of their car. It would be great if leaders would follow their own multiple plans to invest in the bus system to add frequency. With buses coming along every 15 minutes, maybe even every 30 minutes, perhaps some new residents could be coaxed from their cars. That would be great. But whether or not transit improves, we should also be doing more to get a portion of able-bodied people to choose to use bicycles or e-bikes and e-scooters for some of their work, shopping and leisure trips between the islands.

Four to Five Miles By Bike Should Be Easy for Some People to Traverse

It will be 4 miles from the new Garden View Apartments to the Historic Seaport or about 4.3 miles to the middle of Duval Street via N. Roosevelt Boulevard. Or 21 to 23 minutes by bike, according to Google Maps. A similar trip from Wreckers Cay would be 4.7 miles and 25 minutes via N. Roosevelt or about 5.3 miles and 30 minutes via the Crosstown Greenway down the middle of the island. For the Roy’s Trailer Park and Key West Harbor Yacht Club you’d add in another half mile. All of these are well within everyday biking distances for most able-bodied people, especially as the trip is flat and there’s good weather 12 months a year. Use an electric bike and you likely match the 13 – 19 minutes you can traverse these routes via car. That and you shouldn’t have to worry about finding and paying for parking at the downtown end. Bottom line is lots of people could use bikes, especially if it were easier and safer.

The Key is Making the “Interested But Concerned” Potential Bicyclists Feel Confident in Making the Trip Between the Two Islands

According to stats provided by the City’s Transportation Coordinator, about 1,000 trips a day cross the Cow Key Bridge using the bike path and sidewalk on either side of the road. That would translate to about 500 people a day going back and forth. That’s pretty good. But how do we get more? Especially some of the new residents who will be starting new habits – which experts tell us is the best time to get someone to try a new transportation option. 

In transportation planning circles several studies have coalesced around a generally accepted categorization of people’s willingness to use bicycles as follows:

1 – Strong and Fearless: People willing to bicycle with limited or no specific bike infrastructure
2 – Enthused and Confident: People willing to bicycle if some specific bicycle infrastructure is in place
3 – Interested But Concerned: People willing to bicycle if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
4 – No Way, No How: People unwilling to bicycle even if high quality infrastructure is in place

According to three major studies, 31 – 37% of people will never use a bike for transportation. Another 8 – 13% are included in the Strong and Fearless and Enthused and Confident categories. These are likely the people already cycling across the bridge. But by far the biggest category, between 51 and 60% in the studies, say they are “Interested But Concerned” and will bike if we make a network of facilities where they feel safe and comfortable. Or high comfort and low stress. While the terms are subjective, planners generally note that continuous or networked trails, protected bicycle lanes and greenways are the kinds of facilities that will attract riders. If there are serious stress points or interruptions in that network, things can fall apart.

Now think about the bicycle ride into town from Stock Island. While we can identify some nice, safe, comfortable sections, we can also identify just as many stress points that may prevent the Interested But Concerned from riding. 

In its annual survey of best places to bike, PeopleforBikes’ Bicycle Network Analysis identifies the high stress areas on this map in red. The Key West Bike/Ped Plan uses the same map to help identify problem points to be fixed. Take a look at the red areas – we’ve got some work to do.

PeopleforBikes Stress Map of Key West. Click to enlarge.

Ten Things We Can Do to Make the Trip Easier and Safer

Here’s 10 things we think could coax more of those 51 to 60% of people to bike between the two islands:

1 – Covered and Secure Bicycle Parking at New Developments

Keeping your ride dry and secure is important to many who depend upon their bicycle to get to work and get around for everyday activities. The City’s Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski pointed us to this good information. We are happy to see the Housing Authority is putting 77 bicycle and 40 scooter parking spaces under the buildings, out of the elements, along with about 61 car parking spaces. In the old days, there’d be a few bike racks outside and all the covered spaces would be for cars. So, this is progress. There looks to be about another 58 car parking spaces outside and perhaps a yet to be determined amount of bicycle and scooter parking spaces outside too. While we’d like to additionally see the bikes in a secure locked cage, we think this is better than many local apartment buildings provide so we’ll count it as a victory.

At Wreckers Cay, the County’s Senior Director of Planning & Environmental Resources Emily Schemper, AICP, tell us that there will be 328 bicycle parking spaces in racks for the 280 units. She estimates that about half of these are under the cover of the buildings, per the site plan. Another win!

The recently approved permits for the 151 Key West Harbor Yacht Club condos, if we’re reading this correct, will have 229 car parking spaces for the residential units and NO required bicycle racks. Do they just assume vacationers won’t bike? This is awful and we hope to follow-up with the County.

Original drawings for ground floor of Garden View Apartments indicating where bicycle parking will go. Click to enlarge.
2 – Keep Sidewalk on South Side of U.S. 1 Clear of Cars

The Stress Map clearly shows the south side of U.S. 1, where bikes on the County side of Stock Island ride along the sidewalk next to the retail is stressful. Its stressful because people on bikes must navigate cars coming to and from the businesses, pedestrians and in some cases, cars parked across the sidewalk and forcing them into U.S. Route 1. Most of the businesses, like Shifting Gears Auto Care at 5172 U.S. 1 do an admirable job of keeping the sidewalk clear. One or two don’t (Keys Customs 5200 U.S. 1 is the worst offender) and they need to clean up their act.

3 – Put Bike Lanes on College Avenue

The County has done a nice job on their side of Stock Island by putting wide, green bicycle lanes on the major streets of Maloney Avenue, 5th Street, 5th Avenue and Cross Street. On the City’s side of Stock Island, where the Garden View Apartments are being constructed, College Road lacks any bicycle infrastructure. This is evident in the Stress Map. There seems ample room for the City to rectify this safety concern.

4 – Widen Sidewalks Around the Triangle

Most of residents of Stock Island live on the south or County side. So, many never navigate the long light to get over U.S. Route 1 at Cross Street and take the bike path to N. Roosevelt. Rather they simply stay on the narrow sidewalk past the retail, over Cow Key Bridge, around the bend at the Triangle and then use the Crosstown Greenway to get into town. The problem is the sidewalk is a narrow 5 feet for much of the way and is less when you encounter poles and foliage. This makes it difficult when pedestrians are present, when bikes are coming in another director or when faster bikes need to pass. There’s plenty of room to make the sidewalk wider. Especially if the Navy gives up a few feet of unused grassland behind their big chain link fence. Time for the City, County, FDOT and Navy to talk.

5 – Put an Official Crosswalk at Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt Intersection

For the many people coming around the Triangle on the south side, if they aren’t going to stay on what becomes the Low Stress Promenade and go all the way around the island by the Airport and Smathers Beach to get downtown (an extra 1.3 miles out of the way), they’ll cut across S. Roosevelt to Duck Avenue and use the Crosstown Greenway. Trying to cross 4 lanes of high-speed traffic – two lanes in each direction – is the very definition of High Stress. There’s no acknowledgement in the roadway that that this is the crossing to the City’s official Crosstown Greenway. For the Greenway to be useful for people coming and going to Stock Island the intersection should be treated accordingly and made safer by demarcating it as a crossing and slowing the cars down.

6 – More Infrastructure on the Crosstown Greenway – Including Wickers Trail

We love the Crosstown Greenway because it provides a safe alternative to N. Roosevelt Boulevard to quickly get from one end of the island to the other. Starting at the top at S. Roosevelt the 3.5-mile-long trail follows Duck Avenue, wiggles through the Wickers Sports Complex (football, baseball, and soccer fields next to Poinciana Elementary) and onto Staples Avenue, Von Phister and then South Streets where it hits downtown at the upper end of Duval Street. After a series of community workshops in 2019 and 2020 in November of 2020 City staff worked with a big group of volunteers to put down green paint, directional signs, bollards, delineators and curb stops on a segment of the Crosstown Greenway on Staples between George and 12th Streets. It looked beautiful. A year later, we learned (see #10) that the project continued to receive positive comments from nearby residents and businesses and a survey showed increases in intersection safety and vehicle speed reductions. Additional phases of similar treatments are supposed to come to the rest of the Greenway. It has been more than 18 months since anything new has been put on the ground. We’d like to see the City double-down on the already good work and do so more quickly.

That includes finding more money to jumpstart the now delayed Wickers Trail segment that was supposed to have started construction by now but could be delayed until 2028. Going north on the Greenway as one comes out from the Seidenberg Avenue segment – the concrete cut-through path from Seidenberg Avenue between 12th and Kennedy – bicyclists are met with four lanes of car traffic on Kennedy and then have to navigate two parking lots at Wickers Sports Complex before getting onto Duck Avenue at 14th Street. The new segment is supposed to line up and make a safe crossing of Kennedy’s four lanes of cars and bypass the parking lots to get to Duck. Money had been budgeted but preliminary engineering found that to mitigate the standing rainwater that often floods the area, another $300,000 would be needed for the project. That $300,000 could potentially be found via an FDOT grant but wouldn’t be available until 2028. We like the idea of mitigating the standing water but think the City should find the money in the upcoming budget and get the project completed in the coming fiscal year. We promise to take a deeper dive into this story over the summer.

7 – Make N. Roosevelt Safer for Bicycles

For many people who live above Cow Key Bridge the shortest distance between Stock Island and downtown is N. Roosevelt Boulevard, so that’s their preference. And while the wide Promenade that makes its way along the water much of the way can be beautiful, the many retail driveways make for a stressful and sometimes dangerous commute. Especially if drivers who aren’t accustomed to bicycle traffic coming from both directions, don’t look both ways before trying to exit or enter the shopping off of N. Roosevelt. FDOT and the City made it safer when they installed the HAWK signals at five crosswalks, but there’s still much work to do make it safer. We’ve heard of nascent efforts and studies but haven’t seen anything concrete happening recently. At the very least perhaps all the driveways need green bike paint across them indicating this is a bicycle crossing. What are some other ideas to make it safer?

8 – More Quantity, Quality and Consistent Bicycle Parking Downtown

On Duval and adjacent streets, we’ve observed full bike racks and as a result bikes parked on trees, streetlights, signposts, and fences. This doesn’t help our already overcrowded narrow sidewalks. Like at the home end, safe, secure, and plentiful bicycle parking is needed all around downtown to make it easy for people to choose bicycles as an option. We need to go beyond the hodgepodge placement of racks on sidewalks and in the street to a system of bicycle corrals in the same place on every block – such as the first parking space on every street that crosses Duval – so that people know what to expect. Here’s a story on how we do that. And we need to budget some real money – not the usual annual $40K – and get this done much sooner.

There needs to be much more bicycle parking like this downtown, where the first space in the cross streets along Duval are for bikes and the second space is for scooters. This is on Petronia north of Duval.
9 – Educate Drivers that Bikes Rule Key West – Slow Down This Ain’t the Mainland

Educating the over million people visiting Key West each year, 77% of whom arrive by car, to watch out for and cede the way to bikes and pedestrians should be more of a priority. Most of these folks come from car-centric places where they are not used to sharing streets with so many bicycles and people. Most of them aren’t used to our crowded tiny downtown streets. If we can spend $350,000+ annually on marketing the seaport by all means we should market a car-free experience for visitors, and that campaign needs to include a safety education element that informs visitors, you aren’t on the mainland anymore. Our compact little island is different, and you need to slow down and yield to bikes and pedestrians because this is THEIR island – and that’s how we roll around here. We’ll all be safer for it.

10 – New Bicycles, E-Bikes or E-Scooters for Residents of the New Housing

Costs for e-bicycles of all kinds have been coming down for the past few years making them a good choice, especially for those living on Stock Island who must travel a little further. We Cycle and Island Bicycles both sell and service them. E-scooters can cost even less. Still a good bike can cost $500, and an electric bike could cost $1,000 or more. So how can we incentivize residents of these new complexes to take up bicycle commuting?

What if every new resident of Wreckers Cay, Garden View, and Roy’s Apartments – say about 1,000 people – were given gift certificates for new bikes that includes lights and locks. Say $500 each. That gets you a nice bike and half the cost of a new electric one. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but compared to the cost of additional bus service or the County’s consideration of spending $425,000 on a private carshare project between the islands, it doesn’t seem so much. And if we can get people to commit to biking downtown on these new bikes, perhaps its worth the investment.

We’re Flat, Compact and Have Good Weather, So Let’s Make It Even Easier and Safer to Move Between the Islands by Bike

We have great conditions in Key West and Stock Island for bicycling as we are flat, compact and have good weather 12 months of the year. 15% of us already bicycle to work. More of us should and would if it were safer and easier to do so. With much of our workforce living on Stock Island, the City, County and FDOT need to work together to mitigate the impacts of the high stress areas in our bicycle network and get more of the Interested But Concerned feeling comfortable enough to cross Cow Key Bridge on their bikes to get to work instead of defaulting to a car. We’ll all be happier if they do.

# # #

You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Duval Loop Ridership is Plummeting. Save the Duval Loop!

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on June 3, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

Think about our experience in Key West the last year or so. Everyone’s exhausted from an amazingly busy 2-year period. More visitors than ever. Increased overnight stays and record numbers of hotel and sales tax receipts. Parking revenue has never been higher. Everything, everywhere on the island is up! But ridership on our once very successful downtown circulator, the Duval Loop, has fallen off a cliff. Projections for ridership this year are 25% less than even last year’s awful pandemic-stricken numbers and are less than 1/5 of the rides in Fiscal Year 2018/2019 prior to Covid. When all other economic indicators are up, why is Duval Loop ridership plummeting?

Perhaps because today, buses arrive maybe every 30 and more likely every 40 minutes instead of every 15 as during the system’s first couple of years. Maybe because the distinctive and beautifully branded pink and blue buses are now replaced more than half the time with unbranded buses that include short plain white vans, longer plain white buses and the City’s lone hybrid bus painted green. It could be because the 18 Duval Loop bus stops are a mish mash of inconsistent branding with absolutely no map and schedule information whatsoever. And perhaps it’s because there’s no marketing and outreach for a service that is the front door to over a million visitors annually. The lack of effort is simply appalling. Why is City Hall letting the goose that laid the golden egg crumble before our very eyes? The City needs to take corrective action now before things get even worse. Here’s why we need a great service and how we fix it.

This white van is more often than not the bus you’ll ride if you hop aboard the Duval Loop.

Once Upon a Time the Duval Loop Was Awesome

In its first couple years of service the Duval Loop was universally hailed as something City Hall got right. Talked about for decades, the downtown circulator, when it finally debuted in the summer of 2017, was distinctively branded, had a business-friendly outreach and partner program and most importantly was free, frequent (every 15 minutes) and had a simple, easy to understand route. This formula was immediately successful. In its first year it helped double Key West Transit Ridership. In its second year it accounted for nearly 60% of the entire systems’ total rides as it hit 419,000 total trips. In the City’s 10-year Transit Development Plan (TDP) adopted at the end of 2019, the Duval Loop was cited in surveys as the model for an overhaul of the system’s other routes.

And then Covid happened. So understandably the numbers dropped, just as everything on the island did for a bit of time. But as the rest of the island rebounded and prospered as the visitors returned, the Duval Loop hasn’t because its frequency was cut back, its bus stops and marketing ignored and allowed to rot, and its distinctive buses replaced by ugly white vans and buses indistinguishable from work and delivery vehicles. This year the Duval Loop is anticipating about 74,000 trips. Less than a fifth of its over 419,000 2018/2019 Fiscal Year high. 

With over half the funding of Key West Transit coming from State and Federal funds dependent on ridership numbers, we shouldn’t be letting this happen as it could cause a death spiral on outside funding.

Click on chart to enlarge it.

Why We Need a Great Circulator Downtown

Traffic and parking congestion have been a top concern for decades. More and more visitors are coming to our island and 77% of them arrive by car exacerbating traffic problems and parking conflicts. As beloved Key West Island News columnist Linda Grist Cunningham aptly explains:

“We’ve got too many motorized things clogging our streets…After all, our streets were laid out a couple hundred years ago. Tiny streets on a tiny island, when both people and transportation devices were smaller and fewer. The island simply isn’t built to handle our crowds and must-have SUVs.”

2019 study confirmed that visitors want and expect a frequent downtown circulator like the Duval Loop. The study also showed that visitors who rented cars on an initial visit to Key West did so much less on subsequent visits as they learned they didn’t need a car to get around. The analysis told us that visitors who have access to a vehicle, will indeed use it to get around, if there aren’t good options, like the Loop, instead.

And there’s the rub. Without an awesome Duval Loop and better all-around transit and safer biking for that matter, visitors will default to using cars. And that’s bad for our environment, our health, and our prosperity. Here’s what we need to do to fix this:

A screen capture of the old website advertising service every 15 minutes.

1 – Bring Back 15 Minute Frequency

When the Duval Loop was created everyone understood that frequency was the key to success. They used two buses on the route at a time. The bus came along every 15 minutes 10 am to midnight and every 30 minutes 6 am to 10 am. While today the City says on its website that the bus comes along every twenty minutes 10 am to 8 pm and every 30 minutes 8 am to 10 am and 8 pm to 10 pm, this is rarely the case. That’s because they are only using one bus at a time, on a longer route. We’ve been tracking the Duval Loop for months using the “Live Map” feature on their website and from our observation deck on Fleming Street and if the bus comes along every 35 to 40 minutes, you’re lucky. During the busy season when there’s plenty of traffic and parking congestion on the street – you’d be hard pressed to drive the route without stopping in 20 minutes. So, this stretches to 30, 35 and 40 with traffic and stops. And that’s because they are using one bus at a time, not two as Key West Transit did in the old days.

When the bus arrives every 15 minutes there’s no need for a schedule. Research from around the world and Key West Transit’s own surveys show frequency is the number one driver of getting people to use the bus instead of opting to drive. If the bus comes along every 15 minutes no one has to think about it, consult a schedule, or download an app, hope it is working and track when the next bus is arriving. You simply go to the bus stop, wait a few minutes and board. It is the number one recipe for success and it is a key ingredient in making downtown more prosperous.

2 – Only Use Branded Buses

When most of the Loop’s riders are visitors, you can’t leave them guessing about what bus to get on. When a small white van or big blank bus pulls up to the bus stop would you expect visitors to exclaim, that must be our bus! No. They likely think “What is this cheap outfit?” and are afraid to hop aboard. If Oceans Edge, Beachside Marriott, and the Perry all use branded shuttles why in the world is Key West Transit rolling out vehicles that could be mistaken for work trucks? If there’s a reason Key West Transit is using multiple types of buses, why aren’t the buses branded? The distinctive pink and blue Duval Loop buses are smartly designed. They have the route largely painted right on the side of the bus. It says, “Free and Frequent,” has the website on its side and even boasts “Get there. Have fun. Get back!” branding. 

3 – Put Map and Schedule Information at the 18 Bus Stops

We’ve written a couple of times (here and here) about the lack of care exhibited with the 18 Duval Loop bus stops. Many of the stops don’t say Duval Loop. Two years after the system went back to no cost to ride, orange tape still covers the word free. The tape was put on for a brief time when the system ill-advisedly charged a $1 fee. To be fair, some stops do have a small sign that says Duval Loop, but it’s hit or miss. 17 of the 18 stops do have a number, one through 18, but what does this mean? Not one stop has any map that might correspond to these numbers or provide any “You are here” context. Not one stop has any information about when the bus might operate or how often it comes along. None have a website either. Experts and common sense tell us that each bus stop is an opportunity to market the service to potential riders and telegraph to regular customers that the system cares. The current state of the bus stops tells visitors and residents alike, that the City just doesn’t care about its transit system.

4 – Market the Service

While we’re convinced that 40-minute frequency, unbranded buses and awful bus stops with no information are the major culprit in declining ridership, it doesn’t help that the City doesn’t market the service whatsoever. This when the City spends upwards of $350,000 annually to market the Historic Seaport. We’ve talked about a dozen marketing things Key West Transit can do to help increase ridership in the past. Research tells us that you get more use out of whatever service you put on the street if you market it well. Sad to say, more than a year after we wrote the story on easy to implement, low-cost marketing ideas, none of these are being done. If we care about our system, we need to invest in a little marketing. It will go a long way towards helping.

Address the Elephant in the Room – No More Excuses

No doubt officials will whine about the lack of drivers as the reason for less frequent and unbranded buses. We get it. The whole island is going through a staffing crisis. But this has been the Transit Department’s lament going on five plus years with no resolution. In the current fiscal year’s budget, the City committed $2.8 million or $5,417 per employee annually to help with that problem. That, and Key West Transit received a no strings $1M American Rescue Plan grant this year. Where’d the money go? Time to stop crying wolf and raise driver wages more significantly like HTA does.

The City currently advertises a $19.96 per hour + benefits for CDL (commercial driver’s license) licensed drivers, full or part-time. They advertise $15.30 per hour for non CDL drivers. It is the non-CDL licensed employees driving the unbranded vans and cut-a-way buses.

Historic Tours of America or HTA (think Conch Train, Ghost Tours, and Trolleys), which uses CDL drivers for their buses, starts their drivers at $22 + tips. They often provide bonuses. Perhaps the City needs to match HTA as a start, or even go higher since City drivers don’t make tips. There’s no excuse, not to get this done.

City of Key West Leaders Need to Rally Round Our Duval Loop

When confronted with the reality that the once successful Duval Loop is struggling and needs an infusion of help, let’s hope the City leaders don’t circle the wagons as is often done and get defensive and make excuses. Pay a wage that attracts drivers. Get the frequency back to 15 minutes. Use only branded buses. Upgrade all 18 bus stops with branding, map, and schedule information. And spend some effort and money marketing what a very good program Duval Loop could be once again. Our beloved downtown will be a better more prosperous place if we get this done.

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You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 New Housing Units Added to Over 700 In the Pipeline on Stock Island and Lower Keys 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on May 20, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

This week Roy’s Trailer Park at 6500 Maloney Avenue on Stock Island gave their 108 owners notice that they had six months to relocate because the property is going to be redeveloped into 240 units of workforce housing apartments. The net of 132 new units brings us to about 860 workforce housing units, on Stock Island and the Lower Keys, that have been recently occupied, or are under construction, or have building permits approved in just the last two years. All this new housing is north of Cow Key Bridge. So, nearly all work, shopping and entertainment trips into Key West will be by car because transit options are so awful. These additional car trips harm our environment and degrade our island with more traffic and parking congestion. 

We think it is very good news that more needed workforce housing is being constructed. But if we don’t build the new housing, where it should be, on the island of Key West where more people could bike and walk to work, shop, and play, shouldn’t the City and County be enhancing Key West Transit service to mitigate the mess? Yes, yes, they should. Here’s how.

Lots of New Units Means Lots More Traffic

Roy’s Trailer Park undergoing redevelopment from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments means there’s a net of 132 additional housing units on Stock Island. (For more on the story read: Stock Island Trailer Park To Be Demolished & Redeveloped, Mandy Miles, May 16, 2022) Also on Stock Island, at the under construction 280-Unit Wreckers Cay, tenants are expected to start moving in on September 1, 2022. Wreckers Cay officials expect to bring new buildings online at about one a month, so the project should be fully occupied within a year. The Key West Housing Authority’s 104-unit Garden View Apartments on College Road is under construction and should come online in 2023. That’s 516 new housing units on Stock Island.

There’s an additional 352 units beyond Stock Island in the Lower Keys. On Big Coppitt, the 208-unit Quarry Apartments were just finished at the end of 2021. Building permits have been issued for 88-units at Dockside & the Landings Apartments on Lower Sugarloaf. 36 units received building permits in two separate developments on Cudjoe Key. Another twenty plus units have been requested on Big Coppitt. 

The 868 unit total doesn’t even include the 148-transient condos recently approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club, also on Maloney Avenue, on Stock Island. 

There’s a lot of concern about traffic, especially along U.S. 1, because visitor traffic is increasing too. As all the adult and teenage residents of these new car-dependent developments each need a car to get around, it is a traffic nightmare in the making. We need to do something. Fast.

The Bus Service Is Awful and Ridership is Declining. The Solution? More Frequent and Free Service

The County and City should be encouraging these new residents to use the bus instead of driving. The problem is that the bus service is so awful, no one uses it for commuting. Census data shows 1% of Monroe County residents and less than 1% of Key West residents use the bus to get to work. That’s because on the Lower Keys Shuttle there are just 10 trips all day into Key West and 10 trips a day from Key West to Marathon. It’s 95-120 minutes between buses. On the North and South Lines that serve Stock Island the bus comes along every 80-95 on weekdays and less on the weekends. The frequency of the buses and span of service simply can’t compete with the convenience of driving, no matter the hassles of traffic and parking. And if existing residents don’t use it, why would we expect the new people moving in to use it?

Then there’s the issue of cost. The Lower Keys Shuttle is $4 each way. The North and South Lines are $2. While one can get reasonably priced $75 and $25 monthly passes for each, the incentive to take the bus when the service is so infrequent just isn’t there. It needs to be frequent and free. 

Require Shuttles or Payment Into Public Transit

The Perry and Oceans Edge hotels on Stock Island each offer free shuttle buses from their properties to the Historic Seaport in downtown Key West. They operate hourly service in each direction from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The Marriott Beachside’s shuttle operates hourly from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm and has two stops on Duval as well as the airport. They work at keeping a portion of the guests from using their cars to get downtown. 

To its credit the County did require the developer to install two bus shelters at bus stops next to Wreckers Cay. And on Wednesday they just voted to spend $425,000 to match a potential State grant to provide a carsharing service between Stock Island and Key West to help reduce traffic trips (County to Vote On Ride-Sharing Program, Timothy O’Hara, May 14, 2022). But why aren’t the developers of larger projects like Wreckers Cay, Garden View, the Quarry, and Dockside & the Landings Apartments required to do shuttles like what the hotels do? Or if not their own shuttle, then some significant annual contribution to Key West Transit that can buy free rides for residents and help increase the frequency? This kind of thing is done all over the country to mitigate the traffic and parking congestion that comes with new development. Seems we’re missing the boat by not requiring a shuttle or contribution to Key West Transit on Stock Island and the Lower Keys. Perhaps the County can start with the new Roy’s Trailer Park development.

Think of it this way, if the County can spend $425,000 for a carsharing service, why aren’t they contributing more to Key West Transit to increase the frequency of the buses serving Stock Island?

Let’s Follow the Multiple Plans to Increase Transit Frequency Instead of Constantly Punting on This Issue

Through many meetings and multiple processes, a consensus has been built that improved public transit is vital for our future prosperity. Key West Transit’s adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) and the first draft of the City’s Key West Forward Strategic Plan all called for increasing investment in our public transit system to pay bus drivers more, increase the abysmal frequency on all routes and move towards free fares. The Mayor and most Commissioners echoed the call during the budget hearings.

During last year’s Strategic Plan process, presentations to the public and Commission in June stated that North and South Lines should go from the current 80 – 95 minutes to 30 minutes and on the Lower Keys Shuttle from 95 – 120 minutes to every 60 minutes. At the time the Mayor and Commissioners noted they hoped the 30-minutes was interim as they eventually wanted to get to 15 minutes between buses. After all this planning and consensus building the Finance Department presented a no-growth Transit budget for the coming year at the July 22nd City Commission Budget Workshop that didn’t include these changes. Later we were told that a decision by the City to raise employee salaries by $2.8 million annually or $5,417 per employee meant there was no money for transit.

So, we’ve lost a year when we could be making improvements. We suppose we have no choice but to give leaders a mulligan and move forward. But when we asked Key West Transit officials, on two different occasions what plans they had to serve these new communities, the totality of their response was “Existing routes already serve these areas.” That’s not acceptable. Not when buses arrive every 80 to 120 minutes.

The Key West Forward Strategic Plan for improved frequency presented to the public and Commissioners in June, 2021.

City AND County Need to Work Together to Invest in Transit. NOW!

We must do better than just 10 trips a day in each direction on the Lower Keys Shuttle and the North and South lines serving Stock Island. Waiting an hour and twenty minutes to two hours between buses isn’t reliable and frequent enough service to entice anyone to ditch their car and take transit instead. 

In next year’s budget, the process for which starts next month, we need to do what the Strategic Plan originally called for and increase the frequency on the Lower Keys Shuttle to at least every 60 minutes and on the North and South lines to at least every 30 minutes. And the next year that should go to every 30 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Seven days a week. Early morning until late at night. And the ride needs to be FREE for residents. 

Currently 55% of the Transit Department’s budget comes from Federal and State sources, and that doesn’t include a recent additional $1M American Rescue Plan grant. That grant could be used to jump start more frequent service rather than simply replacing other sources and saving elsewhere. Most of the balance of the 45% comes from various dedicated parking fees. There’s little if any local tax dollars going into the transit system. Changing that could be an option. Or if there’s no stomach for using tax dollars, we need to get creative and find additional sources to cover an increased investment in the system. Higher parking fees? TDC funds? Sales tax? Bed tax? Liquor tax? Toll on Cow Key Bridge? 

Again, we give the County credit for starting to search for ways to reduce traffic congestion. We wish the City was thinking similarly. What’s clear is that both the County and the City need to work together and find ways to invest in Key West Transit. If more people take the bus, it makes our streets less congested and makes it easier to find parking for residents that must drive. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It will allow more of our beleaguered workforce to get around without the expense of a car. It makes us healthier and happier too. We must get this done or the traffic nightmare will be upon us.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops Revisited – What’s Happening a Year Later

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on May 6,, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

Last April 2, 2021, we began our story: “Experts say, the bus stop is one of the biggest signals, to everyone in the city, about a community’s attitude toward buses and their customers. What do Key West Transit’s bus stops say to residents, workers, and visitors? Judging by their quality and lack of information one would have to answer: “We just don’t care!” Sadly, as we revisit these bus stops more than one year later, we find that absolutely nothing has changed on the ground. 

In a City that tries to walk the green environmental talk and says it wants people to use transit to get around, how in the world can we treat the public entryway into our Duval Loop and Key West Transit system so shabbily. It’s embarrassing to have visitors come face to face with stops that look like they belong in some third world country. And for residents, it’s a reminder that our City hasn’t taken our transit system seriously. We’ve taken pictures of every Duval Loop and many other Key West Transit bus stops. Judge for yourself about the current sorry state of Key West bus stops. Let’s dive into why this is important and talk about hope for the future via a grant project that may get off the ground shortly.

Bus Stops Are the Front Door to Your Transit System

This is simple and basic for most bus systems. Bus stops are easy to do well and worth doing right. They are a low-cost and high impact. Experts at the Transit Center think tank say, “A bus shelter is not a luxury; it provides a basic level of comfort and dignity to people waiting for transit.” They go on to tell us:

  • Research says that better stops encourage ridership and improve the transit experience. Agencies/cities need to invest in the entire experience.
  • Amenities at bus stops make the wait easier and feel shorter. Think shelters, benches, and real-time info. It makes people feel safer too. 
  • Bus stops market the existence and quality of the service, both helping to retain existing riders and attract new ones.
  • Smartly managed stops indicate a customer-focused agency that considers its riders.
  • A poorly managed bus stop communicates that the agency does not prioritize riders’ needs and suggest to riders that buses are lower quality.
  • Standard features include benches, shelters, trash cans, branding, information on routes and schedules, wayfinding and sidewalks and lighting. 

“Transit agencies should view bus stop improvements as the low-hanging fruit for improving transit service and growing ridership. Research shows that stops and their surrounds factor heavily on the rider’s experience of taking transit, and that a great bus stop can drive ridership. Better bus stops entice new riders to try the bus.”

Amen!

Resource: From Sorry to Superb: Everything You Need to Know About Great Bus Stops, Transit Center

Nobody Takes the Bus – And It’s Getting Worse

So few people use the local bus lines that in a Strategic Plan survey of residents of 19 different City services in January 2020, no one knew enough to answer the questions about Key West Transit and so the system was left with no rating.

Census data shows less than one percent (1%) or almost no one takes the bus to commute to work. That’s almost unheard of in cities that have a bus system. Officials admit that ridership is declining, even on the at one-time successful Duval Loop. Every number in Key West is up over the last year. Except for transit. More visitors. More sales tax revenue. Record parking receipts. And yet in the current 2021-2022 Fiscal Year, Key West Transit trips are down 8% over the entire system vs. the pandemic stricken previous year of FY 2020-2021. And trips are down 70% vs. pre-pandemic 2018-2019 numbers. 

While we’d argue that the awful frequency of the buses (fodder for another time) is the main culprit behind the declining ridership, it certainly doesn’t help that the bus stops look so uninvitingly awful and that simple improvements keep getting pushed off to the future.

Current State of North and South Lines and Lower Keys Shuttle Bus Stops

North, South and Lower Keys Shuttle routes have no identifying information. There’s a pole with a generic bus on it. That’s it. What bus stops here? For all one knows it could be a MetroBus de La Habana (Havana’s system) stop. If you squint or perhaps if you have binoculars, you may make out that a few of the signs have little green, red, or beige conch shells at the bottom signifying that this was a green or red route at one time. KW Transit ditched the Red, Orange, Green and Blue routes two years ago and replaced them with North and South Lines.

In teeny, tiny, little letters (thinking none of this meets ADA font size standards) you might be able to read the words Lower Keys Shuttle on the beige shell. But where does this bus go? When does the next bus come by? There’s no map, no schedule, nor any “You are here” wayfinding identification either. Let alone shade. A bench. Branding or marketing. Not even a website address where you might get some information. Does this lack of effort in welcoming riders onto the system or potential customers understand what’s happening seem like we care about people using Key West Transit?

Current State of Duval Loop Bus Stops

The Duval Loop bus service has been a smash hit since it arrived on the scene in the summer of 2017. Especially with visitors. So, with more than a million tourists walking around downtown every year you’d want the entrance to our “Free, Fun and Frequent” downtown circulator to make a good impression. Right?

Well think again. While admittedly there’s a bit more information than at the North and South and Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops, the Duval Loop stops are a mish mash of inconsistent information and branding. Here’s what we found:

  • Of the 15 stops (3 are out of commission due to construction on Whitehead and Simonton), seven have the Duval Loop ball at the top.
  • Seven stops have a longer blue sign that doesn’t say Duval Loop but does have the slogan “Ride Free and Frequent,” (like #8). But the word “Free” still has orange tape over it – 18 months after the Loop went back to free service. Really?
  • Six stops have a smaller blue sign that says Duval Loop and has a number (like #18) with no branding.
  • Shared bus stops with North, South and LKS have no designation that those buses stop here too, but we surmise that since in addition to some version of the blue sign there is a generic sign too, that something else stops here.
  • Seven stops have cigarette butt holders.
  • 14 of the 15 stops we captured DO have a number, one through 18 – Truman Waterfront’s stop is missing a number. But what does that mean? Without a map on the pole for context or a website address or any serious on-the-ground marketing effort that puts information in the hands of visitors (fodder for another time), these numbers are completely useless. 
  • Zero stops have ANY information about frequencies, route maps that tell you where the bus goes or even a “you are here” designation. None have a URL for the web site either. 

Come on man! Is this the best we can do? Thing is there was a branding and information plan for Duval Loop bus stops in 2017. And yet five years later, we’ve still got an embarrassing hodge-podge of inadequate and ugly signage greeting our visitors. 

The original signage plan for the Duval Loop in 2017.

There’s No Excuse

We’ve all heard about Key West Transit’s travails in trying to hire skilled drivers. But there’s no excuse in it taking years and years to get anything done about the sorry state of the bus stops. At most, it couldn’t cost more than $1,000 to $2,000 a stop to install adequate branding and map and schedule information. There are only 18 Duval Loop bus stops. Certainly, the City has the resources and manpower to at least get the Duval Loop done right. And they shouldn’t wait around another year or more for the State to pay for it as part of a grant. 

The current excuse for not doing anything on the North and South lines is that Key West Transit intends on doing away with these routes in the future and replacing them with On-Demand Transit. But the On-Demand project has been delayed a couple of times already and may not happen until next year (yes, we’re waiting on another potential FDOT grant rather than spend our own money to get this going). So, if one didn’t install map and schedule information, perhaps one could install some branding and a URL? Or temporary signage? 

Hope On the Horizon

If all goes as planned, and that’s never a foregone conclusion when dealing with multiple bureaucracies as the project is already behind schedule, the City, via an FDOT Final Mile grant, will install map and schedule information, bicycle racks and lockers, hail lights, fix-it-stations and trash and recycle bins at most of the 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops as well as 20 of the most frequently used Duval Loop and North and South Line bus stops on the island of Key West. A piggyback grant may fill in many of the remaining stops. The City recently announced they hope to have a contract in place later this summer to do the work. If that happens on time, they’ll begin installation in Marathon in the Fall and work their way down toward Key West. If we’re lucky, installation may happen on the island of Key West in the summer of 2023. Maybe. 

We Need to Do Better By Our Transit System

So, while there is hope on the horizon, we need to do better by our little transit system. Perhaps the City’s reluctance to spend City funds and over reliance on outside funding via grants from FDOT have clouded the thinking and made things worse. Yes, the Last Mile grant for the Lower Keys Shuttle is a very good project that may eventually rectify things. But bus stops should be an integral part of our transit infrastructure and budgeted for annually and staffed accordingly. We need to make it easier for people to choose to take the bus. Better bus stops is a good place to start.

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You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

About

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Ten Ways to Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on April 15, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

In last year’s most popular Streets for People article, Airport Expansion Means Fewer Cars on Our Island, September 24, 2021, we made the case that more people arriving by airplane is a good thing because it reduces the volume of traffic on U.S. Route 1 and congestion and parking problems downtown. Even as additional people arrive by air, data shows a ceaselessly increasing level of vehicle traffic on our only highway, created by ever more visitors, and compounded by residents driving more because they live further outside the city than in decades past. Today we’re following up with the second part, in a two-part series of ten recommendations, inspired by feedback from the Airport article and a 2019 “Toward Car-Free Key West” study on how we get vacationers to either not bring a car to the island at all or if they do drive here to at least park it and never use it again until the day they leave. 

Traffic Continues as a Concern and Data Shows It’s a Growing Problem

Traffic congestion has been a top concern here for decades and it is only getting worse. The data shows that 77% of the more than a million visitors who make it all the way to the island of Key West arrive here by car. That’s a lot of cars on top of resident, worker, and business vehicles, especially when there are only 3,000 identified on-street parking spaces in the historic district and a slightly smaller number of publicly available off-street spaces in municipal and private lots and garages downtown. 

Two weeks ago one of our island’s most beloved and astute columnists, Linda Grist Cunningham, wrote an article for the Citizen newspaper and her Key West Island News blog entitled: “Key West Traffic – Unless we ditch some vehicles the island’s gonna sink” explaining that “We’ve got too many motorized things clogging our streets…After all, our streets were laid out a couple hundred years ago. Tiny streets on a tiny island, when both people and transportation devices were smaller and fewer. The island simply isn’t built to handle our crowds and must-have SUVs.” She’s spot on.

For those inclined to see the numbers that undergird our 10 recommendations, the column on Airport Expansion is knee deep in FDOT traffic analysis, TDC and Airport visitor data and survey and behavior change research from a 2019 study entitled “Toward Car-Free Key West” published by Mary Bishop in the Journal of Transportation Demand Management out of the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR). Start there first and then pick back up the story here. 

Repeat Visitors Give Us Blueprint for Getting To Car-Free

One of the key takeaways from Mary Bishop’s research is something many of us have come to know, but she gathered the evidence to back it up. The takeaway is that once you are here and on the island of Key West you don’t really need a car to get around. Once visitors experience Key West, the lightbulb seemingly goes off, and they understand this too. This is borne out in the fact that on subsequent visits, people get here by rental cars less and use the airport and ferry more. Here’s how Mary Bishop explains it:

“There is substantial evidence from this survey data to indicate that a vehicle is not needed once visitors arrive on the island. In total, 49% of visitors reported walking as their primary form of transportation while visiting and 32% reported not using a vehicle at all during their stay. The lack of need for a vehicle can also be indicated by the changing trends with repeated visits. While 42% of first-time visitors rented a vehicle for their stay, the percentage dropped to 20% by only the second visit. Meanwhile, arriving via the Key West Airport (67% of airport arrivals did not use a car at all during their stay) became more popular over the number of visits, rising from only 6% for first-time visitors to 34% for visitors who had visited more than five times. These findings suggest the importance of determining what is needed to convey the knowledge of repeat visitors to first-time visitors.”

From Mary Bishop’s Toward Car-Free Key West report.

10 Ways To Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors:

Based upon her research and the surveys conducted with visitors, Ms. Bishop concludes her paper with four recommendations (jump to page 26 of her report) summarized as follows:

  • Marketing
  • Increase Ridership of Key West Express Ferry
  • Increase Arrivals via Key West International Airport
  • Give Tourists the Public Transportation They Want on the Island

We’ve taken the liberty of expanding and elaborating on her excellent conclusions. We’ve also incorporated much of the feedback we heard when the first article was published last summer. So, while these may not strike you as exactly new ideas, we hope that by putting them together, in one place, it is easier to see how these would work together to get the job done. 

Last week we brought you four of the ten recommendations that fall into a broad category of marketing. Today, we’re going to bring you the remaining six recommendations that deal with services, infrastructure, and policies. As a refresher here’s a summary of the 4 in the marketing group. 

Part 1: Marketing – Summarized

A unified marketing campaign, backed up with ad dollars with the message you don’t need a car to get around Key West, spread via online national media outlets like Trip Advisor, local sites like the Chamber and all the individual hotel websites. Targeting people before they make a reservation. Perhaps the City contracts with a marketing vendor like they do with the Historic Seaport.

Make it easy for visitors to find information about transportation options once they arrive in Key West. Think signs in the airport. Maps, brochures, cards, apps and web-enabled tools with info about transit and biking distributed through the campaign’s partners, hotels, B&Bs, inns, vacation rental companies, attractions, bars, restaurants, and retailers to all easily participate in the campaign.

Wayfinding signage along U.S. 1, N. and S. Roosevelt Boulevards and throughout downtown. Transportation options maps should include public and private parking lots. One place on the internet where all lots are located, and all the lodging folks link to it. Signage and web should include real-time capacity.

Oblige companies to educate their customers on the rules of the road. Our experience with most of these companies leads us to believe that they already do this, however, perhaps there can be some uniformity, in the message.

Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies

5 – End Free On-Street Parking for Visitors

There are approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces in Old Town. About 1/3 are metered, 1/3 are for Resident Permit holders only and another third are unmarked and available to anyone for up to 72 hours (3 days) for free. Why in the world is there any free parking for visitors downtown anyway? We need to put a time limit of 4 hours before midnight on these spaces and exempt Resident Permit and worker permit holders, so only visitors have to move their cars. This will ensure that longer stay visitors park in long-term lots and garages. 

I worked at a downtown hotel that didn’t have a parking lot – most small inns don’t – and we told people we can give you a permit to park in a nearby garage for $24 or you can find a free space for 3-days. 90% of the people said they’d take their chances on the street. 

For hotels in New Town and Stock Island, that do have parking lots, visitors may be more tempted to drive downtown, if they know they can snag one of those 1,000 free parking places close to the action. By putting a time limit on these or converting more of them to metered and Resident Only spaces, it is more likely these folks will leave their car in the lot and hop on a bus or bike to get downtown. 

It is important to eliminate the free on-street parking because it acts as a pull for people to cruise for the spaces.  A good percentage of downtown traffic congestion is people hunting for parking

6 – Make the Duval Loop Every 15 Minutes, Again

Originally the Duval Loop ran every 15 minutes. Now it’s every 40.

For the first couple of years the Duval Loop would come by every 15 minutes. Perhaps that’s why in 2019 over 410,000 trips were taken on the Loop, more than the City’s other 4 routes (at the time) and the Lower Keys Shuttle combined. These days the Loop comes along about every 40 minutes. You can check this out for yourself by using their real-time app at https://www.kwtransit.com. No wonder ridership has drastically declined. If someone must wait up to 40 minutes for the bus to take them from one side of the island to the other, they are way less likely to use transit and more likely, if they have it, to jump in their car. 

When the Duval Loop was initiated, there was a commitment with the downtown business community that the service would be frequent (15 minutes). If we want visitors to not use cars, we must provide great alternatives. That also means committing to increasing the frequency on the North and South Line routes and Lower Keys Shuttle.

7 – Install More Green Paint and Bike Racks

According to PeopleforBikes, a national advocacy organization that produces an annual City Ratings of over 700 cities, Key West ranked #39 in North America as a place to bike. The analysis and interviews revealed the high rank is a product of the fact that a lot of people bike here because we’re compact, flat, and have good weather. Not because of any particularly good bicycle facilities. In fact, even more people would bike if they felt safe doing so.

Research show that to get people who aren’t comfortable bicycling on our streets to do so, you need to have a good network of connected bicycle facilities like green paint, protected bikeways, and multi-use paths. The City has an excellent blueprint for creating this safer network in its adopted Bike/Ped Plan. All we need to do is speed up its implementation.

Another missing ingredient is bicycle parking. Everyone knows we don’t have enough of it because bikes are tied up to trees, streetlights, signposts, fences and building posts all over our downtown commercial district. It’s time to install more bicycle parking downtown and go beyond the hodgepodge placement to a system that places bike corrals in the street – not on our overcrowded sidewalks – in the same place on every block so people know where to expect the racks. And it wouldn’t hurt the City’s image to upgrade the quality of bicycle racks while we’re at it.

8 – Lift the Moratorium on Recreational Vehicles – and Make Em Electric

For two years the City has had a moratorium on additional rental recreational vehicles or bicycles, e-bicycles, e-scooters, mopeds, and golf carts. The City says it is awaiting a “Recreational Rental Vehicle Impact Analysis” before lifting the moratorium. They just put out the RFQ and it isn’t due until May 18. So, we’re likely looking at next summer, 2023 for some results. That will be more than three years and counting. Meanwhile there is no such moratorium on rental cars. 

We’re all for gathering more data. But limiting the number of options available for people to get around, instead of using cars, is just playing into the mainland, car-centric culture of being afraid of all the new-fangled electric devices. The poor folks at Lama Mobility had to get a hard-fought special exemption for their 48-scooters. We should be encouraging more of this kind of thinking not less.

While we’re at it we shouldn’t allow any new recreational vehicles on the island that aren’t people or electric powered. Given that the Keys are on the front lines of climate change and rising seas, we should not be allowing any more gas-powered recreational scooters and golf carts. And we should mandate that the existing fleets of the loud, whinny, smoke spewing things all be electric within five years. 

9 – Build the Parking Lot on Stock Island

The 10-Year Key West Transit Plan calls for building a garage, like we have on Grinnell at the Seaport, on Stock Island and then busing people into town. The City could use federal funds, like they did with this garage, on Stock Island.

It is time to finally build free public parking garages on Stock Island and/or New Town and offer free and frequent shuttle buses into town. The idea has been bandied about for decades. The adopted 10-Year Key West Transit Plan calls for building a Key West Intermodal Center (KWIC) or parking facility where the current bus shop is next to Mount Trashmore and proved 15-minute frequent service from there into downtown seven days a week, 15 hours a day. It is time to get this done!

10 – Increase the Ferries, Add “Buses-As-Flights” and Open a Public Airport on Boca Chica

One of the most important recommendations in Mary Bishop’s study was to increase the number of ferries and planes coming into Key West. Well, the airport has been adding flights and is busier than ever. Even with the new terminal, with just six bays, the airport’s capacity is limited. To say nothing of the flight path over the residential portion of the island. Perhaps it is time to rethink some sort of sharing of the Navy’s huge airport on Boca Chica so that as many airlines as want to come to Key West can? There are joint-force or shared-use airports in Destin-Fort Walton and Charleston for example. More flights are a good thing.

The surveys showed that passengers wanted more options on ferry schedules. In cities like Seattle, Portland, ME and throughout the Maritime Provinces in Canada, ferries are operated by the government to ensure a span of service that works for the public. Perhaps the State of Florida and Monroe County could pitch in and help subsidize additional trips from existing ports and add more locations too. 

Last week American Airlines announced it would replace short-leg flights with “on-the-ground” buses and shuttles between nearby cities. Perhaps we can expand upon this idea and offer more coach service to Key West from cities in South Florida. Greyhound has two trips a day into Key West, but we need more. And we need to somehow help remove the stigma of bus riding in the American consciousness too. We spend a lot of money on our airport. Maybe we need to partner with private operators and invest more in this kind of group ground transportation that would take cars off the road.  Take a look at this nice article “Can ‘Buses-As-Flights” Get Americans Out of Their Cars?” for some good ideas.

Our Island’s Future is Better if We Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors

The mix of marketing/education, transit and bicycle/e-vehicle infrastructure improvements, parking management and access to Key West via ferries and planes are within our ability to make happen. Given our island’s prosperity, it’s also within our ability to figure out how to finance, what save for the transit and parking garages, are relatively low-cost improvements. Getting more people to not bring cars to our island or to keep them parked, if they do bring them, will make our overcrowded little historic streets function better. It will also make for a greener, quieter, more peaceful and prosperous place. We all win if we can figure out how to make these 10 recommendations a reality.

# # #

You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Ten Ways to Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 1: Marketing

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on April 8, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

In last year’s most popular Streets for People article, Airport Expansion Means Fewer Cars on Our Island, September 24, 2021, we made the case that more people arriving by airplane is a good thing because it reduces the volume of traffic on U.S. Route 1 and congestion and parking problems downtown. Even as additional people arrive by air, data shows a ceaselessly increasing level of vehicle traffic on our only highway, created by ever more visitors, and compounded by residents driving more because they live further outside the city than in decades past. Today we’re following up with the first part, in a two-part series of ten recommendations, inspired by feedback from the Airport article and a 2019 “Toward Car-Free Key West” study on how we get vacationers to either not bring a car to the island at all or if they do drive here to at least park it and never use it again until the day they leave. 

Traffic Continues as a Concern and Data Shows It’s a Growing Problem

Traffic congestion has been a top concern here for decades and it is only getting worse. The data shows that 77% of the more than a million overnight visitors who make it all the way to the island of Key West arrive here by car. That’s a lot of cars on top of resident, worker, and business vehicles, especially when there are only 3,000 identified on-street parking spaces in the historic district and a slightly smaller number of publicly available off-street spaces in municipal and private lots and garages downtown. 

And just last week one of our island’s most beloved and astute columnists, Linda Grist Cunningham, wrote an article for the Citizen newspaper and her Key West Island News blog entitled: “Key West Traffic – Unless we ditch some vehicles the island’s gonna sink” explaining that “We’ve got too many motorized things clogging our streets…After all, our streets were laid out a couple hundred years ago. Tiny streets on a tiny island, when both people and transportation devices were smaller and fewer. The island simply isn’t built to handle our crowds and must-have SUVs.” She’s spot on.

For those inclined to see the numbers that undergird our 10 recommendations, the column on Airport Expansion is knee deep in FDOT traffic analysis, TDC and Airport visitor data and survey and behavior change research from a 2019 study entitled “Toward Car-Free Key West” published by Mary Bishop in the Journal of Transportation Demand Management out of the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR). Start there first and then pick back up the story here. 

Repeat Visitors Give Us Blueprint for Getting To Car-Free

One of the key takeaways from Mary Bishop’s research is something many of us have come to know, but she gathered the evidence to back it up. The takeaway is that once you are here and on the island of Key West you don’t really need a car to get around. Once visitors experience Key West, the lightbulb seemingly goes off, and they understand this too. This is borne out in the fact that on subsequent visits, people get here by rental cars less and use the airport and ferry more. Here’s how Mary Bishop explains it:

“There is substantial evidence from this survey data to indicate that a vehicle is not needed once visitors arrive on the island. In total, 49% of visitors reported walking as their primary form of transportation while visiting and 32% reported not using a vehicle at all during their stay. The lack of need for a vehicle can also be indicated by the changing trends with repeated visits. While 42% of first-time visitors rented a vehicle for their stay, the percentage dropped to 20% by only the second visit. Meanwhile, arriving via the Key West Airport (67% of airport arrivals did not use a car at all during their stay) became more popular over the number of visits, rising from only 6% for first-time visitors to 34% for visitors who had visited more than five times. These findings suggest the importance of determining what is needed to convey the knowledge of repeat visitors to first-time visitors.”

From Mary Bishop’s Toward Car-Free Key West Report.

10 Ways To Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors:

Based upon her research and the surveys conducted with visitors, Ms. Bishop concludes her paper with four recommendations (jump to page 26 of her report) summarized as follows:

  • Marketing
  • Increase Ridership of Key West Express Ferry
  • Increase Arrivals via Key West International Airport
  • Give Tourists the Public Transportation They Want on the Island

We’ve taken the liberty of expanding and elaborating on her excellent conclusions. We’ve also incorporated much of the feedback we heard when the first article was published last summer. So, while these may not strike you as exactly new ideas, we hope that by putting them together, in one place, it is easier to see how these would work together to get the job done. 

Today we’re going to bring you four of the ten recommendations that fall into the area of Marketing. Next week we’ll bring you numbers 5 through 10 which deal with services, infrastructure, and policy.

Part 1: Marketing

1 – Educate Visitors That They Don’t Need a Car – Before They Get Here

Once people bring a car to Key West, they tend to use it to get around. So, the crux of Ms. Bishop’s policy recommendations relies on conveying the message that you don’t need a car in Key West to visitors BEFORE they get here. It is especially important for first time visitors.

A unified, organized marketing campaign with this message needs to be spearheaded, perhaps by the city, created, and reinforced across online media outlets, blogs, social media, national websites like Trip Advisor, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline.com and the like and local websites that promote Key West like the Chamber of Commerce, Business Guild, Attractions Association, Lodging Association, keywest.com, floridakeys.com, cityofkeywest-fl.gov, and all the individual hotel websites. Note the TDC’s Fla-Keys.com website does have this message and link – but the info is dated, and they are the only ones linking to Car-Free Key West.

Hotels especially need to join in and promote how easily accessible everything is (walking, bicycles, e-bikes, Lama scooters, hotel transportation, Duval Loop, bus, etc.). A car is unnecessary should be front and center on their websites and as part of their sales engagement efforts on the phone with customers. As an example, local sales agents should be trained to say something like the following upon taking a phone reservation:

“We are centrally located in Old Town, with almost everything within walking distance, so there is no need for a car. If walking is not your thing or you are looking for a fun way to get around and see the sights, we can offer bicycles and electric scooters. We can get you an electric moped. The Duval Loop comes close to our property. We have plenty of taxis too.”

Of course, the message changes slightly with the lodging’s exact location. Many hotels further up in New Town and Stock Island have their own shuttles. And while walking might not be an option, bicycling or e-bike and e-scootering certainly is. The same message can pop up when making a reservation. The idea is that everyone, all over Key West, is saying the same thing. 

We mention the City spearheading the campaign as they already have an online presence at www.carfreekeywest.com and on Facebook – although there’s no money, advertising, or campaign behind it. The TDC obviously has deep pockets and marketing knowhow but the TDC’s job is to market the entire Keys, not just Key West and as such they routinely advertise “driving” the historic Overseas Highway. Maybe a contractor to the City, like the way the Historic Seaport is marketed? Bet you didn’t know the City’s Seaport has a $350,000 marketing contract – so why not money for this? Maybe another organization like the Lodging Association could take the lead? Someone needs to step up. 

2 – Educate Visitors About Transportation Options – Once They’ve Arrived

From the Car-Free Key West website.

It is just as important to make it easy for visitors to find information about transportation options once they arrive in Key West. It is great that there’s information on the http://www.carfreekeywest.com website but it needs to be everywhere. Think signs in the airport, ferry terminal and even on U.S. Route 1. The same entity spearheading the marketing before people arrive, must develop tools for the campaign’s partners, hotels, B&Bs, inns, vacation rental companies, attractions, bars, restaurants, and retailers to all easily and seamlessly participate in the campaign.

Maps, brochures, cards, apps, and web-enabled tools need to be developed with coordinated, seamless information about the Duval Loop and other transit options. Bike routes should be included on maps. Safety rules too. Places to rent bikes and e-scooters should all be included. No options available to the public should be left out, regardless of whether it is a private or municipal entity. 

Hotels should be able to easily customize these materials to include their own shuttles, bike rentals and more. The best examples are the watersports companies who produce maps and folks like Key West Finest On Duval and Off Duval Guides. Copy their approach AND pay to be in their materials too.

  • Use the bus stops to promote the bus options. Put information and maps at all the stops
  • Use bike racks to promote bike options by installing information signs with maps and where to rent bikes. Better yet, let’s brand our City’s bike racks with better, higher quality racks and put them in consistent places.
  • Put the Duval Loop map and other car-free messaging on bar coasters, napkins, koozies and tote bags and get this stuff out there.
  • Put real-time information signs near stops along the Duval Loop and other transit and put them in bars too. “Oh hey, we better get going the next bus leaves in 5 minutes.”

Hotels have a key role, so make sure all these materials are provided to them on a regular basis. But let’s not forget that bars, restaurants, attractions, and retail businesses can and should participate too. The campaign should be fun! By making it easy for businesses to participate, we’ll ensure the message gets to the visitor. You can’t just build the Car-Free Key West website and hope people will find the information. If we can spend $350,000 on marketing for the Historic Seaport, we can spend a similar amount on promoting transportation options once people get to our island. Right?

3 – Direct Visitors to Existing Long Term Lots With Better Wayfinding

Direct people to long-term garages and parking lots with better wayfinding signage and marketing before they get to downtown, like along the highway, along N. and S. Roosevelt Boulevards and throughout downtown – all the way to the destination. Those maps we mentioned above, should have public and private parking lots on them too. There should be one place on the internet where all the lots are located, and all the lodging folks should link to it. Let’s go a step further and have the website and some of the signage include real-time capacity information so people can be directed to lots with more space. If people know where to go, they’ll be more confident in just getting to the lot and storing their car.

Example of real-time parking way finding signage along a road.

4 – Enlist the Help of and Work With Recreational Vehicle Rental Companies

While this item, could have been included in item #2, Educating Visitors About Transportation Options, we call it out separately because of the unique role these bicycle, e-bike, e-scooter, moped and golf cart companies have with their customers. Especially regarding safety. While we think it is overdone, we’re used to hearing complaints from drivers and pedestrians about recreational vehicles of all types not following the rules of the road. One only needs to read the Citizen Voice, or any Facebook group posting about traffic and out come the complaints about e-vehicles on the sidewalks, and bicycles going the wrong way on on-way streets and not stopping at stop signs and signals.

So, in exchange for everyone promoting these services, we’d oblige these companies to educate their customers on the rules of the road. Our experience with most of these companies, leads us to believe that they already do this, however, perhaps there can be some uniformity, in the message and coordinate it with the overall transportation options campaign so that everything is seamless and coordinated.

Making Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors

Next week on Friday, April 15 we’ll follow up with the second part of our two-part story. We’ll discuss a mix of six policy, service and infrastructure improvements that work with the four marketing recommendations to get closer to making car-free Key West a reality for visitors. Getting more people to not bring cars to our island or to keep them parked, if they do bring them, will make our overcrowded little historic streets function better. It will also make for a greener, quieter, more peaceful and prosperous place. 

# # #

You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Just Passed ‘Greener, Cleaner Transport Act’ Says City Vehicles to Be Electric By 2030, Adds Measures to Improve Transit, Biking and Parking 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on April 1, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

This week the City Commission did something quite remarkable for our environment and our future. Officially citing rising fuel prices, the war in Ukraine and a concern for our dependence on fossil fuels but perhaps just because four of its seven members are running for re-election this summer, they got off the dime and enacted a series of eco-friendly measures, dubbed the ‘Greener, Cleaner Transport Act’, aimed at making our little island a greener, cleaner bike, walk, and transit paradise. 

Ordinance 22-10 mandates all City and contractor vehicles must be fully electric by 2030. The ordinance also specifies all rental mopeds and golf carts be electric by 2030 and all rental cars by 2035. Ordinance 22-11 is an agreement with FDOT to toll non-Monroe County plates crossing into Key West over Cow Key Bridge to provide dedicated funding for frequent and free Duval Loop-like bus service across Key West, Stock Island, and the Lower Keys. To complement the expanded bus service, Ordinance 22-12 lifts the current moratorium on recreational vehicles and gives the go-ahead to a consortium of local bike shops to pioneer a combined bicycle, e-bike and e-scooter share system at 100 locations throughout Key West and Stock Island. Rounding out these measures is Ordinance 22-13 that puts hourly limits on visitors using the 1,000 unmarked free, 72-hour parking spaces downtown. 

As a group, the Greener, Cleaner ordinances work together to reduce the use of gasoline powered vehicles, create viable transit, bike, and scooter options, and nudge visitors into these alternatives by putting limits on all the free parking scattered throughout old town. It was great to see business organizations coming together with environmental groups to champion the act. We go into the details and timeline of each measure below.

1 – All City and Contractor Vehicles Will Be Electric By 2030

To lead by example, all City fleet vehicles from Key West Transit buses, police cars, public works trucks, to even fire and rescue will need to be converted to electric by the year 2030 per Ordinance 22-10. City of Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg said: 

“Our team has already been researching zero emission vehicle options for about a year. Given our small size, the range our vehicles need to travel isn’t the issue it might be in more sprawling districts. It helps that some of the new electric models look amazing! We’re excited to be part of the solution.” 

The fleet makeover will be sped along with generous contributions from the bipartisan American Jobs Plan (infrastructure package) passed last year in Washington as it has incentives for municipalities doing these fleet conversions. The City said contractors, including Waste Management who handle our trash and recycling must adhere to this rule too. And they’ll be eligible for the federal money also. The City’s Sustainability Coordinator Alison Higgins hailed 22-10 as “rightly putting Key West on the forefront of battling climate change.” 

Ford Mustang Electric police car.

2 – All Recreational Rental Vehicles Must Be Electric by 2030 and Rental Cars by 2035

Ordinance 22-10 also specified that all rental recreational vehicles, such as mopeds and golf carts, must phase out gas-power and be electric by 2030. Pirate ScooterConch Scooters and Sunshine Scooter rental officials thanked the Commissioners for giving them the extended time (8 years) to go all electric. All three companies promised to try to beat the deadline by a year or more. Said longtime owner Jon Brenner at Sunshine Scooter:

“Our customers are more sophisticated these days and feel more comfortable with a quieter, non-polluting ride. This gives us the incentive to catch up more quickly with where the market was going anyway.”

Any rental cars have until 2035 to be zero emission. Local advocates were disappointed that rental cars also didn’t include a 2030 compliance date. However, the 2035 date aligns with the California law that all vehicles sold to consumers by that date will be zero emission. Experts say that the California law puts pressure on major rental companies to comply across the U.S.A., so the alignment makes it fairly easy for Hertz, Enterprise, National and other companies to come into compliance. 

3 – New Toll on Visitors Across Cow Key Bridge to Fund Expanded Duval Loop-Like Service Across Key West, Stock Island and Lower Keys

Toll-By-Plate will be coming to Cow Key Bridge by 2024. Monroe County residents and freight will be exempted. Funds will go towards enhancing Key West, Stock Island and the Lower Keys transit services.

The City’s little Duval Loop carries double the passengers the other City routes and Lower Keys Shuttle carry altogether. It does so because the route is simple, the bus comes along somewhat frequently, and it’s free. City officials finally took the Sustainability Advisory Board’s advice and over the next 20 months will replicate the Duval Loop’s success City wide by creating a series of simple loops and connector routes into Midtown, New Town and Stock Island as laid out in the Key West Transit 10-Year Plan

Ordinance 22-11 specifies buses shall come by at least every 15 minutes for 12 hours a day and every 30 minutes for six hours a day, seven days a week. The Lower Keys Shuttle will go from service that averages between 90 minutes and two hours to every 30 minutes. All Key West Transit service, including the Lower Keys Shuttle, will be free – just like the Duval Loop is. The transition will be complete by January 1, 2024. Best of all the entire cost will be covered by a painless small toll on non-Monroe County resident vehicles crossing into Key West over the Cow Key Bridge. Freight will be exempted. FDOT officials told the City Manager tolling could be in place by the start of 2024 and that they’d take an extra percentage of the toll to help pay for the rather quick, by FDOT’s standards, implementation. Said the Mayor: 

“If we seriously want to reduce congestion, improve parking and attract a labor force from outside Key West, we must get this done.”

4 – Bicycle, E-Bike and E-Scooter Share Goes Island Wide as Moratorium on Recreational Vehicles is Lifted

A consortium of local bike shops is teaming with Lama Mobility to place 100 stations like this throughout Key West, Stock Island and Key Haven by mid-2023.

Based on the early success of the recent Lama E-Scooter pilot, Ordinance 22-12 lifts the two-year old moratorium on recreational vehicles and its prohibition on using public right-of-way for app-based vehicle sharing to jump start the use of micro-mobility and get more visitors out of their cars. In response Lama Mobility is teaming up with WeCycle, the Bike ManEaton Bikes, and Island Bicycles to quickly expand a seamless point-to-point Key West, Stock Island and Key Haven wide bicycle, e-bike, and e-scooter share program. Aimed at providing visitors, workers and residents, the ability to hop on a micro mobility vehicle of their choice at 100 stations. 

Visitors can walk from their hotel or use the Duval Loop to get to a destination, but on their way back they can take a one-way bicycle, e-bike, or e-scooter trip for free. Or vice versa. With stations scattered throughout all neighborhoods, locals can hop on an e-scooter and head to work and take the bus back if it’s raining. The free rides will be paid for, by you guessed, the new transit tolls. The idea is to give people one-way transit and bike/scooter options! Research shows that enabling one-way trip decisions makes it easier for people to choose to leave their cars at home. While most of the 100 stations will be on private property, the City pledged to provide up to 25 parking spaces for station placement. Said Parking Director John Wilkins: 

“Each of these stations can hold 14-18 bikes or scooters in place of one car parking space. Given the climate crisis and the congestion freeing impact of this groundbreaking transportation option, the tradeoff is easy for us to make. We look forward to working with the new vendor to find ideal spots around downtown.”

5 – City Puts Hourly Limits on Free Parking Spaces for Visitors Downtown

Signs like this will go up near the 1,000 free parking spaces scattered around downtown that allow visitors to park for free for up to 3-days (72 hours). Current Residential Permit holders will be excepted.

In a move designed to complement Ordinance 22-11– Expanded Key West Transit (#3 above) and Ordinance 22-12 – the lifting of the moratorium on e-bike and e-scooters (#4 above), the City enacted a Visitors Pay-to-Park Ordinance 22-13. It makes the roughly 1,000 unmarked spaces downtown, currently available for free for up to 72 hours or three days to anyone, 4-hour only zones instead. Residential and Key West worker permits excepted. It essentially means locals can keep treating the spaces as free, 3-day parking but visitors will have to move their cars every four hours. This is aimed at getting visitors who are here longer, to store their vehicles in long-term lots and garages and not be tempted to keep using them to get around town. Fans of the old Ron Popeil, know the term “Set it and forget it.” And that’s just what the Commissioners want visitors who bring cars here to do. Park their car, forget it and walk, bike, use the bus or new micro mobility e-bike and e-scooter options. The City’s Parking Director is tasked with getting the new signs up by the new fiscal year or October 1, 2022.

City Commended for Taking the Lead

A who’s who of advocacy groups lined up at the dais and thanked the mayor and commissioners for finally taking a stand for our environment and making our transportation system greener and cleaner. Keys Last Stand; Reef Relief; Safer, Cleaner Ships; Mote Marine Laboratory; and Community Foundation of the Florida Keys all spoke in favor of the package of Greener Cleaner ordinances. In a welcome surprise so did the Key West Chamber of Commerce, the Lodging and Attractions Associations. Even Pier B’s Mark Walsh, Southernmost Houses’ Michael Halpern and former Commissioner Margaret Romero chimed in positively. Everyone seems on board with the new commitment to our environment via greener, cleaner transport.

April Fools!

By now we hope our readers realize all the above is fiction. Sorry. But it is April 1. It was fun to dream of some simple improvements that could make our island greener, cleaner, safer, and easier to get around and thus more prosperous, environmentally sustainable, and happy. Wasn’t it? 

Perhaps we are the fools for letting the naysayers, NIMBYS, and whatabouters stop these kinds of pragmatic projects that would make our island home even better. I mean, we really don’t think any of the above four ordinances, is that much of a stretch. Right? We here at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown hope you’ll join us in trying to make some of these come true. Help us by liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter and vocally advocating for changes. Our little island paradise will be all the better for it.

# # #

You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Key West Ruins Everything

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on March 25, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

Our hometown – a fun-filled little tropical urban oasis – where we can live car-free.

“Nah, I don’t want to go. Key West ruins everything.” Mikey said in response to me reminiscing about past trips to Spring Training and inquiring if he wanted to decamp our home in Key West and head to Palm Beach and see our Washington Nationals play some exhibition baseball. He’s right. I got it immediately. Nah, I don’t really want to go either.

The allure of going to watch baseball on the mainland just doesn’t hold the same appeal now that we’ve lived in Key West since 2015. When we lived in the District, one would dream all dreary, cloudy, cold, dark winter of getting to Florida at the end of February and March to feel the sun on your face, breathe in the pollen filled air and see trees and flowers in glorious full bloom. 

Much as we love hearing the crack of the bat and having a cold beer in the sun while watching our favorite players in the cozy confines of Florida’s mini Spring Training ballparks, baseball was almost a second thought. Going south and getting a head start on spring and summer was what we really needed. And I must admit that after spending a little time traveling the Grapefruit League circuit watching our national pastime, we’d always find an opportunity to visit Key West.

But now that we live here, we get sunshine and warmth year-round. Now that we live car-free in a fun-filled little urban tropical oasis, where everything is close by and where we bike and walk everywhere, why would we want to subject ourselves to the drive-only, suburban splendor that is mainland Florida? All that motoring to get from one place to the next. All that traffic. All those people. All those endless strip malls, acres of parking and corporate retail chains. Yech.

No, now that we live in Paradise, the desire to travel to most any other place is fading. Especially places like the Florida mainland where you need a car to do everything. Yes, Key West does ruin everything. And that’s just the way we like it.

Me (Chris Hamilton) and Michael Legg on March 3, 2012 at the Washington Nationals Spring Training home park Space Coast Stadium. One of many such trips, before we moved to Key West. The Nats moved to West Palm Beach, also on the mainland, in 2017. We’ve never been there.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key West

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on March 18, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

A gleaming new e-scooter (the stand-up kind) share service started in Key West last week with hopes of whisking visitors staying at downtown hotels around town in an eco-friendly way to shop, dine and visit attractions without need of a personal car, Uber, golf cart or whinny, loud, smoke spewing gas-powered moped. It’s called Lama and is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Marc Meisel, who owns the H2O Suites, Santa Maria Suites, and Southwinds Motel. 

On Monday, I downloaded the app and signed up for the system in just a few minutes. I walked up to the sleek modern kiosk at Santa Maria Suites and tried it out for myself. Wow. The system is elegant and intuitively easy to use. Once on the sturdy scooter I was zipping around town with ease. I felt safe and it was fun too! I can imagine visitors thinking the same.

This project only exists because it got a special exemption as a 48-scooter pilot. It needed the Commission authorized waiver because the City has a moratorium on rentals of new recreational vehicles like these going on two years. And the moratorium is likely to last at least another year as officials await a “mobility study” whose’ RFQ hasn’t even been released yet. Oh, there’s no such moratorium on new rental cars. Hertz, Enterprise, and others can expand their fleets at will. Local officials who profess to be green, care about our environment, and want people to use alternate modes of getting around need to stop this nonsense and allow companies to bring innovative transportation options to our little island, especially as our bus service is so moribund. Let’s explore the wonderful Lama Mobility system and discuss why we need more innovations like this.

Innovative Roundtrip E-Scooter Rental Solves Right-of-Way, Charging and “Abandoned Scooter” Problems

Marc Meisel

Mr. Meisel saw a need to provide his guests with another alternative to get around in addition to the bikes they rent. But he realized that dockless scooters, which traditionally operate with the pickup and drop off transaction conducted on the street via an app, has been problematic in other cities. In fact, Key West doesn’t allow these kinds of operations in the City right-of-way, which has been the Achilles heel of several other failed attempts at Key West based private bikesharepublic bikeshare and Zipcar carshare

In other cities across the country, traditional dockless rideshare e-scooter programs like LimeSpinBird and Lyft, operate when a customer sees an e-scooter on the street and then uses an app to unlock it and go. Lama Mobility was designed to operate as a round trip rental, like the way bicycles are rented traditionally from a storefront or as we often see here in Key West, at a hotel.  

Mr. Meisel said their system was designed this way because one of the biggest complaints of electric scooters in other cities is the problem of abandoned scooters’ littering sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces. The other problem is keeping those scooters charged.

By creating docking stations where the scooter is charged while it’s parked, it solves the charging problem. Putting the docking station on a hotel property where the user picks up AND returns the scooter to the station means they won’t be left somewhere else. That takes care of the problem of “abandoned” scooters littering sidewalks and it solves the Key West specific problem of moving the transaction off the City’s right-of-way too. 

Simple, Elegant, and Easy to Use

Chris Casto, Lama Mobility

On Monday, I met Chris Casto, Lama Mobility Support Crew for Key West, who walked me through the system and accompanied me on a ride around town. Chris has lived in Key West since he was 8-years old and is excited to bring a new form of eco-friendly transit to our island. 

Here’s how it works: 

  • Scooters are parked and charged at Lama charging racks located at Santa Maria SuitesSouthwinds Motel and H2O Suites.
  • Anyone, not just their hotel guests, may use the system – as long as they’re 18 years of age and have a valid form of government identification and credit card.
  • Riders utilize the Lama app to rent the scooters and are charged $9 hour or $36 max per day.
  • You open your app, press “Scan & unlock”, and a camera opens up for you to scan the bar code on an individual scooter. Once verified, the scooter will unlock. You unplug the charger and away you go. It’s that easy. 
  • The system enables the rider to “pause the ride,” as many times as they like, to shop, dine and visit attractions and lock the scooter to a bike rack. This “pause” prevents someone else from unlocking and thus using the scooter and is why it is considered a round trip instead of point-to-point rental. 
  • At the end of the ride, you simply “Scan & lock” the bike the same way you unlocked it. And remember to plug in the charging cable. Easy breezy. 
  • Helmets are available at the front desk and Chris Casto tells us they are working on a way to dispense helmets at the docks. Note – I didn’t feel it necessary to wear one while riding the scooter, just as I don’t in riding my one speed bike around town. If you are going slow enough it just isn’t needed. 

Watch this video to see how the company explains the customer experience.

With the weight of the scooter in the battery at the bottom, the scooter feels grounded and sturdy. The footboard is wider than most scooters too – which makes it easy to get steady footing. You must push the scooter a bit before the throttle will engage, preventing it from jumping away from you. Using the throttle and hand brake are very intuitive. Within minutes I felt comfortable keeping up with traffic, weaving around potholes and stopping and starting. And no sweating! 

Safety Education Built In and You Must Be 18 to Ride

While we were riding a mom and two teenage kids asked where they could get these. Chris was quick to point out that one must be 18 years old to use the system. When you download the app, the next step is to take a front and back picture of your driver’s license and then a selfie. Within a few seconds, the system verifies you have a valid permit and verifies you are the person with that license. This prevents fraud and is a good safety feature.

Safety education is built into the system so that riders are readily aware of how to operate the scooters and of the rules of the road. The app walks users through instructional/safety information and videos. That same information is then displayed on the charging rack monitors. There are bright front and back lights on the scooters, a loud bell and the device can’t go more than 15 mph. All users must be 18 years of age.

No Riding on Sidewalks

As most of us are now aware, Key West prohibits e-bicycles and e-scooters on sidewalks. Except on the Multi-use paths or promenades on North and South Roosevelt, Bertha, and Atlantic. As part of the safety education and rules of the road on the app and at the station, Lama stresses to customers that you aren’t allowed to ride on the sidewalk. One gets the message loud and clear.

What’s Geofencing?

These cool scooters have a feature that allows the company to put a virtual fence around an area where the Lama scooter won’t be able to operate. For example, there’s a block of residential homes behind one of the hotels that asked for this. In theory it would allow the City to ask Lama to say, restrict the maximum 15 mph speed of the vehicles in certain zones. For example, if wanted, you could set the maximum speed at 10 mph for heavily used areas like Duval Street. Or you could even have the scooter not be able to operate when it hit a certain zone like Mallory Square where you don’t want them mixing with pedestrians.  

Lama docks at H2O Suites.

What’s the Future for Lama?

Right now, Lama Mobility is focused on the project and gathering data about how their system is used. Something they’ll share with the City. But one can envision a future where Lama docks are installed at parking lots and hotels throughout Key West, enabling more people to participate. We asked Mr. Meisel what he expects in the future and here’s what he had to say:

“It always amazed me to see so many people come to Key West and either rent a car or drive down and not leave the car in the hotel’s parking lot. One of the allures of Key West for tourism is that Key West is a small area with a lot of things to do and places to see, which makes it very convenient to use a bicycle or e-scooter to get around. Sometimes tourists look to squeeze in a lot in a short period or go distances that it doesn’t make sense to walk. Locating Lama Scooters at hotels gives hotel guests a convenient, environmentally friendly way to see and do more while discouraging hotel guests from using automobiles. Hotels hosting Lama Scooters yield a competitive advantage by offering guests a unique amenity that increases the interest in booking that hotel while promoting overall guest satisfaction.   

Lama Mobilities’ self-service round trip rental platform allows hotels to host this amenity without any drain on operations or the need for hotel staff to provide any support except hand-out helmets. We look to expand our offering to include standard pedal bicycles for guests interested in getting around more traditionally way. Bicycles will also feature our self-service platform, allowing riders to rent and return the bikes via the same Lama Mobility cell phone app, automating the rental process.  

We hope that the City of Key West and other hotels see the benefit of our electric kick scooters and bicycles, reducing cars on the road while allowing tourism to thrive in an eco-friendly way. 

Key West is just the starting point for Lama Mobility. We look to expand our round-trip rental program in other vacation markets throughout the United States.”

We like the way Mr. Meisel thinks. In fact, we asked Chris if the same kiosks could be used to dispense bicycles and he noted that Marc, as he says here, was already thinking of that. If Lama Mobility were to spread throughout Key West and its racks dispensed both bikes and scooters, that could be a game changer in providing choice and ease of getting around.

Mr. Meisel wanted guests in his three hotels near the Southernmost Point to not get in their cars to go to other points downtown, so he came up with a micro-mobility solution that is a green, safe and fun way to get around called Lama.

Lama Is Part of the Solution

Recent research from Carnegie Mellon University, among other sources, shows how replacing short car trips with bike and scooter trips can lead to less congestion. Getting people out of cars and into quiet, eco-friendly alternatives like the Lama e-scooters is a good thing. It nicely compliments efforts like the Duval Loop. It makes our downtown a more friendly, green, and prosperous place. 

Our question is WHY isn’t City Hall expediting these kinds of programs instead of overregulating them? Why aren’t we putting in more bike racks and bike lanes? Why aren’t we pedestrianizing more downtown streets? Why isn’t there more frequent transit? And why aren’t we properly managing our parking so that we direct short-term parkers to meters and longer-term visitors and workers to long-term lots and garages instead of letting them park for free in our neighborhoods? All these things, including e-scooters, would make our historic downtown and whole island healthy, green, sustainable, equitable, prosperous, affordable, and happier too. Thanks to smart people at Lama Mobility like Marc Meisel and Chris Casto, we’re making progress.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.