Keep Duval Loop FREE For Visitors
By Chris Hamilton, April 30, 2020
People have until Monday afternoon, May 4, to voice their opinion on Item #7 using the City’s eComment here: https://bit.ly/2VQmasT
Launched in August of 2017, the Duval Loop quickly became a favorite of visitors and all the lodging, attractions, restaurant and retail businesses in our downtown. The service is successful because it is FREE, FREQUENT (buses arrive every 15-20 minutes) and has a SIMPLE route that is easy to understand. Last year more than 410,000 trips were taken on the Loop. More people rode the Loop than the other four City bus routes (orange, blue, red and green) and the Lower Keys Shuttle all combined. It isn’t even 3 years old yet and is universally hailed as something the “City did right!” Now, someone wants to muck up this success by charging a $1.00 fare to visitors using the service. A formal proposal to raise the fare goes before the City Commission at its May 5 meeting, Item #7.
Not surprisingly many in the local Key West community are saying NO to the proposal as witnessed by the overwhelming comments on Facebook’s Friends of Car-Free Key West and Reimagining Key West posts. Even though the proposal would continue FREE fares for residents with an ID, folks seem to get that this is about getting visitors and workers easily around downtown and discouraging them from driving cars to do so. It works people say, so why mess with that achievement by fundamentally altering its formula?
According to the Executive Summary accompanying Item #7, the Duval Loop is funded 50% from the City’s Transportation Alternatives Fund (TAF) and 50% from an FDOT Development grant. The TAF gets much of its funding from parking revenue. The grant ends June 30, 2021. We understand parking revenue is down right now. We also get that in 14 months the grant runs out. But according to the City of Key West’s 10-Year Transit Development Plan, the City has always assumed the Duval Loop would be FREE well in the future until 2029 (see Revenue Assumptions on page 9-5.) They knew the grant would run out and took that into account with their long range plan, so why the change?
Regarding revenues we understand that with the shutdown the fiscal situation is worsening for Key West, Monroe County and all cities and states. So why just pop up this one change now? Why isn’t the city holding a session to publicly vet 50 revenue generating ideas and 50 cost cutting measures? We believe the need to increase City revenues should be looked at holistically and major decisions about such a key component of our downtown’s economy, the Duval Loop, should be too. This isn’t a thoughtful approach.
There are approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces in Old Town below White Street. About 1/3 of these spaces are metered, 1/3 are marked Residential and 1/3 are unmarked. Residential Permits can be had for $20 annually or $0.05 cents per day. The unmarked spaces are free. That’ means two thirds of downtown parking spaces are virtually free. We want MORE people to walk, bike and take the bus downtown. Not drive. So why are we making it more difficult to use the bus while we’ve never properly addressed right pricing our parking supply?
Here’s some more reasons why charging visitors to use the Duval Loop is a bad idea:
- FREE and FREQUENT, painted on the sides of the buses, is easy to market. It mostly sells itself. Now we’ll really need to spend money on marketing
- The service goes from an nice amenity or an economic development tool to, well, a bus service
- The Hop On Hop Off aspect is ruined as now it is just another bus route where one needs exact change and has to queue up to pay
- We ask people who DO drive to park at one of our facilities like the Grinnell Street Garage and then hop on our free downtown shuttle to get around. Ooops. Well now what?
- It’s just a dollar. But who always has exact change these days? Who even wants to deal with cash and all those germs? What’s a family to do if they have to pay $4 on the first trip and $4 back? Any cost will have an elasticity factor and ridership will suffer
- Queueing up to pay slows things down. It causes delays and friction. Delays and friction will cause a drop off in ridership
- Counting and securing cash has hard costs and personnel costs
- We’ve made a commitment to the lodging, attractions, restaurant and retail businesses and all the visitors who have rated the service so highly (4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor). Now we’re changing the rules when we couldn’t possibly have consulted with these stakeholders as they are all closed.
- As we make the service harder to use, some people will choose to drive. That means a more congested streets downtown
- As we make the service harder to use, some people will simply choose not to go to another part of downtown, thereby hurting some small businesses
If more people walk, bike and take the bus it makes our streets more efficient. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It makes us healthier. And happier too. Very importantly it helps our local businesses prosper. Charging a fee for using this amazingly successful bus is the wrong way to go. It is a step backwards. Please Mayor Johnston and City Commissioners, vote NO on this, not well thought out proposal to impose a fare.
- What Benefits Can Cities Expect From Fare-Free Transport, March 11, 2020, Cities Today
- Public Transit Can Be Free, August 24, 2018, Jacobin
- Americans Spend Over 15% of Their Budget On Transportation – These Cities Are Trying To Make It Free, March 2, 2020, CNBC
- Free Public Transport Is Gaining Popularity in European Cities, October 30, 2018, CZ.com
- Should Transit Be Free?, January 28, 2019, Transit Center
- Should Transit Be Free?, Part 2, February 12, 2019, Transit Center
- Who’s Afraid of Free Public Transit, May 25, 2018, NextCity.org
A few comments from Facebook and the City’s eComment system on Item #7. Click on any one of these to enlarge and then arrow to each comment in a larger format for ease of reading: