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.”
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.
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.