A new transit service will be coming to Monroe County soon

Richard Clark, executive director of Monroe County Transit, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on with travel in the county.

Monroe County will begin a new service soon.  

Clark said, “Our original service that we wanted to start is a local service all the way in the Lower Keys. It includes Stock Island and Key West. We’re going to have five fully electric vehicles seats, four to five people each. That service is going to start in July, probably mid July and it’ll be on demand. So you’ll be able to click your phone or a website or make phone call. We won’t be picking you up at your front door, but we’ll make sure we’re as close as we can be. So it’s called curb to curb service, meaning we’ll get you as close as we can from where you are to as close as you want to be. Not an Uber, where it will drop you off, exactly, point to point. But it’s still public service. So it’ll be, $2 arrived, just like public transit is today, and that Key West transit offers. So we’re really looking forward to it. We know there’s a lot of demand. We saw just a month ago, we had some folks talking to us at the county commission meeting talking about housing, talking about the needs on Stock Island, and, and the folks on Stock or like, we really need to be able to get to a grocery store, like after work, I need to figure out, they are literally living in a food desert. They don’t have a grocery store on Stock and there’s a lot of people and a lot of families there. So this should really help that effort.”

Where will the service go?

Clark said, “Stock Island, both sides of Overseas, into and all over Stock Island and Key West. As time goes on, and demand grows and assuming everything goes well, there are opportunities for us to expand that service a bit. In the beginning, this is just the county, we’ve made a conscious decision to focus on local people, employees and people that live here in the beginning, that’s where it’s where we’re going to focus. So we’re doing local service that gets you in and around your home, so to speak. So that’s the exact same reason why we submitted a grant a couple months ago, to US DOT for 30 fully electric transit vans, and those seat 12 and the driver. Those we would put in five locales up and down all of the Keys. So the Stock and Key West service would switch to those vehicles, Big pine to say Cudjoe, Marathon and Key Colony Beach, Islamorada and Key Largo. It’s really based on population and need. We’re really looking forward to finding out probably early fall, if that’s something that US DOT is going to provide for us.”

This service would be with smaller vehicles.

Clark said, “When you’ve got a 30 foot bus, we simply have very small, tight roads. Our goal is to be a partner for Key West Transit, to say, okay, we’re going to hopefully alleviate all this extra demand you have and then let’s take a look and see, do you have the ability to redeploy some of the buses to put on Overseas to increase frequency of commuter? I mean, there are a bunch of options that Key West Transit is going to be able to have. It may be that we have enough demand, they just continue to do what they’re doing. Our hope is that we alleviate a lot of that demand and we can make a bigger better system for everyone in the Keys. That’s the goal.”

Is the FreeBee service still going on in Islamorada?

Clark said, “Our vendor is going to be FreeBee. They want our bid. We had five bidders. The people scoring it were all blind to each other. They didn’t know. They all unanimously chose FreeBee. So we feel really good about where we are with that. Now we’re branding our service down here Conch Connect. Islamorada continues to have great numbers. They continue to grow. They don’t market it as aggressively as we are going to market the service down here, but in time, what we’d like to see is a homogenous system from Florida City all the way into Truman Park. So, that’s the goal and our hope is, now that we actually have the same vendor, which is also nice, we can start looking at how we piece these puzzle pieces together.”

Bus stops are also utilized throughout the county.

Clark said, “When I talk to the community, I always explain to everyone from 100,000 foot level, we really need locally to take a look at what we have, to build a plan where we want to go, have a very formulaic, there’s a matrix and the matrix says this is where you get a shelter and this is where you get a bench and this is where you just get to stop. Those things all have to happen so that when you go to and sit down with the US DOT or the FTA in DC, or FDOT in Tallahassee, they say, hey, look, they’ve invested in this, they clearly have a plan, it’s laid out, they know where they’re headed, and where they want to go. That’s what gives them the confidence to give us money to build a system that we need. They’re certainly not just going to say here’s money, go do good. So the bus stops are a really key component to that. We need to understand how we’re using the bus stops in the Upper Keys, Middle Keys, even, there’s a lot of hail servers, where somebody sticks their hand up, whether they’re at a stop or not. So there are places where people congregate that have no stop. If there were 10 bus stops in a stretch of road, we may find that we only need seven, and three of the seven needs to be moved. So it’s as much figuring out the right methodology and what’s going to make things flow as it is just pure safety. We can’t have someone standing in a median and waving a bus down. That’s dangerous for the people driving the bus and rider. You we just can’t have that.”

What about inter island ferries?

Clark said, “When I bring that up, people’s eyes light up. There’s a lot of people very passionate about using our waterways as a transit resource. If you’re the US DOT, when you look at a walk up only service meaning we’re not moving any vehicles, it’s just a human getting on a boat to get from point A to point B, you can tie that directly to a car not being on our road. So they love it. We’ve already taken a really hard look at service from Miami into the Keys and we’ve realized it doesn’t function in the Atlantic. So an inter island ferry from Key West to Marathon to Islamorada, that service does seem to work. We’ve asked for a feasibility planning effort through a grant. We’ll know in a couple months if they awarded the grant. We have no risk in it. We don’t have any local money in it. So it’s a great for us and really to take a really good hard look, okay, where would we really stop? Where would be the landings and how it would work and what kind of wait times and demand we have? Even if you only had a 50 passenger ferry and you had 25 people on it, with hourly service, at those three places, you’d be moving 350,000 people a year, I mean, you’d be moving a lot of people that don’t get on our roads. So it’s something I think is very viable. Whether you’re a local, in Islamorada that wants to head to Marathon for the day, or you’re a tourist that’s not going to jump in a car and ride up Overseas, either way, it’s adding capacity to our roadways and pulling people off of our roadway.”

Could it happen?

Clark said, “I hope it’s a likelihood. We wouldn’t do it, if we didn’t think it was viable. We certainly just don’t want to get money to spend it, we want to make sure we think it’s viable, and we’re going to prove it. That’s what you need to do. We always find things we never considered, whenever we do any kind of serious feasibility effort or planning effort, when you really get in and talk to people and look at the service and look at the professionals in the industry and talk to the captains here, there are people who have been on the water their entire lives who understand how those things work. So once we talk to all of those groups, that’s when we’ll know, okay, if indeed we do it, how viable is it and how is that actually going to work?”

The Seven Mile Bridge will also be redone in the future.

Clark said, “That are PD&E efforts, the planning efforts and environmental efforts are going on right now. The stretch, that four or five miles is going to start in July on the north side. That’s not a traditional re resurface. That’s real roadworks, and that’s 18 months, I think all in for that piece of the stretch. So good news is the FDOT is really investing in Monroe County. Bad news is we’re going to have some slow downs in the coming years. But I’ll take the resiliency and sustainable efforts of driving on dry roads, not roads underwater.”

There could even be a third lane on the Seven Mile Bridge.

Clark said, “People are pretty unanimous in all of the comments we’ve had and the people we talked to that what they really would like to see FDOT find a way to put a bifurcated, walled, sectioned off bike, Ped lane, out of traffic. It’s pretty unanimous that everybody really wants to see that.”