Freebee is coming to the Keys!

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

Freebee will be a great option to get around the Keys.

Clark said, “They were our vendor of choice after our RFP process. That came about because of our existing conditions process which told us the Keys has a hole and that hole is local service. Key West has done some of it. Islamorada has done some of it. But really a holistic look at local service first, where we serve people who live here, we serve people who work here, that’s really where we should start, because no one’s really dug in and said, we’re going to do local service. So that’s what we’re going to start as a county and our service, you’ll see it’s branded Conch Connect. We want to connect you to other forms of service and where it is you want to go. So that service will start in mid July. We’ll have an app or you can do it on the web, you can make a phone call, and the advertising and promotion has really just gotten underway. We’re hiring drivers. Freebee is hiring drivers. You’ll see the five vehicles driving around Stock Island and then Key West, which is where we’re starting. We’re going to dip our toe into this, understand our marketplace, understand what people in the Lower Keys want, because everybody is different. So what works in the extreme Lower Keys isn’t going to be the same service that works in Big Pine, and different service in Key Largo. It’s all going to be different and we know that. So the goal is to make it very fluid, very malleable, and allow people to get where they want to go. So many of our islands are food deserts. So you come home after a long day’s work and you’re like, oh my gosh, my child needs diapers and I’m almost out of formula and I need to get back to the grocery store. So we want to make sure we fill that need. We’re really looking forward to starting the service.”

Clark has been with the county for two years.

He said, “We have, in my opinion, the best elected officials I’ve ever worked with, and the administrators and they’re smart. They’re going to look and listen to what the residents want nd the residents in the last State of Monroe County where they took a real hard look at what was important to residents and businesses here, transportation and transit, leapfrogged affordable housing to number one, which is an amazing thing. I said, clearly the residents realize the problem. Let’s focus on it. So I give them credit. That’s a really smart thing and a smart way to go about it.”

Stock Island was identified by a number of different agencies as having a particular need and a high percentage of workforce that have transportation needs to be addressed.

Clark said, “It is, which is one of the many reasons why we wanted to start on Stock and Key West. The other real reason not just because of the need, which is the number one reason, but we also want to help our partners out and the city of Key West and Key West Transit, they’ve been offering this very, very similar service using their existing vehicles and existing staff. Our hope is as we grow together in this thing, we can shift resources accordingly over time and allow Key West Transit to be better too. So it’s as much helping our sister city and our partner and everybody working together to make it better, and it should make it that much better for everyone that lives here. It’s a great first step for us and we’ll understand and I’m sure have a few growing pains here or there, but we’ll be able to learn our lessons, built it correctly, do it in the off season so we build towards when we really get crowded, and have everything coming in ready to go for season.”

The replacement of the Seven Mile Bridge should be an interesting endeavor in the future.

Clark said, “So they have started their public meetings and looking at design. This is the public portion of the planning and development work. It was pretty unanimous. Most have asked for FDOT to really consider a bifurcated secure bike ped lane that’s got a barrier. FDOT is looking, they’ve got to take everything into account and see what makes sense. The first bridge, I believe is actually Long Key Bridge. So I think in the order of things, it’s Long Key, and then Seven Mile and then by that time, we’ll be ready for Snake Creek. So I’ve told everybody, if you look at just those three bridges your way north of $2 billion that FDOT is committing to the Keys, which is just so unbelievable. They’re such great partners, and care so much about what happens down here.”

What else is on the horizon?

Clark said, “We’re awaiting notice of the USDOT grant awards. I expect them to come before all the elections happen, but we shall see. One of which is request for little over $5 million to have 30 electric Ford transit vans that would do this exact same service we are building here throughout all of the Keys. The other that we just finished is a ferry planning effort to look at inter-island ferry that would stop in the Lower, Middle and Upper Keys. The process when you’re asking the federal government and the state government to invest is have they done their homework? Have they made a business case to do this? Are they really going to move people? Are they going to get cars off the roads? Is it going to be safe? All of those things go into a decision from USDOT leadership and FDOT leadership to really invest serious money. So they want they want to see that the local counties and municipalities are investing and that we’ve done the homework necessary to make good decisions.”

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