Let’s talk transit in the county

Richard Clark, director of the Monroe County Transit Authority, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this week to talk about what’s been going on with transit. 

Surveys on transit in Monroe County have resulted in a lot of data. 

Clark said, “This is going to be the most difficult phase. It’s going to be difficult to take that data, turn it, you’ve got to turn it into an actionable plan. Part of that plan is okay, what can we do that moves the needle the most? We want the biggest impact. We want to do that, and we want to be good stewards of the taxpayer taxpayer dollars. You have to build something that you can build upon. The demographic data is pretty interesting in and of itself. A lot of what we do down here, as we’re looking at the Keys and how people move around, or how do we get people from where they live to where they work, and vice versa? It’s throughout the Keys, doesn’t matter where you are Key Largo, Marathon, Big Pine, it’s more than 50 percent of what the statistics determine is rent burdened, meaning they have a higher percentage than the norm, to live here based on their income. So we need to find ways to help curb those costs and help get people to and from. We’re always trying to understand how that impacts how people move.”

A lot of times people don’t have enough money to have their own form of transportation. 

Clark said, “So we need to find a better way. Frankly, it’s going to be better for all of us if we can build a system that works, build a system that’s far more frequent. We just had our road studies come back in, understanding where our bottlenecks are. Everybody knows, if you’re between essentially, mile marker 75 and 90, it’s gonna slow down. Mile marker 84, during the peak, it’s 2,000 cars an hour that flows through that. That’s a lot. So we have to work with Islamorada. We have to work with FDOT. Everybody has to come to the table, because transit alone is not going to fix that kind of volume. We’re going to be a part of it. But we need to understand how we best help everybody.”

The study was conducted by the county and the Keys didn’t get the best grade. 

Clark said, “It’s a traffic count and we look at peaks, we understand where they ebb and flow. You can look at segments and say, okay, how many of these segments are a and b, and then how many are D, how many have struggles. What we’ve done is looked at the entire stretch, we looked at all of it, because frankly, we need to look at all of it. If we’re going to evacuate, it isn’t going to be about stretches, it’s going to be the entire Overseas Highway. Our job is to figure out what levers to pull and none of the answers are easy. To fix it is going to take real work and effort from everyone.”

What would implementation consist of? 

Clark said, “We are going to start running service, if timing works out, by the end of this year, a small service to help Key West Tranist and their Stock Island Key West service they have today. Smaller, more maneuverable vehicle to allow people to get to and from work. It’s very service industry driven. Our goal there is to augment what’s already existing because the demand is so great, we know that we can help. So that’s a low hanging fruit. As we build this year, what we’ll want to do is look at what the commuter service looks like. We really want to take that and say, okay, how do we design a system that’s very frequent? When I say very frequent 30 minute headways, which really means we don’t want anybody waiting more than 15 minutes for a bus. No one shows up and watches the bus pull away, that’s just really, really bad luck. For the most part, you’re in the middle. We want it very frequent, we want everybody to rely on it. We want everybody to know it’s right there, you can take it. So we’re going to have to build some funding models that pays for our capital costs, and then build a long term operational, and let’s face it, it’s going to take years to get 100 percent ramped up. But I think in the short term, you’ll see the commuter service start to pick up. Then we will go into the five areas, Key Largo, Marathon, Islamorada, all of the different municipalities and areas and build those smaller systems that help you get around that area, and also help you get to the commuter service so that you can you can rely on service and you could do it and it’d be quick and simple and reliable.”

Will there be other studies? 

Clark salad, “We will always look at the data. What we don’t have today are what’s called automatic people counters, APCs, on our vehicles. The key is to understand not just how many people are riding, but you really need to understand where they’re getting on and where they’re getting off the system. So that’s how you design the system properly. Those are the things we need to start investing in. We’re going to start a branding exercise and some media to bring awareness to transit in general and what’s happening today. So you’ll see us out in the public far more forward facing than we’ve been over the past few years.” 

Will the connection to Miami Dade continue? 

“It is,” Clark assured. “Their contractor, America’s Transportation, they’ll have a renewal here in July and we’re going to build on that and look to the future and work together to understand how best to utilize that service for the future, and how what that’s really going to look like in the future. They built a good service. They have a strong healthy, early ridership. They have a very early morning ridership and a very early afternoon ridership that’s quite substantial.”