Monroe County Transit Authority is busy keeping people moving

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.

Insurance has been a pretty big issue for a while now, but there could be some movement in Tallahassee.

Clark said, “You see from a statewide perspective a lot of different ideas being passed. At this point, the bills being passed, as it goes through committee, we’ll really be paying very close attention to see what gets traction. The goal is to hold Monroe County harmless. We’ve done an excellent, excellent job. We have, arguably, one of the best government affairs people in the state, and she does such a good job of making sure that Monroe County is seen in its own light. So much of what we discussed over there is holding Monroe County harmless actually helping us a little bit. But you have to also understand where the legislature’s coming from and where Citizens is financially and that’s what they see across the state. So, it’s going to be a very interesting watch this year as they try to find ways to shore up, which would has been an explosive bill for most people in the state.”

If the county gets the hold harmless to try to limit the liability, that will help with insurance rates ultimately.

Clark said, “It should help us both on a private level and on a government level. So those are things that we all have the same insurance we need to protect our buildings and our property. Those elected officials in Tallahassee really do understand that the Keys are just different. We have our own set of challenges here and we’ve done an amazing job at mitigating those and preparing for those at a local level. So the more effort and time we spend solving those on our own, the more likely they are to support us in our efforts, especially when we can prove out that what we’re doing is positive gains.”

Bay County is in the process of possibly formulating a transit authority as well

Clark said, “Their executive director will most likely be the CEO of the transit authority, when and if it makes it through the legislature. But they’ve been working at a more of a consolidation model. So they’ve been doing this, probably two or three years, building towards becoming a transit authority, which would be a standalone authority that had that sole purpose is transit. They have a little different motivations than we do here. But we’re certainly watching as that goes through the process. It’s a local bill on their end from their local State House representative. It’s Panama City amongst some other municipalities there that understand there is strength in numbers. You really do need one overarching vision when you’re putting entities together, and you’re all trying to run service, it just that consolidation stretches your dollar further and frankly, it’s better for the citizenry. It’s a better product to build a system with.”

It is grant season right now.

Clark said, “It’s a regional effort. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which is the four counties here in southeastern Florida, Monroe, Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. We work together on some much larger issues, regional issues. The Compact is using a million dollars and a planning grant from the EPA. It’s a grant system called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Program. They are planning, evaluating what will reduce carbon the most which in our instances when we’re all on the phone is really vehicles. Now that includes ports, boats, tugs, things like that do push a lot of diesel. They’ve looked at cruise lines and finding ways to build enough power where the ships don’t run the diesel engines when they’re in port. So there’s a bunch of different things that we’re working on as a group, but from a transit perspective, we’re looking at going after the top tier of grants, which is north of $200 million. So it’s real money for the region, and allows all of us, capital project wise to reduce and plan to reduce our carbon emissions with a zero match, which is so rare, so rare. So it’s really found money. It’s incredibly competitive. But I think we’ve got a very strong case here in southeast Florida.”

What are some examples of reducing the carbon footprint?

Clark said, “The easiest example from the transit perspective is, we’ve had diesel buses running currently up and down the Keys. They’re not new buses, either. They’ve been around a while. So what we need to do is convert those buses to either an electric or hybrid effort where you have as close to zero emission as you can get. I have a lot of folks who really are interested in electrification, which I applaud. In an urban environment, for every traditionally powered bus, that you switch to electric, you need 1.3 buses to cover that same route. They just don’t go as far. You need to charge. So it just takes a little more infrastructure. In the Keys, it’s more like 1.5. We’ve got a very long stretch, which is fine. The federal government is all in on this effort. They want to help. So the infrastructure upfront, and the cost up front of your rolling stock is a little more because you need a little more. But once you have that infrastructure, and you have that rolling stock, you’ve got a wonderful system that’s very robust, and very clean. So it’s not just about our resiliency efforts today, raising our roads and our infrastructure and with all the new EPA rules, holding water, things like that. It’s far more about thinking today, and in the future of what we’re going to have here.”

Reflecting back on the transit authority, what are the accomplishments Clark has seen during his tenure?

He said, “First and foremost, we’re about a year ahead of schedule. I put a one, three, five plan together and our goal was to be running some level of service at the end of year three. We’ll be running service sometime this spring. So we’re ahead of schedule there. I will tell you, the thing that I found is just such an amazing trait we have here amongst all of the Keys is the willingness of our municipalities, the willingness of the community at large. They’re so supportive of transit, generally speaking, and know that if we build it right, they’ll ride it. So many people said, if I knew I could get on, and I knew it was coming quickly, and frequently, I’d use it every day. So it’s really refreshing to see everyone row in the same direction, because that doesn’t happen everywhere. There are many, many, many places where it’s hard to get people to commit to one another.”

The hurricane evacuation model will certainly include the transit authority.

Clark said, “We’re a part of it. I work with Rod at Key West Transit. He’s brilliant when it comes to the logistics of that stuff. He understands how to move things around. That’s what he did in his previous life. So we have to work and figure out the best way to get those most vulnerable out during hurricanes in a reasonable timeframe. We’ve had a lot of success. Those folks in Tallahassee really appreciate the fact that we’re taking our time, and we’re looking at it and we’re not just jumping off the cliff, so to speak. We’re thoughtfully going through a process, and they are 100%, supportive of going through that and taking our time and doing it right, which is really good to see.”

When it comes to traveling, motorists should make sure to take time and be aware of what other drivers are doing.

Clark said, “The season’s in full swing now. So slow down, we had a rash of accidents on our roads over the last couple of weeks that have been pretty serious. So I would just take a deep breath, especially those of us that live here. Most of the people on those roads don’t know where they’re going. So just slow down, enjoy the fact that we live in paradise and just be safe. Everybody gets in a hurry now and again, but stay safe. Stay safe.”