New technology brings so much to transit

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.

A recent survey of people using the transit system helped the department keep up to date with the needs of the residents.

Clark said, “It was actually very interesting. We spread across all of the Keys and took every mode of transit there was available to us, and interviewed people riding those buses and the different types of service and those people operating those services, even those folks that were nearby and just try to get a handle on what was going on and why and how they were using the system. We found we have a very early surge of people coming in to and from work. So we have a very, very heavy rush hour public transit system. Then it slows a little. So there are some areas there where we have found that we can better utilize when it spreads out a little bit and we can get into the neighborhoods and find a way to bring those people to the main system so that they don’t have to get in their cars to get to and from work so that we can provide that service for them.”

The main option for people are buses.

Clark said, “With the exception of Islamorada that does have a freebie service, which is an on demand service and Key West Transit offers their hybrid on demand, which is a point to point not door to door. So more bus stop the bus stop. Other than those two services, everything is fixed route on a bus system, with some times and schedules. Our job is to see how best to optimize that.”

One outcome from the survey was reliability.

Clark explained, “There’s such a demand. The most interesting thing that came out of this this past week was the amount of people that said if we knew it was really frequent, if we knew it was always there, we would happily ride that system. So the demand is so much greater than what we can today offer that we realized that it’s going to take a combination of some optimization to do it right and a lot more money and a lot more concentrated effort. But we think we can really have some quality, positive movement that allows people to get to and from where they want to go.”

Could an on demand service make it county wide?

Clark said, “We are absolutely starting there. We are going to start in the fourth quarter of this year. We’re going to augment that on demand service with some smaller vehicles, some more maneuverable vehicles that can get in and out of some of our more historic roads. There’s so much demand for that service, it should bridge the gap, and allow anyone that wants to ride that system to ride that system in the on demand world. Then it should free up Key West Transit to take a look, that’s our hope, to take a look at how do we increase our ridership along the commuter shuttle service? Because the more robust the main trunk is, the more robust everything else can be. Every little lever you pull helps the others.”

All of the county vehicles to help you get around are air conditioned.

Clark said, “They are they’re all air conditioned. All of the on demand, smaller vehicles are almost exclusively electric. They’re all ADA compliant. So you really can move people around very well. When you get into the bigger loads, everybody always asks about, how much electric can you do? The loads we have to put on large buses and large vehicles, in order to keep the AC running and you weight them down with people, you really have to be careful. You really don’t get the distance. So you look at more traditional fuels, still way cleaner than they ever were. We also never can lose sight of what FEMA asks of us, to make sure that we can get people out of harm’s way if a storm comes our way. That requires a little more look at a traditional fuel, so that it’s very safe and we never have any issues getting those who need it most, who rely on public transit to get out in cases of emergency.”

To get all vehicles to electric, it would have to be a gradual move.

Clark said, “All of that starts with infrastructure. We have already gone to work with every municipality and the county working together to build an infrastructure up the Keys that has five or six different places where you’ll be able to stop and charge your vehicle.”

The ultimate goal is to provide people the modes they want to use at will.

Clark said, “A modern transit entity should allow you to open up your app, should allow you to say, here are your options, the quickest, easiest way to get from where you are, to where you want to go. That might include bringing your bike, putting it on the front of the vehicle. It might include your scooter, walking, not to mention, obviously, getting on a bus or vehicle. So really, as transit agencies are evolving today, they’re evolving to be a full service entity that gets you from point A to point B, not necessarily even on a bus or on a public vehicle, but allows you to find the best way to do so. Just because the best way might not be public transit doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role to play in helping you get where you want to be.”

Could we see a flying car someday like the Jetsons?

Clark said, “There’s a few more hurdles to that. But from an infrastructure standpoint, the load to refuel from a charging perspective, those are effectively electric flying drones that fit humans. It takes an enormous load. First and foremost, you have to work with your electric providers. But the FAA, and as tight as our airspace is around here with the Navy, and all the training they do, and Key West Airport, same goes for Marathon where they’ve got all those helicopters there, you’ve got all that controlled airspace, it’s a really neat idea, but today, if we were using them, the costs are effectively the same as an airplane ticket. So really we need the cost to come way down in order for that to work right.”

Batteries are being created as part of the shell of the vehicle.

Clark said, “They’re really getting creative and smart on how to lighten the load.”