Transportation in Monroe County is a constantly evolving operation

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.

Back to school time always affects traffic in the county.

Clark said, “Especially in the beginning, when we’re all trying to remember our routes and making sure our kids get to school safely. So it’s certainly going to impact us in a short term. But we’ll get back and everybody will get back into their routine. I would just please ask everybody to be patient and very cautious when you’re in and around school buses.”

At the moment, there are people out in the field taking a look at what’s going on with the transportation system.

Clark said, “The first step in anything is to not just assess what those modes of transit that are operating today in the Keys, but let’s try to figure out, okay, where were the missing pieces? Where can we really help in the beginning, that’ll really move the needle? You want to grab a hold of those places where people really need transit. Because what we found primarily is, almost all of our transit ridership today, are transit dependent. They are those people who don’t have vehicles, they’re the elderly or handicapped. So, in the short term, we want to maximize that make sure everybody who needs to get to and from work or a doctor’s appointment or to get the prescriptions or groceries can do so. But in the long run, what we want to do is figure out where are we missing these links? What are the frequencies we need to have? What do the vehicles need to look like and ride like and where do they need to go? We want choice ridership. We want people to say hey, this is a unbelievably reliable service, it’s safe, it’s clean, it comes with an enormous amount of frequency. I’m going to leave my car right in front of my home, and I’m going to get on the system and I’m going to go to and from work or to and from my doctor’s appointments that way. That is our goal. It takes time. Just like we’re asking people to settle into their new routine. It’s going to take time for people to accept that and get into their new routine with transit.”

There’s a lot of coordination with Miami-Dade Transit and Key West Transit and on-demand services in the Upper Keys.

Clark said, “We learn things as we evaluate each of them and understand how people are using them. The Miami-Dade system has an unbelievably heavy amount of use, very, very early in the morning. All of those people in the service industry that are coming into the resorts, that are working in the service industry coming into the Upper and Middle Keys. They could use more service. They’ve really got a robust, early, early morning and then in the mid afternoon when they leave. So those are things we needed to look at and understand how people are riding the system. It operates almost like a hail system where people get off relatively close to where they work. When you get into the Lower Keys where Key West Transit operates, it’s far more of a traditional style. You’ve got some bus stops. The service is relatively consistent throughout the day. So we need to understand how both of those work. I think we do everybody a lot of good if we added some frequency, normalize those connections. But that takes time, effort, money, obviously. You have to applaud what both Key West Transit and Miami Dade have done for us. They’ve really picked us up when we didn’t have a countywide effort. We can’t be appreciative enough for the services they’ve been providing.”

Is Monroe County Transit looking at the possibility of electric buses?

Clark said, “In what we’re looking at is the middle mile, the connection pieces, where if you live on Big Pine or you live in Key Largo, and you need to get to the main system, I think those more maneuverable, smaller vehicles, you can probably do electric or hybrid electric, because charging simpler infrastructures is easier to build. Really, the driving force is okay, how much can Keys Energy handle? How big of a load can they handle on our system? So it’s really you need to lock the arms with our electric providers, and say, okay, how can we work together to build this? I think the long haul service, I think any commuter service up and down Overseas Highway, we’re going to be a lot closer to traditional fuel, even if it’s clean diesel, or electric hybrid or anything like that, because not that we don’t want to provide clean electric service. The problem is, FEMA dictates we have to get out of here in 24 hours. So they’re going to require traditional fueling, because we have to be able to fuel those vehicles. There isn’t an electric bus today that’s made that could leave Key West in an evacuation and make it even out of the Keys without draining its batteries.”

A formal report of the field study will be out in October.

Clark said, “I would encourage everybody just stay with us. We’re going to put it online. And then I’m going to go back out into the community, like I’ve been doing today, I’m going to be in the Upper Keys at the Rotary up there in Key Largo, just walking through what we’re doing here in transit. So stay tuned. Please engage when we get into our public forums and participate because public participation is what makes this thing work.”