New Key West bus loop delayed again

BY PRU SOWERS
KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

As the old proverb says, “For the want of a nail…. the kingdom was lost.” In the case of the long-awaited Duval Bus Loop, a downtown bus service that was supposed to launch last December, all the components are in place except one. But that one has pushed the launch back another two months.

The problem is the bus stop sign poles, which to conform to hurricane regulations must be wider than the regular signage poles at bus stops in other cities. Because the three-inch hurricane version is not in great demand, it has been back ordered and it is taking longer than anticipated to arrive.

“We’ve got the marketing team ready to go. The buses are wrapped. The drivers are hired,” said Chris Hamilton, Key West Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator. “The holdup is manufacturing the poles and signs for the bus stops.”

The Duval Loop, a free circulator bus designed to shuttle tourists and workers around the downtown area, is an effort by city officials to ease traffic congestion in Old Town. The 16-stop loop runs from United to Caroline streets largely along Simonton and Whitehead streets. It circles past the Caroline Street parking garage and officials hope people will park there and take the bus to the downtown area.

The Loop was supposed to start operations last December but hiring and training drivers took longer than expected, delaying the launch by four months. Then, in April, the pink and blue “wrappers” that wrap around the outside of the buses to advertise the service were overdue. Now, it’s the signs and accompanying parts.

“They were having production problems,” Hamilton said about the pole manufacturer. “It’s not for anybody’s lack of trying. It’s just unexpected.”

The 15 drivers hired specifically for the Loop will be filling in on the city’s regular bus routes until the poles arrive and are installed.

“I’m hopeful we’ll have the service started by Labor Day. I’d be pleased if we could have it started by one of the festivals [this summer], like Lobster Fest. But I don’t know,” Hamilton said.
Funding for the Loop comes from the $1 an hour increase in public parking rates imposed last year. The Loop buses will run Thursday through Sunday in the off-season, increasing to seven days a week from December through April. Buses will run every half hour from 6 am to 10 am, increasing to every 15 minutes from 10 am to midnight.

The Duval Loop is part of a larger “Car-Free Key West” marketing campaign aimed at reducing the number of cars and accompanying congestion and parking problems in the Old Town area. Hamilton and other city officials have been making the rounds to local businesses organizations to promote the new bus service. The most recent presentation was to the staff at the Key West Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton said.

“They were very enthusiastic and asked how they could help,” he said. “The reaction from the business community is very enthusiastic. The lodging association, their members were asking, ‘when is this starting? We need this. Our guests need this.’”