Streets for People / The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care

Chris Hamilton

Experts say, the bus stop is one of the biggest signals, to everyone in the city, about a community’s attitude toward buses and their customers. What do Key West Transit’s bus stops say to residents, workers and visitors? Judging by their quality and lack of information one would have to answer: “We just don’t care!”

If you are unfortunate enough to have to take the bus, the City seems to be saying to customers and potential customers you can fend for yourself. On the City’s North and South Lines, the bus stops consist of a pole with a sign that has a generic graphic of a bus on it. That’s it.

Where does this bus go? When does the next bus come by here? There’s no route designation, so am I standing at the North, South, Lower Keys Shuttle or Duval Loop bus stop? Or is it a private shuttle? No map with an identifying “You are here,” so one can ascertain if the bus even goes where I need to go. No schedule so one can figure out when something might come by, let alone a real-time information sign. No shade. No bench. No branding. No marketing. Not even a website address to let you know where you might get some information.

The Duval Loop stops, aimed at hundreds of thousands of tourists, are barely any better. If one is lucky, you’ll find a sign with a bus stop number on it. So, IF you happen to already have a map (their lack of marketing and outreach will be fodder for a future story), you may figure this means something. Otherwise, what exactly does a number 8 on a bus stop sign tell you? If you are really lucky the sign might actually say Duval Loop. Yay! Okay, well at least you know what route it is. But like with the City Lines, where does it go a and how often? You don’t get a clue.

Successful bus companies convey their bus system matters through thoughtful branding and amenities at the point of purchase – or the bus stop. What better place to tell the world that your customers matter or that if you aren’t a customer, we’d love for you to be one.

There’s no excuse for this sad state of our bus stops. The City rebuilt most of Duval Street during the shutdown, so why couldn’t they install some information signs at all the poles? I mean if the lovely Dee Dee Green at Key West Recycles can install cigarette butt dispensers at most of the Loop stops, how hard would it be to install the bright pink signs atop the pole and map and information guides at each stop. Come on man, this was in the original plan (below) in 2017. Why hasn’t it been implemented in the four years since? Well, because “We don’t care!”

Good Bus Stops Can Be Inexpensive and Yield High Dividends

According to the good folks at the research think tank TransitCenter: “The good news is that upgrading bus stops is relatively cheap and yields high dividends. The cost of one bus shelter ranges considerably depending on factors such as design, size, and place, but typically amounts to between $2,000 and $15,000. Smaller upgrades — such as benches, trash cans, or signage cost much less. Transit agencies should view bus stop improvements as low-hanging fruit for improving transit service – and growing ridership. Research show that stops and their surrounds factor heavily on the rider’s experience of taking transit, and that great bus stops can drive ridership. Better stops entice new riders to try the bus.”

Even placing real-time arrival info at bus stops can be done relatively inexpensively these days. Shouldn’t at least some of our highest use stops like near the Park n Ride Garage have these?

In TransitCenter’s Why Bus Stops Matter report they surveyed 3,000 people and did numerous focus groups and said the two most important factors driving satisfaction with transit service are frequency and travel time. Something we’ve covered extensively as Key West Transit’s City Lines have 90–120-minute waits between buses and the Duval Loop’s original “frequent” 15–20-minute service has been creeping upwards of 30 minutes lately. (see Sustainability Board Wants to Make Free, Frequent and Simple Key West Transit a Reality; February 4, 2021. However, the report goes on to say that riders also value stop conditions and real-time information. The point being, taking care of the bus stops is taking care of business and needs to be done.

 

Says the National Association for City Transportation Officials (NACTO) in the Transit Street Design guidebook: “Design stops as introductions to the transit system, paying special attention to how transit space interacts with the sidewalk and adjoining buildings. Comfortable stops with shade trees, shelter, places to sit or lean, and nearby business activity can anchor an improved local pedestrian realm and improve rider perceptions of transit service. Branding and distinctive stations serve to advertise frequent service, while clear information saves people time—and bolsters ridership.”

Research has shown when bus riders have amenities like benches, shelters and trash cans, and map and schedule information they perceive waits to be shorter. When one provides real-time information, customers actually don’t mind longer waits. And bus stop amenities may even help improve ridership. Something Key West Transit sorely needs.

Key West Transit Needs to Do Better

People around here get mad when the Welcome to Key West sign and the landscaping around it looks bad. They rightfully get mad when the grass isn’t mowed in the medians. Or when the streets aren’t cleaned. Or the beaches aren’t raked. Or the sidewalks have gum and other debris on them. We don’t like when bikes are locked to trees and fences and we don’t like cigarette butts in the gutter. So why in the world do we put up with bus stops that look like they belong in some third world country. Why on earth do we tell the hundreds of thousands of visitors to our little island and our residents and workers that we just don’t care when it comes to our transit system. This is especially egregious when we feign to want people to leave their car and get around by alternative transportation.

There’s no excuse. This isn’t rocket science. And it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Let’s get this done Key West! We deserve better.

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Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. He’s a native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.