Making Myself Useful

I’ve spent the last several weeks attempting to synthesize data from nearly 400 surveys. My survey questions run the gamut of demographics, opinions about transportation, considerations, effectiveness of incentives and disincentives, accommodation location, number of visits, etc. The task of sifting through and sorting such an abundance of data has been both arduous and exciting. Attempting to find any and all significant findings by way of filtering reports and cross-tabulating felt, at times, like rolling the dice. But in the end, there were almost too many significant findings to keep straight.

Some of the data may prove useful to inform marketing to certain target groups based on where they are from or what options they indicated that they’d be willing to consider. For example, 56% of personal vehicle drivers arrived from southern Florida, but only around half of those said they would consider driving next trip. Meanwhile, 39% of them said they would consider the ferry and 29% of them said they would consider the Key West International Airport. Effective marketing could help make those considerations a reality, which in turn would likely reduce car arrivals to the island. Of those arriving via those two arrival methods, 67% of Key West Airport arrivals and 78% Key West Express arrivals reported that they did not use a car at all during their visit.

Other data may prove useful for the city planning department in their future development of public transportation systems. For example, tourists most highly rated concerns (of around 8 common concerns) with public transportation were having to wait around and coordinating different schedules. Knowing that these were rated as the most significant barriers to public transit use, the city could develop transportation that would assuage these concerns. For example, the city could focus on creating systems with frequent pickups and easy to remember schedules.

All and all, I am finding the experience of doing something that might actually prove useful to be as satisfying as I expected it would be. With graduation in just a few weeks, I’m trying to keep optimistic about having a big kid job that will both: allow me to make a positive difference in the world and pay the bills 🙂

I could not have done this work without the guidance of Dr. Amy Lester, from USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research. From the earliest formation of research questions to the arduous task of data analysis, she was an excellent mentor and patient teacher.

I would like to thank the City of Key West planning department for their gracious welcome and enthusiasm throughout this process. In particular, I would like to thank two people: Alison Higgins, whose determination and authoritative presence make her an exceptional advisor and friend, and Chris Hamilton, whose insights were invaluable to our team. Without their encouragement and insistence on the importance of this research, the research simply would not exist.

(Myself, Alison, and Chris are pictured above, in front of KW Planning Department)

Click it! Graph it!

For all of the surveys, I used Qualtrics – a digital surveying program that has the huge advantage of saving me the time of typing hundreds of responses into the computer or sorting the data by hand. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Who in their right mind would sort through 400 surveys by hand?”

I wanted to make a note, for those of you thinking something along those lines, that dozens of people who I surveyed reminded me of their pre-twenty-first century hardships when doing their own graduate research. I even had one professor say, in jest, “I kind of want to smash this tablet on the ground just so you have to do the pen and paper analysis”. So I thought I would include this as a friendly reminder that we live in an age of convenience, and the cross tabulations that literally take me seconds to do digitally used to take hours. Hours of sorting through a stack of paper data. Hours of math. Hours.

Now that we have all taken a moment to appreciate the convenience of our lives, here are my preliminary findings:

50% of respondents answered that their “primary form of transportation while visiting Key West” was – WALKING!

Aside from creating incentives and disincentives to driving, a good part of this research is aimed at how to market “car-free” to tourists. Knowing that half of people primarily walk around the island may be useful in marketing to tourists. “Car-free is carefree” or “walk in the park” sort of marketing angles may prove useful. Related to this is the finding that:

32% of visitors used a car zero times throughout their visit

Regardless of the number of days they visited, nearly a third of visitors never used a car. Can you remember the last time you went 1, or 5, or 8 days without using a car? Perhaps it was during your last visit to the Keys??

Finally, the most exciting findings of my early analysis: Going into this, the sustainability director for Key West, and one of my advisors for this research, had anecdotal evidence to suggest that first time visitors were more likely to arrive with a vehicle than repeat visitors.

Going into this, the sustainability director for Key West, and one of my advisors for this research had anecdotal evidence to suggest that first time visitors were more likely to arrive with a vehicle than repeat visitors.

  Rented a car for their visit Drove Personal Vehicle
First time visitors 42% 31%
Second time visitors 21% 16%
Visited 3-5 times 18% 28%
Visited 5 or more times 9% 25%

As you can see, her anecdotal evidence was confirmed by my research! For both rental and personal vehicle cases, around half as many second time visitors arrived with cars when compared to first time visitors. This jumps back to the question from my first post – How can we convey the knowledge of repeat visitors to first-time visitors?

Also from the graph you can see that while renters continue to drop over the number of visits, personal vehicle drivers, well, don’t. But the good news is, as I continue with my analysis, I should be able to dig deeper into these numbers. Perhaps personal vehicle drivers are mainly from Florida? So driving may actually be cheaper and easier than other options? We’ll see.

Beep. Bop. Boop.

Until next time….


Results are in!

This week included many long hours out on the streets, smiling and asking nicely for tourists to take 5-10 minutes of their vacation time to fill out surveys. I was hoping to get the final 400 completed, and today I succeeded in that endeavor.

Two major strategy changes helped me to knock these surveys out. First, I received permission to survey at the Key West Express ferry terminal. Visitors are mainly there between 4-5pm each day, but during that hour they are sitting in air conditioning with nothing better to do than help out a friendly graduate student. I was able to conduct 10-12 surveys per hour at the terminal, which is a vast improvement from the southernmost point surveys which tended to take nearly twice that amount of time. Second, I was able to borrow a third tablet the last few days of surveying, which amped up my productivity by around 50%. Pictured above is me with one of the iPads and

Pictured above is me with one of the iPads and my official City of Key West ID 🙂

Now comes the time-consuming task of data analysis. The surveys sought to determine several things:

Are first time visitors more likely than return visitors to arrive with a car? Out of the total number of days visiting, how many days does the typical tourist actually use a car? From which geographical region are tourists most likely to arrive with a car? Which forms of transportation would tourists consider using? Which forms would tourists “never use”?

Stay tuned for next time to hear these answers and more!

Of course, I had time to snap a few photos from the line at the southernmost point. This conch adorned truck drives by EVERY day. I’ll call this photo ‘culture captured’ – because between the truck, sea grapes, variety of palm trees, the old Florida style home in the background, even the ‘no parking’ sign, this picture says a thousand words about life in the Keys.


Front Page News!

This week of my internship brought many new surprises. I spent the better part of each morning surveying tourists at the southernmost point of the US – a popular tourist destination on the island – marked by a large red and yellow buoy. During peak mid-day hours, the wait for the photo opportunity can reach over 20 minutes, which turns out to be a perfect opportunity for a time killing survey. Unlike other potential survey locations such as the airport or restaurants, those waiting in line at the southernmost point are guaranteed to be tourists.

There was a little problem solving needed early in the week. Since the surveys were created with an online program, the internet and internet capable devices are needed to conduct the surveys. Thankfully a few friends were willing to lend me a tablet and an iPad, and my lovely mother was willing to add a few gigs to her air card and let me borrow it. This provided for easy survey giving, right on the sidewalk, to tourists waiting in line.

In the middle of Tuesdays workday, I received a surprising message from a journalist at the local newspaper, The Key West Citizen. The journalist was sending a photographer over from the paper for the following day’s story on my research! Shortly thereafter I was posing for a photo op with a very nice survey participant. Here is the link: The photo above is the print version of the newspaper.

In conjunction with the in-person surveys (given out the in the sweltering heat and humidity of Key West), online surveys were also distributed this week. The good new is, after only a week, over half of the 400 surveys needed are complete! With any luck, the second week of surveying will round out the rest of what is needed and I will be able to begin my analysis of the results.

If you are reading this, have visited Key West before, and still haven’t taken the survey, please consider taking it here:

Of course in my free-time I did not forget to enjoy what Key West has to offer. The photo below is from the sunset celebration down on Mallory Square. This escape artist broke free from a straight jacket and chains while riding a unicycle. Quite a show! Check it out:

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Be the change.

The last few days have included many firsts: first ride on the Key West Express, first bike commute to work, first meeting, first time caught in a rainstorm on my bike ride home, first community forum, first survey participants, and now, first blog.


I thought it only appropriate, with an internship focused on discouraging personal vehicle arrivals to the island, that I arrive car-free. But let’s take a step back.

Key West has a transportation problem. Or more accurately perhaps, Key West has several transportation problems. The focus of my research is to identify the barriers and benefits to a car-free arrival.

There are two important things to consider about this research. The first is that 45% of Key West tourist arrivals are those who have flown into the Miami airport and rented a car (TDC, 2013). This is our target group. We hope to promote or create alternatives to car rental that will still suit their needs. The second thing to consider is that anecdotal research indicates that repeat visitors are significantly less likely than first-time visitors to arrive with a personal vehicle. If my survey research confirms this, then we will discuss how to successfully market “car-free” arrival to FIRST TIME visitors. It seems that repeat visitors realize that once they arrive, they do not need a car, so they look into other routes for arrival and during their stay that do not involve cars. The question is, What would it take to persuade first-time visitors to have the understanding of repeat visitors? Is there any amount of marketing or article writing that would persuade those accustomed to the autonomy of car travel to consider other options?

Back to what I was saying. I thought it would be hypocritical for me to bring my car down while trying to figure out how to discourage others from bringing theirs. So here I am looking goofy on my bike ride home after my 3.5 hour ferry ride on The Key West Express from Ft. Meyers, Florida.

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My home base is right in the heart of the island, due east from the heart of town. And my place of work is just a 5-minute bicycle ride up Flagler Ave. Not too far if you ask me. But during my initial one-on-one interviews, I heard conflicting reports on the size of the island.

When inquiring with Key West airport departures about why visitors did or did not rent cars during their visit, one middle aged guy insisted “Why would you need a car? Everything is so close. It would be a total waste of money.” Meanwhile, the guy at the table next to him claimed, “People think the island is small, but it’s really not. You need a car to get around.” He further indicated that there was nothing – no discounts, convenient or fun transportation options, parking fees – NOTHING that would discourage him from renting a car during his next visit. And so it begins!