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)

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.

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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.

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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!