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….