A Guide To Public Transportation On The Island Of Key West

Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States, located on an island off the southern tip of Florida. With a population of about 26,000, Key West is relatively small but sees over 2 million visitors per year. While the city is very walkable and bikeable, especially in the popular tourist areas, public transportation is still important for locals and visitors alike to get around. This article will provide an overview of the public transportation options in Key West, including buses, trolleys, ferries, and ridesharing.

Buses

Key West has a public bus system called the Key West Transit, which provides transportation around the island. The bus system has 8 routes that cover most of the island, connecting popular destinations like beaches, parks, shopping areas, and more. Buses run every 30 minutes to an hour, with reduced frequency on weekends and holidays. Fares are $2 per ride or $4 for an all-day pass. Buses are wheelchair accessible and have bike racks for cyclists. Major bus stops include Mallory Square, Smathers Beach, Key West Airport, and Stock Island.

The Key West Transit buses are an important option for locals to get to work and run errands. The buses allow people to avoid traffic congestion and expensive parking in crowded areas. Visitors can also use the buses to reach key attractions like Southernmost Point, Duval Street, and beaches throughout the island. Riding the bus is an affordable and environmentally friendly way to experience Key West without a car.

Key West Duval Loop

In addition to traditional buses, Key West has a free Duval Loop bus that cater to tourists and visitors. The Key West Duval Loop runs every day and can be tracked in real time on the Key West Transit website or app. The bus follows a loop along major tourist destinations like Mallory Square, Truman Little White House, Hemingway House, Southernmost Point, and Duval Street. Riders can hop on and off at any stop.

The free bus allows visitors to easily access Key West’s popular sites without needing to drive or find parking. The Duval Loop runs frequently enough that people don’t need to plan their entire day around the bus schedule. Residents and travelers alike appreciate the convenience of the Key West Duval Loop for sightseeing.

Key West Ferry

Key West Express operates high-speed ferry service between Key West and Fort Myers on the mainland Florida coast. The ferry ride takes approximately 3.5 hours each way. There are several daily departures from each city. The ferries have both indoor and outdoor seating, concession stands, and televisions.

The ferry service enables visitors to reach the Florida Keys without driving the entire Overseas Highway. It also provides an alternative to flying for visitors coming from southwest Florida. The Key West ferry is popular with tourists staying in Fort Myers who want to visit Key West for a day or weekend trip. Locals also use the ferry to commute or travel between Key West and the mainland.

The ferry dock is located in the historic seaport area of Key West, close to top attractions. In Fort Myers, the ferry docks at the waterfront Marina at Harbourside Place. The Key West ferry provides a comfortable way for travelers to arrive in Key West without dealing with rental cars.

Ridesharing

Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft operate in Key West, providing on-demand transportation around the island. Rideshare prices are comparable to taxi rates – however, local taxi companies do not have surge pricing and we suggest supporting local businesses whenever possible. Key benefits of rideshares include the convenience of summoning a car with a smartphone app and the ability to see driver ratings. Rideshares are useful for trips outside of bus operating hours or for direct transportation.

During peak times, rideshare prices may surge so it is wise to compare against current taxi rates. Many local taxi companies also have mobile apps now for convenient bookings and fare estimates. Taxi companies have more vehicles available compared to the number of rideshare drivers on the island. Visitors should be aware that parking is extremely limited in Key West, so rideshares and taxis may drop off/pick up passengers in nearby zones.

Biking

While not public transportation per se, biking is a very popular way to get around Key West. The island is flat and only 4 miles long, making it ideal for cycling. There are scenic bike paths off the main roads, including the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. Many visitors rent bikes for around $10-20 per day to explore the island. Some hotels also provide complimentary bike rentals for guests.

Locals frequently cycle to commute and run errands. cyclists must follow the same road rules as vehicles, but drivers are generally aware of bikes. Bicycles can be transported on the Key West Transit buses by using the bike racks. Biking provides door-to-door transportation without waiting or parking issues. It’s also a fun way to feel the tropical, laidback vibe of Key West. Just be sure to stay hydrated and use sun protection while cycling.

Challenges for Public Transportation

While Key West has a variety of public transportation options, there are some challenges to improving and expanding services on the island. As a small city in a remote island location, Key West has natural barriers to public transit.

A core issue is the limited road network. Key West only has a handful of main roads, which all experience heavy vehicle traffic and limited parking during peak tourism months. Congestion makes it difficult to run efficient bus service. There is also no room to add special bus lanes or priority signaling. Expansion of routes is limited without building new roads, which is highly unlikely.

Public transportation relies heavily on city funding and tourist ridership. Key West has a relatively small year-round population that cannot financially support extensive transit on its own. Due to its small size, Key West will never have a large-scale metro system like a bigger city. Public transit has to match the modest, quaint nature of the island.

Lastly, the hot subtropical climate is not ideal for walking long distances or waiting at bus stops. Visitors often prefer other options like trolleys, rideshares, or renting scooters/bikes suited to warm weather. Public transit in Key West needs to provide ample shade, seating, and protection from the elements to attract riders year-round.

Recent Improvements

In the last few years, Key West has implemented some positive enhancements to modernize public transportation:

  • Added mobile ticketing and real-time bus tracking on the Key West Transit app
  • Launched an affordable, discounted fare program for seniors and riders with disabilities
  • Added new covered bus shelters and benches across the island
  • Transitioned the bus fleet to quieter, more fuel-efficient compressed natural gas vehicles
  • Expanded service to 7 days a week instead of reducing weekend schedules
  • Extended operating hours during peak tourism months to accommodate late-night transportation needs
  • Upgraded Key West Transit buses with bike racks, wheelchair lifts, and USB charging ports

The Right Mix of Options

Public transportation will likely remain a blend of small-scale solutions in Key West. Multiple modes working together can provide efficient mobility. Buses, trolleys, and ferries achieve high capacity with lower operation costs compared to rideshares and bike rentals. Active transport via walking, biking, and scooters reduces traffic, but sufficient parking is still needed. No single option is perfect for every traveler or situation.

Providing choices through this mix of transportation enables access for locals, seniors, disabled residents, environmentally-conscious visitors, and car-free travelers. Tourism-based funding, improving ride comfort in hot weather, and leveraging technology for convenience and accessibility will be key to advancing public transit in Key West in the future.

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