Key West bus drivers know what they're doing behind the wheel, and they've got some bling to back it up.
For the fifth straight year, Key West Transit won the Safest Driver award for city systems that run fewer than 20 buses a day from the Florida Public Transportation Association.
In 2011, Key West buses racked up some 609,000 miles hauling about 375,000 passengers "without a significant incident," according to the city's Port and Transit Director Jim Fitton.
"Given the narrow streets, the tight corners and the inattentive tourists we have down here, that is saying a lot about the professionalism of our staff and our drivers," Fitton told the City Commission at Wednesday's meeting.
With Old Town streets built before the invention of the automobile, and a complex population that includes visitors, a share of renegade scooter drivers and the common sight of jaywalkers, lost tourists and bicyclists coolly pedaling the wrong direction down a one-way street, city staff gave big-time credit to the bus drivers' skills.
Old City Hall's sparse audience on Wednesday greeted Fitton's announcement with a burst of applause as Mayor Craig Cates said, "Very good."
City Commissioner Tony Yaniz kidded one of his colleagues on the dais, Mark Rossi, who has made a scooter his chief mode of transportation on the island.
"That's a great accomplishment," Yaniz told Fitton. "And even greater given that our Commissioner Rossi rides around on his moped all the time."
Rossi said, laughing, "I don't mess with the buses. That's like hitting a Budweiser truck."
"You're usually following a bus," Commissioner Clayton Lopez said.
Key West, with a fleet of 17 buses, each carrying up to 24 or 32 passengers, provides public transportation throughout the island and up to Marathon. The city's Department of Transportation has six routes, with the earliest one starting up at 5:30 a.m. and the last call as late as 11:30 p.m.
Transit ridership in Florida, where 3,050 public buses roam, has risen by 46 percent over the last decade while the operating costs have only increased by 27 percent, according to the Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA), a nonprofit whose membership roster includes every major public transit agency in the state.
Florida's annual transit riders number 262 million, the FPTA said, and the industry maintains roughly 25,000 jobs. FPTA comprises 28 fixed route bus systems, a commuter railroad and a heavy rail commuter system.
The safety awards were announced at the nonprofit's annual convention, held Oct. 28-30 in Daytona Beach.