Miami to expand free trolley service in 30 days
Written by John Charles Robbins on February 2, 2016
The City of Miami is poised to expand its popular free trolley service in less than 30 days.
City Manager Daniel Alfonso told city commissioners Jan. 28 that 10 vehicles are on the way to Miami and the city intends to launch its three new trolley routes March 1.
The additions to the fleet will be smaller cut-away vans on a temporary basis.
The promise comes on the heels of a Jan. 14 meeting at which commissioners expressed frustration at the delay in getting the new routes rolling.
It was last May when commissioners directed the launch of routes in Little Havana, the Wynwood Arts District and Coconut Grove within six months.
When asked about the new routes Jan. 14, Jeovanny Rodriguez, city capital improvements and transportation director, said staff was working with the procurement department but “it’s at least an eight-month process… to be able to get those.”
As Mr. Rodriguez continued, saying the new routes might be started on weekends, Commissioner Francis Suarez interrupted, telling him to report fully at the Jan. 28 meeting and strongly advising he call the trolley vendor immediately to get them rolling “right away.”
At last week’s meeting, Mr. Suarez introduced the topic of trolley expansion, saying commissioners wanted answers after sensing “a lack of momentum” and wanted to hear ways in which the new routes could be up and running “A.S.A.P.” because “that’s what the residents expect.”
Instead of Mr. Rodriguez delivering a status report, his boss, Mr. Alfonso, did the talking.
Mr. Alfonso said city officials were talking with the trolley vendor and the plan for a rapid launch would use about 10 cut-away vans, wrapped with city identification and mixed throughout the city on all trolley routes, until the vendor can deliver new trolleys. No timeline for the full-sized trolleys was stated.
While characterizing the temporary plan as “kind of a Band-Aid solution,” Mr. Suarez thanked the city manager and his staff for moving forward.
The Little Havana route will have city trolleys traveling on Eighth Street and Flagler Street.
Commissioner Frank Carollo said the hope is the trolleys will enliven the nightlife on Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street), and he asked the times the trolley would run.
Mr. Alfonso said the plan was to run the Little Havana route from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
“I don’t remember voting on [operating] times,” said Mr. Carollo.
“Me either,” said Mr. Suarez, who then brought up his related discussion item: why the delay in extending the Coral Way trolley service to 11 p.m.
Mr. Suarez said he wanted to direct the staff to extend hours on Coral Way and the new Eighth Street trolley until 11 p.m.
Mr. Alfonso said it is expected to cost an additional $295,000 just to extend the Coral Way trolley to 11 p.m., and he planned to have a resolution to make that change at the commission’s Feb. 11 meeting.
When the cost raised a few eyebrows among commissioners, Mr. Alfonso interjected that staff is examining ridership trends and suggested “we can vary the service [levels] and save some costs.”
As he has in the past, Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort stressed the need to consider how the city will support the trolley service long-term.
“We need to understand the operational expenses,” Mr. Gort said. “Once we start something, we need to make sure we maintain it.”
Referring to an earlier discussion about a transportation master plan for the city, Mr. Gort said he’d like to look into a plan to link the trolley routes together and to link with trolleys in neighboring cities and with the county’s Metrorail system.
Although use of the smaller vans to launch the routes would be a temporary solution, Commissioner Ken Russell wondered if use of the vans on a permanent basis wouldn’t be the better way to expand the public transit service.
City officials said that a big part of the attraction and popularity of the city trolleys is the look and feel of the vehicles – rubber-tired buses designed to look like old-time trolleys or streetcars.
Ridership on Miami’s trolley system continues at a healthy rate, noted Mr. Suarez.
“They’re working,” he said. “We get applauded for the trolleys.”
The trolleys carry about 360,000 riders monthly.
Today, the city operates trolleys in Allapattah, Biscayne Boulevard, Brickell, Coral Way, the Health District and Overtown. During baseball season, a stadium route runs to Marlins Park in Little Havana on game days, from April through September.
Maps of the routes are on the city’s website at www.miamigov.com/trolley.
In November 2011, the commission approved an agreement with the county that laid the framework for the trolley system. Federal grants purchased the first trolleys.
City officials often cite the trolley service as one step taken to help alleviate traffic gridlock.