Commission should let public vote to add Metromover fare
Written by Michael Lewis on March 15, 2016
Hand it to Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who long has advocated a Metromover fare. Restoring a fare is smart, equitable – and very hard.
Back in 2002 when Miami-Dade voters levied a half percent sales tax to fund more mass transit, a tradeoff was to end the 25-cent Metromover fare.
The fare indeed vanished – but commissioners diverted most of the sales taxes to run older transit rather than add miles, while they pulled back other money that long had kept transit going.
It was classic sleight of hand, like when voters OK’d a Florida Lottery to aid education. The state then moved existing education funds elsewhere, so the lottery did nothing but pick gamblers’ pockets. But just because others con the public too doesn’t make it more palatable.
Meanwhile, with paid bus use in freefall, the free 4.4-mile Metromover has more than doubled rides from 4.7 million in 2002, when it had a fare, to more than 9.9 million last year. Last year’s Metromover gain was a slim 25,000 boardings while county buses lost more than 4.5 million.
More rail is vital but money is scarce. Even a $1 Metromover fare – less than half the bus and Metrorail rate – could add $10 million for transit. A Metromover fare the same as bus or Metrorail could top $22 million.
Via preliminary legislation that advanced last week Ms. Jordan wants to restore a fare. It won’t be easy, because she needs 9 of the 13 commission votes followed by a public ballot OK in November.
Good reasons to charge on Metromover include a rail lifeline. If the county could add $22 million a year fares, the cash could fund bonds to build rail in underserved areas. It could also finish the incomplete Metromover, sending it rolling into areas now brimming with residents and workers who could hop out of cars and onto trains, cutting core city congestion.
Second, even at $2.25 Metromover would be a bargain, far better than pricy parking in downtown, Brickell and the Omni.
Third, thousands of new downtown and Brickell condo residents now ride Metromover. These well-to-do riders can afford to pay when the poorest in the county have no rail service at all, much less free service.
Fourth, visitors and tourists ride Metromover free. Fares would let them help repay us. In hotels we tax tourists extra, but we give them rail transportation absolutely free.
Fifth, even at $2.25 we would subsidize riders. Fares never pay the full ride – true costs are far higher. But a fare lets users put some skin into the game.
Of course, restoring a fare does assume that the commission won’t just empty the fare box to replace other transit spending rather than add to it, as it did in 2002 with the sales tax. Would commissioners behave more responsibly now?
Another negative could be lost Metromover riders when a fare was tacked on. Use might take time to grow again, but it would, because when the Metromover works it’s far superior to driving around downtown or Brickell.
“When it works” is a caveat for one writer to MiamiTodayNews.com, since the Metromover shuts for repairs far too often to rely on. The aging system does need more than standard upkeep, an investment to make from general county funds now and not from a new Metromover fare.
Nobody wants to pay – when was the last time anyone wanted to pay for something that’s free? – but everyone knows that they need more transit. It will be up to Ms. Jordan and like-minded commissioners to show voters why a fare is more than fair.
Finally, officials say it used to cost more to collect a Metromover fare than the county received. But that was at 25 cents. At $1 or $2.25, collections would far exceed costs.
We long since discarded turnstiles for Metromover. If the county found replacing them costly it could try an honor system without turnstiles. Transit systems elsewhere put fare loses in honor systems at 3% to 5%. Simple math would tell the county if that much loss would exceed the cost of turnstiles.
Ms. Jordan’s measure is due a committee airing April 13, when she faces a fight. Already three commissioners have voted to not even discuss a fare. That’s three votes against more transit, three votes to subsidize Brickell and downtown at the expense of poorer areas elsewhere, and three votes for more traffic congestion.
If those three commissioners and others who may be on the fence reconsider carefully, however, they’ll recognize a countywide benefit from letting the public decide in November whether a Metromover fare can be a small price to pay in the battle against urban gridlock.