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Front Page » Opinion » Mayor’s about-face on transit modes is compelling logic

Mayor’s about-face on transit modes is compelling logic

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Written by on July 25, 2017

Mayor’s about-face on transit modes is compelling logic

Not everyone can gaze at new facts, realize he’s been chugging hard down the wrong track, admit it, and then start chugging hard in reverse.

That’s what Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez has done in the past two weeks, jettisoning a dream of adding six rail corridors and saying that, for now, his new aim will be special buses for most of those corridors that we can get rolling far sooner, all in about three years instead of decades for rail.

The mayor was engineering rail for all six routes. We agreed, so we empathize. The mayor pushed for the Rolls Royce of transit but it now seems the best we can afford is a dependable American car. Disappointing, but not bad.

The mayor now says we can’t pay for rail so let’s get the best we can fund, special fast-track buses, and at the same time put transit corridors in county hands, available for coming technology.

Bus rapid transit is estimated to cost $534 million, money we don’t yet have but that the mayor says we can cobble together in a 50-50 deal with the state, and do it far faster than we could get rail even if we could afford it.

There was never a funding plan for six rail lines, but cost estimates range from $3.6 billion to $6 billion, both reliant on federal funds or a private investor, neither of which is real today. Few investors want to lose money year after year as transit does.

Mayor Giménez was wedded to rail everywhere until numbers-crunchers pored over how much is really available and what it could buy.

So on July 14 he wrote to the 13 commissioners that the dream of rail is for now just that – a dream. But he did offer a hope: “If we follow a non-traditional process for developing revenue options and utilize support from our partners, we may be able to initiate service on all six corridors.”

Service, yes, Rail service, mostly not.

The mayor says we can have bus rapid transit in several years by buying buses, getting dedicated lanes, and adding overpasses across busy roads.

Part of his plan is to let the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority develop and operate an initial east-west phase along SR 836 and use tracks owned by the Brightline rail service that is soon to start to link downtown Miami to Aventura.

That leaves just four corridors, and the mayor has hopped off the train to say bus rapid transit will at least cut commute time and pave the way for emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles.

One advantage of the mayor’s change, if adopted – he’s not in the driver’s seat – is that we wouldn’t invest billions in infrastructure that technology may soon outpace by increasing the capacity of roadways and speeding travel. That technology will rely on automated systems that might space self-driving cars just inches instead of car-lengths apart.

Is that technology so far in the future that rail – if we could find money for it – would still be a valid investment in five or six decades, or is it three decades, or two, or one? If rail will be obsolete in ten years and it takes five years to build and start running, we would get five years of full value from, say, $6 billion invested, or $1.2 billion cost per year, versus $534 million total for bus rapid transit.

Most such questions are economic: what must we give up to get the service, how effective will it be, can we get the money in the first place, and then how much will operating costs be annually and do we also have that money?

The mayor’s memo is bare bones. We are now spending $50 million to study the six corridors and cost out varying modes of transit in each. Those studies will flesh out the picture he paints.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing county commission push-back. Everyone was promised a Rolls Royce and nobody wants just a standard American car – even though we’d struggle just to make payments on a Ford or Chevy, let alone to keep the tank filled and the car in good repair.

Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo Jr. wants us to scrape together all we can and get one Rolls in one corridor instead of the six Fords – in other words, one rail line and possibly nothing else for now. We understand his frustration and his desire for rail – we share the desire.

But we are swayed by the logic of Mayor Giménez, who also wanted rail everywhere. He looked at the numbers and found them lacking. No Rolls for us.

Besides, we can’t even afford to operate fully the latest rail we built, the short leg to Miami International Airport. We’re cutting back all the transit service we have for lack of operating funds. Where is the magic operating cash source for new rail?

It’s true that county bus use has been in freefall. In May, riders fell 7.3% below the prior May. But it’s also true that county buses that go farther, run faster and make fewer stops – like bus rapid transit – do far better.

We applaud Mayor Giménez for squarely facing facts that show what we need and can afford today is bus rapid transit simply because it’s do-able and rail isn’t.

Note that he calls bus rapid transit “an initial phase.” Unlike tracks and rail cars, bus rapid transit doesn’t lock in our future with an aging technology, but it will give us corridors for whatever the future brings.

Those corridors could hold future rail, but new technology is coming down the line at us, and the newly acquired corridors would find us ready and waiting for that too.

The mayor’s argument is compelling. But the decision isn’t his. It’s going to be a wild ride.

13 Responses to Mayor’s about-face on transit modes is compelling logic

  1. Roy R., Miami Springs, Fl

    July 26, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Go to Dadeland Station any-day of the week during rush hour and you will see a busy station of riders waiting for buses to take them further south. That’s an area that really needs rail extension. You can NOT continue to build gigantic blogs with no parking lots in downtown and have zero rail extensions that goes right through the middle of it.
    They may be considering too many projects at once instead of simplifying it to what is presently at reach.
    For example, extending the People Mover from Museum Station to Miami Beach Convention Center is a project that is feasibly and can be started already and thus extending the present trail infrastructure. The People Mover can also be extended to the Marlins Stadium, Jackson Hospital which is only two blocks away from where it ends – and even extending the People mover to the Dolphin Stadium from the near by Tri-Rail tracks. Extending the people is cheaper and easier to do. There is probably already enough money to get it started.

    • DC Copeland

      July 26, 2017 at 9:04 am

      How true re extending Metromover to the Beach. Running it north and south on beach sand will save millions of dollars and years of construction since there will be no need to search for, dig up, and realign buried infrastructure.

  2. Ray R Miami Springs

    July 26, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Go to Dadeland Station any-day of the week during rush hour and you will see a busy station of riders waiting for buses to take them further south. That’s an area that really needs rail extension. You can NOT continue to build gigantic blogs with no parking lots in downtown and have zero rail extensions that goes right through the middle of it.
    They may be considering too many projects at once instead of simplifying it to what is presently at reach.
    For example, extending the People Mover from Museum Station to Miami Beach Convention Center is a project that is feasibly and can be started already and thus extending the present trail infrastructure. The People Mover can also be extended to the Marlins Stadium, Jackson Hospital which is only two blocks away from where it ends – and even extending the People mover to the Dolphin Stadium from the near by Tri-Rail tracks. Extending the people is cheaper and easier to do. There is probably already enough money to get it started.

  3. RailRider

    July 26, 2017 at 7:04 am

    $50 million dollars on a study sounds like a unbelievable waste of tax payers funds

    • DC Copeland

      July 26, 2017 at 9:01 am

      I agree. It’s an embarrassing joke on all of us.

  4. Anon

    July 26, 2017 at 11:40 am

    So make Miami a sanctuary city again for undocumented immigrants. The mayor lied saying he got rid of status so Trump would fund trains. So many lies on so many levels.

  5. Charlotte

    July 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    The Mayor think adding more buses to corridors that are all ready congested with traffic, is going to help this city is rediculus. How can above ground transportation ever be obsolete? The mayor and director’s of transit has been slowly destroying the transit system with their plans to make it more efficient. It’s difficilt to fix something when you don’t use it or benefit from it. They’ll continue to support millionaire businesses in this city, because they don’t care about the needs of Miami Dade county, unless it benefit them or their or their pockets.

  6. sean rom

    July 26, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Mr Mayor here is the real solution. Please take good notes:

    US1:
    The South Dade busway has been in operation for many years. It has not solved traffic on US1. We need to move 200-400 people at one time via a commuter train vs 25-55 in countess buses.The train also needs to be able to continue on the Metrorail line as well. $500M

    NE Dade:
    The FEC line near Biscayne is ready by fall for more capacity. Add commuter train. $250M

    Central Dade:
    Use the east-west CSX line along the Dolphin Expressway to connect to the Metrorail at the airport via a commuter train. It can be connected to FIU. $450M

    South Miami:
    Use the abandoned FEC line from MIA to Dadeland North metrorail line. While many might not like this we need to move people and the right of way is there. $350M

    SW Dade:
    Use the the CSX line that passes high traffic areas of Tropical Park, Kendall, and S. Dade. It will connect at MIA airport Metrorail line. $450M

    NW Dade:
    There is a FEC line that goes northwest from Hialeah to Highleah Gardens. $250M

    North Central:
    Bus rapid in median to start. The density is just not there for elevated rail. $150M

    My estimates are based on recent track addition costs and assumes that the right of way can be leased vs bought. FEC and CSX can own the tracks and Miami-Dade can double track the corridors for use at our cost. In all these cases we have touched all parts of the county via high capacity realistic rail that fits a car dominated community. Elevated rail is not wise due to not so much the cost but density. Buses are NOT sexy and in cases today have not solved the traffic problems ie: current bus way and I95 express buses.

    We are a commuter community, so build a system that fits it which is commuter at grade trains on tracks/ right of way the is already there.

    Cost: less than $3B. That’s 100% and 12 years of the sales tax that we already have. NO bonding needed since we can really do this as a pay as you go process. We need to wean cities off of these free and wastefull minibuses that have not solved our transit needs for the masses.

    We need to solve this now and stop wasting money on study after study.

  7. Robert T

    July 27, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Hmm, I guess somebody is really lucky that he doesn’t need public transportation in this city. His logic is like saying that Betamax & VHS..and cable are still the future, so don’t buy DVD/Blu Ray player or Roku/Amazon Stick. His argument(and the Mayor’s) are ridiculous. The idea is to depend less on roads/highways, and also use less gas/energy…in other words, spend less time on the road(or commuting) as much as possible. For example, there are studies in which it states that the American Interstate system wil become obsolete in the very near future. I think what the Mayor wants is to indirectly persuade people to move to Brickell/Downtown area(think about it, those condos are sitting empty..he wants to stimulate the economy in that area), so he will not become responsible to provide
    public transportation to the NW & SW area. Trains are still the future for at least the next 100 yrs. Try to tell this same argument to
    Europe and other first-world countries(like Japan or Canada)..they will laugh at you!.

  8. Jas33131

    July 27, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Miami’s leaders are a joke. Every other city in the US is mpving toward rail and building more of it including the famously car-centric LA, but you’re telling us only MIAMI is smart enough to know that’s a dead end technology? You do know people still need to purchase those self-driving cars, right? And that even if they are affordable to those whom we know can afford new cars, it will be DECADES before they are ubiquitous. YES? And that goes exactly nowhere to solving the issue of cross-county transport for those who can’t afford a car or don’t want to deal with driving and parking in this city.

    How can dumps in places like Ohio build streetcars but Miami can’t even reliably run the train it already has despite being a city of extreme wealth? Something here is missing and it’s not that we can’t afford to pay for it because honestly, we can’t afford NOT to pay. Self-driving cars will not solve anything and waiting around like a bunch of morons for another ten years will just make everything worse.

    I’m disgusted.

  9. Thomas Arlen

    July 27, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    To say Gimenez merely “re-evaluated the facts” is completely disingenuous. He knew what rail projects cost and he knew there was no funding but he promised it anyways. This was just a bait and switch to get re-elected.

  10. No One

    July 27, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    After all of the unrealistic transit promises made by politicians in this gridlocked city over the years, it is truly refreshing to hear from Mayor Giménez an absolutely REAL alternative to begin tackling traffic congestion. There is absolutely no doubt that bus rapid transit is the best value in public transit available today. It moves the most people, the most efficiently, for the least money. It is proven in REAL use in REAL cities in South America and the world. If the objective is to reduce traffic congestion in Miami as soon as possible, the answer is bus rapid transit. Billion dollar trains are vain and unrealistic.

  11. R. Ros.

    July 29, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    The Miami commissioners for decades have ignored upgrading mass transit rail and other transit systems such as extending the people mover. The problem is that they been in city hall too long, while mass transit has been stagnant for years. We should blame that on the lack of term limits. It is important to have fresh people with fresh ideas and with zero ties to large corporations with their hands in their pockets.

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