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Front Page » Opinion » Fresh ideas can reverse Miami’s transit race to oblivion

Fresh ideas can reverse Miami’s transit race to oblivion

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Written by on March 13, 2018

Fresh ideas can reverse Miami’s transit race to oblivion

New York, which is battling subway woes that make Miami’s faltering transit feel like a swiftly flowing stream, unveiled eight solutions in a global competition last week.

New York was desperate. Its subways carrying 5 million riders a day are crumbling. So eight answers plucked from 438 offerings from 23 nations will be a $3 million bargain if even one winner is a partial quick solution – “quick” in Manhattan parlance being five to 25 years.

Government has to be desperate to seriously ask the public for ideas, many of which won’t fit the situation or the wallet. But honestly, isn’t Miami-Dade also desperate enough to start listening?

A FasTrack competition partly funded by the county recently found we need more mass transit and carpool riders in order to clear our highways. It’s not rocket science.

But if part of the congestion solution is to beef up transit use, we’re going the wrong way. As we pointed out last week, we’ve lost more than 25% of transit riders in a single month over four years, pouring them onto already-congested roads.

At the same time, faced with lower fare revenues from fewer riders, we’re cutting service to stay within budget. With less service, fewer and fewer people ride, forcing more and more service cuts. That’s a death spiral.

It’s so bad that commissioners last week ordered Mayor Carlos Giménez to report in advance any planned transit service changes. The measure’s main sponsor, Daniella Levine Cava, noted separately that “more than five months ago the [commission] voted to restore Metrorail services, yet that has been delayed and the administration is cutting service on dozens of bus routes without prior notification… We should be doing everything we can to increase transit options and improve riders’ experience.”

She’s absolutely correct. So what can be done?

The administration last week went looking for $3.5 million in repairs to get air-conditioning going on 40 Metrorail cars. Air-conditioning doesn’t move riders, but try riding Miami trains that don’t have it – the heat can force you back onto the highway.

That’s a small fix. There are many pieces. No single action can bring back millions of transit rides a month that have fled Miami-Dade’s system in the past four years or retain those that remain.

A major question has been whether to put all of our financial eggs into six new transit legs that government has been planning or to spend now to better serve riders we already have. The answer is we must do both simultaneously. That means a serious, and rapid, shuffling of county fiscal priorities to put transit in the driver’s seat. It’s an emergency.

Transportation is pivotal. It sways income and job opportunities, housing needs, and planning and growth issues. If transportation goes to hell it takes a whole lot with it, from tourism to real estate to quality of life.

As transportation crumbles, fissures are appearing in government between the administration and the commission in a useless blame game that came out in the open last week when commissioners realized that Smart plan transit gains had to be put off another year for more studies, with more studies still ahead. Well, no one person is to blame, but there’s plenty of blame to share.

What seemed to be a smooth unity road to a glittering Smart plan for added transit is becoming bumpier as it becomes apparent that neither the mayor nor commissioners are likely to be in office by the time new lines roll. Term limits will bring aboard a whole new cast to face the same old gaps.

But what the current cast can do, right now, is find multiple ways to reverse the outflow of riders from our present transit.

Air conditioning is one step. Getting new buses and rail cars rolling sooner is another – they’re ordered and funded, but nobody can ride them until they’re ready. What can be done creatively to get providers to move faster? Would a bonus for speed help? Or a penalty for delay?

Innovative campaigns to add value to riding present transit – more reliable service, friendlier drivers less often absent, creative promotions of transit service, cleaner cars and more – would also help.

The county might offer unique economic incentives for riders, form special interest groups of passengers during trips, provide entertainment, issue buttons and badges for proud transit users or find other ways to make transit riding a badge of honor, not dishonor.

Name a popular entertainer the county’s transit spokesman of the month or the year. Hire an independent transit event firm with a budget. Be creative.

Folks, it all starts with what we have today. If we let it keep falling apart – and make no mistake, statistics prove it’s falling apart – there will be no central core left for the new Smart plan to link into when it finally comes on line.

New York City was desperate enough to listen to ideas. Aren’t we?

7 Responses to Fresh ideas can reverse Miami’s transit race to oblivion

  1. James Wolfe

    March 14, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Michael,

    I have great respect for Miami Today’s coverage of transportation issues. You have a good record of getting the facts correct. I also respect your editorial comments. I do not wish to critique or endorse today’s article as much as I wish to commend you for your continuing intelligent contribution to an important dialog.

  2. DC Copeland

    March 14, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Nothing the county can do is stop all junkets to “explore” transit options which just wastes time and money. You know, like the bus load of freeloaders led by mayor Gimenez to China to look at what they call a “train” which is actually a bus. Especially those elected officials in their last days in office who, because of term limits, won’t be riding any local mass transit ever. You know, like the mayor.

  3. John Jay

    March 14, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    I currently live in a city in Texas. We had the same problem here. The city decided to outsource the transit system. They hired a company that’s nationwide (MV Transportation Inc.) They found solutions to the matter; providing great customer service, Friendly drivers, reliable transportation and providing freedom to people. Giving them their life back. Hence, this saves the city tons of money and happy tax payers. Give them a shout; I’m pretty sure they’ll love to be in Miami. They have a good rep on technology and transportation services.

  4. Curt Parrott

    March 14, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    I’ll pass along an idea I’ve been pushing in Cincinnati to build a separate grade Bus Rapid Transit system using narrow transit corridors that run like highways by adding side lanes at stops. This allows for limited stop and non stop service on single lanes in each direction. While public service runs limited stop and non stop to busy transfer hubs, private service can purchase access rights to the corridors to offer direct to location service. This provides public transit with a new revenue stream and riders with a variety of options. See more about this idea at http://www.cincypublicprivatebrt.wordpress.com

  5. Tom

    March 15, 2018 at 6:36 am

    While Miami-Dade mulls the options, a company in Clearwater is pushing relentlessly for a 21st century solution to traffic congestion. That company’s website is at: http://www.beachtranclw.com – check out its media page.

  6. Eric Bruun

    March 15, 2018 at 9:11 am

    One thing that can be done with relatively small investments is bus lanes and queue bypasses. They both reduce operating costs and increase ridership. But most elected officials remain opposed despite its justification based on space efficiency alone. Many officials are also copping out by trying to claim that transit is obsolescent and therefore investment is not needed. But replacement with small one-party vehicles is not physically possible, a point that just seems to not get covered in almost any newspaper. Finally, like Washington State, the root problem is the lack of a Florida state income tax. The Miami region is building almost nothing for decades, the Seattle region is taking 40 years to build a basic system.

  7. Paul Harrison

    March 21, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Obviously the solution is to use some obscure form of transportation that doesn’t really exist right now but a billionaire has said is the best, so it has to better than the “old” technology we use today. It would be better to use that, than something that works pretty much everywhere it’s used and not the victim of dysfunctional governments pushing for spending cuts for no good reason.

    Or, I guess, they could just fix their trains. Install a modern safety system, which last I heard is literally the only thing wrong with the NYC subway system and which, if fixed, would solve all the congestion and slow down issues.

    Nah, let’s invest in elevated self-hyping hypercars instead.

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