Add a Metromover fare, bond the money and build transit
Written by Michael Lewis on May 29, 2018
Miami-Dade made a huge mistake in 2002 when, to entice voters to support a tax for new rail lines, it made Metromover free. Ending fares shut off a small flow to fund new transit, and much of the sales tax was misspent elsewhere.
As a result, in 2018 we’re still hunting for revenue to build transit. Yet since 2002, traffic congestion has mushroomed from an annoyance then to a crisis today.
So when Commissioner Sally Heyman this month broached a $1 Metromover fare in order to build more transit, she took the right track. If she’d picked $2.25, equal to bus and Metrorail fares, she’d have been moving even faster down that line.
Today the county seeks six new transit corridors in its so-called Smart plan but only one – funded by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority – has the money. The rest is pretty much just a wish list.
So what happens if we listen to Ms. Heyman and charge $1 for a Metromover trip? At today’s use level, we’d collect $303 million over 30 years – thus creating a real revenue stream for a new transit leg. Charging $2.25 as we do on all other county transit would bring the 30-year receipts to $682 million at the present pace, roughly enough to run mass transit between Miami and Miami Beach, and far more than enough to run new transit from Homestead to Dadeland to link into Metrorail.
That’s money the county should not leave on the table for another minute, even if it angers folks who consider their piece of mass transit, the Metromover, a free amenity while all other county transit users are paying $2.25 a trip. What is the justification for a free mover in upper-income downtown and Brickell while folks in lower-income areas pay full fare?
Of course, charging would hit some Metromover riders who are by no means upper income, just as all government taxes and fees apply to those who are not wealthy as well as the wealthy. We are sympathetic – but we also know that the transit system has a variety of part-fare and free passes available that would apply to Metromover were a fare in place just as they now apply to the rest of our transit. We also know that even at $2.25 the county would be subsidizing another $3 to $5 per ride for every paying passenger.
The bottom line is that the public must pay one way or another if we are going to add to our woeful mass transit web as we must. There is no free lunch – just as there should be no free ride.
One reason the county refused to look at a Metromover fare two years ago when Commissioner Barbara Jordan logically called for one to fund added transit was that the mayor’s office said it would cost more to collect the fares than the county would get.
Frankly, we can’t believe the county could spend $303 million over 30 years to collect fares, much less $682 million for a full-fare system.
Maybe the administration was referring to collecting just the 25-cent fare in use before 2002 and the cost of collections for the first year alone, including installation of turnstiles. If so, modern technology offers the county ways to collect without major equipment. Between cell phones and visual recognition devices, far less costly collection methods would very rapidly more than pay for themselves.
And if not, why not try an honor system for fares? They’ve been used elsewhere, collecting 95% to 97% of all that was due transit systems with no humans involved in making sure passengers paid. Collecting 95% of $682 million is more than worthwhile.
To be intellectually honest, we admit that the county would have to do a sales job to maintain Metromover ridership if passengers had to pay. But then, as fast as the entire transit system is losing riders at a double-digit percentage clip each year, it ought to be mounting a massive sales campaign anyway, Metromover fare or no. Spotty as county transit quality may be, promotion of its use is far worse.
Ms. Heyman asked transit director Alice Bravo to study where else in this nation major transit systems charge no fares and she predicted the finding she expected: nowhere else.
But the bottom line is, no study is needed if Ms. Heyman and Ms. Jordan can find five other commissioners who also recognize that our need for transit expansion trumps the need to give downtown riders a free pass while everyone else pays.
Put a fare on the commission agenda, get it passed and you automatically have a fund flow that could be bonded today to build vital transit tomorrow.