Bus cuts draw angry response
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade Transit will cut nine bus routes and reduce others for an annual savings of $13.7 million.
But the resolution approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission by a 9-2 vote Tuesday may not prevent layoffs in an agency that is running a $9.2 million deficit and must come up with a financial plan to appease the federal government in the proposed expansion of Metrorail.
The route cuts will require a public hearing and a subsequent commission vote before they can go into effect June 15.
After a heated debate in a commission chambers packed with transit workers, some commissioners lambasted transit officials for cutting back on expanded services that were promised to residents after voters in 2002 approved a half-cent transportation surtax.
"This is an outrage," said Commissioner Natacha Seijas, one of two commissioners to voted against the cuts. "This is not fair. This is not acceptable. This is offensive. We have [bus] routes that go to the [Florida] Keys."
Ms. Seijas said residents in the north part of the county will absorb the brunt of the cuts.
"It's like we don't exist," said Ms. Seijas, whose District 13 is losing two bus routes. "This administration has never given a darn about the north part of the county. We're foster homes up north."
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said the county was cutting public transportation as gas prices are rising and in an economy where people need a low-cost way of getting to work so they can keep their jobs.
"We are taking away promises and using that money that was there for them," said Ms. Sosa, who voted against the cuts. "We should be enhancing the message, "Come and use our public transportation.' I have to respect what was promised in the past."
According to the transit agency, the cuts and adjustments in service will affect 6,000 daily boardings — meaning low ridership — in a system that averages 258,000 boardings daily.
The routes being eliminated are: V, 68 (Gratigny connection), 82, 147, 216 (Goulds connection), 241 (North Dade connection), 242 (Doral connection), 245 (Okeechobee connection), 278 (Flagami connection), and 41 on Northwest 36th Street between Northwest 87th Avenue and Allapattrah Metrorail station.
There will be no midday service on routes 95 express and 243 (Seaport connection); route 6 will operate every 60 minutes instead of 30 minutes in peak times and every 40 minutes at other times; and route 212 (Sweetwater circulator) will run every 30 minutes instead of 15 in peak periods and every 20 minutes midday on weekdays and Saturdays.
"I think this is the right thing to do," said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. "I believe in public transportation… that has a certain amount of riders. We need to run this department efficiently."
Commissioner Katy Sorenson said the transit agency must have usage standards. "We have to face reality," she said. "We have a $9 million deficit we have to address."
The county also wants to expand Metrorail through a North Corridor link to the Broward County line, and eventually build and east-west line via Metrorail. But Miami-Dade needs federal help and is looking for $700 million from the Federal Transportation Administration to help build the North Corridor.
The requirements include showing the federal government that Miami-Dade can maintain its present system and not run a deficit.
The federal government "wants to know we have a sound financial plan and transit will come in at budget," Assistant County Attorney Ysela Llort told commissioners. "We're only diminishing service to routes that are underutilized."
Ms. Llort said the current cuts will not lead to layoffs. But, she added: "I can't sit here today and say there won't be any layoffs in the future."