Miami looking at revenue-raising strategies to fund Health District trolleys
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Upon commissioners' request, Miami is looking at revenue-raising strategies to finance the trolleys it hopes to deploy to the Health District next year.
Miami's first municipal trolleys got a unanimous yes vote from city commissioners this month, but they are requesting tweaks: placing ads on the trolleys and expanding the route's boundaries.
At the meeting, commissioners voted on a three-year joint participation agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to accept $374,000 of transit development program funding for the state's 50% contribution for the operation and maintenance of trolleys in the health corridor. The city is to match the funds from its share of the one-half cent transit surtax proceeds from the People's Transportation Plan.
Under the proposal, Miami would first buy four trolleys to run on a two-way loop, stopping at 14 institutions, nine garages and Metrorail's Civic Center station throughout the Health District — bounded roughly by the Miami River and Northwest 20th Street, Seventh Avenue and 12th Avenue.
"This is the best thing we can have happen for the Health District," Commissioner Tomás Regalado said.
Mr. Regalado asked the city to look into selling advertisements on the vehicles to generate revenues to finance the fleet.
Jose Gonzalez, the city's assistant transportation coordinator, agreed it could be a profitable and said the city is going to explore anchoring advertisements to the rear of each trolley.
But Mr. Regalado asked the administration to look at advertising not just on the back but also the sides and interiors, mentioning that Coral Gables is cashing in from digital ads inside its trolleys.
Mr. Regalado said he thinks the Health District is a goldmine for advertising because more than 100,000 people transit the area daily and it is the second-largest employment center in Miami-Dade.
City Manager Pete Hernandez promised all options are to be explored. "We'll look at the outside as well as the inside for advertising," he said.
Mr. Regalado said this option could generate revenues to avoid burdening trolley users with a fare in the future, something the city is contemplating.
The plan is to offer free rides at the outset to build ridership and then instate a small fare of 25 to 50 cents, "but we haven't made that determination," Mr. Gonzalez said.
Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Michelle Spence-Jones have said the system also needs to add more connectivity within the Health District, suggesting expanding the route to the Northwest 20th Street commercial corridor and the Overtown Loop.
Mr. Hernandez said the city is in talks with the state Department of Transportation to secure additional grants to expand service to those two areas.
Commissioners also approved starting the bidding process to hire a firm that would provide the vehicles, drivers, fuel, maintenance and storage. The city would oversee, monitor and finance the trolley system.
The company's contract is to allow some flexibility in case the route is expanded and would also require the firm to provide advertising services, city officials said. Ad content would be at the city's discretion.
Coral Gables recently started displaying digital advertising in its 11 trolleys and expects to generate about $200,000 a year from advertising, said Ed Cox, Coral Gables trolleys manager. The Gables hired local firm Arcoart Plus/Trolinet to provide all the technology, visual advertising and marketing strategies. The trolleys are also available for rental for weddings, corporate parties and other events for $175 per hour with a minimum of four hours.