City of Miami funds trolleys, looks at link to Marlins ballpark, charging fares
By Risa Polansky
As the City of Miami gears up to get rubber-wheel trolleys on the road, officials are mulling logistics, including whether to charge to ride — an ongoing debate when it comes to the downtown Metromover.
They're also looking at a trolley link to the new Marlins ballpark, something Miami River stakeholders hope also to do by water.
City lawmakers last week passed legislation essentially allowing the administration to use $4 million in stimulus grants to buy rubber-tire trolley buses meant to move residents, workers and visitors around the city, offering more connectivity and an alternative to road-clogging cars.
New capital improvements Director Alice Bravo said to expect an operating agreement in late summer or early fall.
The trolley initiative has been in the works since 2008.
Meanwhile, officials are evaluating routes — envisioned as lines through the health district, downtown Miami, Brickell, Coral Way, Overtown and Allapattah — as well as projecting revenues and brainstorming potential supplemental funding sources, she said.
The idea is for the system to be "self sustainable," Ms. Bravo said, with Miami-Dade half-percent sales surtax revenues, grants from other agencies and advertising income as potential backing.
Commissioner Francis Suarez, eagerly awaiting a Coral Way trolley line, suggested the city also consider setting up a business improvement district to collect assessments from area merchants to fund the system.
Also, to make the trolleys as attractive and accessible as possible, he said he'd rather riders not pay.
"I don't want to put any restrictions on people utilizing the system," he said.
But look at the free downtown Metromover, Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff pointed out.
"If you make something absolutely free, A. it has no value, and B. it will be used by the wrong people to get air conditioning. And that is pretty much what I've seen with the people moverů [riders] using it as various things — including urinals," he said.
Several business leaders made the same point at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Goals Conference this month, betting a charge to ride would lead to cleaner and safer Metromover cars, then higher ridership and less congestion downtown.
Commissioner Suarez didn't argue the point and said if the city ends up collecting a fare on the trolleys, it needs to be in the most convenient way possible.
He suggested a swipe card on a keychain that would keep riders from digging for wallets and scrambling for cash.
Ms. Bravo said she'd look into linking with Miami-Dade Transit's new EASY card.
Though the health district circulator is first in line, talk at last week's meeting turned to other routes.
Mr. Sarnoff suggested an agreement with Coral Gables to link the cities' shopping areas.
The proposed Coral Way route goes to Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Mr. Suarez replied, picturing a Brickell resident or worker hopping on the trolley to head to the restaurants and shops along the Coral Way corridor.
He added that a link to the Marlins stadium rising in Little Havana is in the works.
One idea is to have a second loop that would cut off on Northwest 17th Avenue and head to the ballpark and back, Mr. Suarez said, suggesting "Maybe we can get the Marlins to participate in that."
The Miami River Commission is also pondering ballpark access and hopes to see a water taxi to the stadium, another concept discussed at the chamber's annual goal-setting powwow.
As far as the trolleys, Ms. Bravo said staffers are in the midst of analyzing routes to project ridership and determine whether adding a few blocks would dramatically increase usage.
The plan is to be able to modify routes for special events, she said.
The trolley may not end up running to the stadium daily, added Commissioner Frank Carollo, whose district includes the old Orange Bowl site, but may go on game days.
"There's been discussion," he said, "but it's still in its infancy stages."