Miami-Dade County mass transit use falls, even as US systems eke out a slight gain
By Ashley D. Torres
Use of Miami-Dade County Transit has dropped as a result of the economy, lower gas prices and unemployment despite a slight uptick in national ridership.
The June report for the county's transit department, which operates Metromover, Metrorail and Metrobuses, shows declines year over year.
Metromover riders dropped 4% in June to 650,023 from 676,763 in June 2009. Metrorail riders declined to 1,427,411 from June 2009's 1,476,597, a 3.3% fall. Ridership on Metrobuses sank 1.1% to 5,702,174 in June from 5,763,813 in June 2009.
One contributing factor, the county says, has been the economy.
"As more people are unemployed," said Karla Damian, a transit department spokesperson, "less people are commuting to work using transit."
In addition, many public transportation systems are funded by local transit sale taxes, mortgage transfer fees or property taxes, said Virginia Miller, the American Public Transportation Association's spokeswoman, which are all impacted by a struggling economy.
Gas prices also contribute to choice ridership, where commuters choose public transportation, Ms. Miller said. With lower gas prices, many have gone back to driving.
Nationwide, the trend over the past few years is declining transit use, which David Goldberg, Transportation for America's spokesperson, said is "entirely due to the economy and fewer people working." He added the decline also stemmed from the "spiral of declining fiscal health of cities and states that provide most of the operating funds and fare hikes."
Fares for Miami transit were last increased from $1.50 to $2 in October 2008. At the same time, the county commission voted for future increases, which can occur every three years, to be based on the Consumer Price Index.
National ridership numbers last peaked in 2008.
However, the 2010 second quarter, April to June, report from the public transportation association confirms that the nation's public transportation ridership has risen for the first time in five quarters. Overall, 2.5 billion public transit trips were recorded between April and June, a slight rise of 0.1% year over year.
"Historically, public transportation is a lagging indicator," Ms. Miller said. "The economy will get better before transit ridership will increase."
She added that the ridership uptick "may be a glimmer of hope that the economic recession is over."
Ridership rose on 11 of 15 heavy-rail systems — elevated trains and subways — in the second quarter. However, Miami's transit department was among those that saw ridership slip.
Also contributing to the local transit passenger drop was the reduction of 2 million Metrobus revenue miles when the Service Efficiency and Restructuring Initiative began in late 2009, Ms. Damian said. The initiative, which is geared to save the county $12.3 million this year, eliminated duplications and connected routes to major transportation corridors.
The initiative "was a way to make the best use of the available taxpayer dollars and fare revenues," said John Labriola, a county transit spokesperson.
According to the public transportation association's report, April through June bus ridership nationally fell 1.7%.
Ridership numbers are expected to rise with a better economy, Mr. Goldberg said, as soon as employment increases and the transit agencies fiscally improve.