As traffic clogs, mass transit many days late, dollars short
Written by Michael Lewis on November 19, 2014
Last week’s heated county debate over bias on gender identity ran so long that it wiped out a subsequent meeting on transit that presented three moving issues of its own.
One was to restore, as we must, a fare for Metromover. A free system is a failed model to fund transit. Meanwhile, the downtown mover fills with street people who have nowhere to go but love the air-conditioning. They make other passengers less likely to ride again.
The second issue was a misguided bid to delay for five years $6 million ticketed for transit. The money was pledged years ago so that transit doesn’t erode as costs rise but the county doesn’t raise tax aid.
The third measure, however, was the topper. Unheralded, the transportation committee was to OK a ten-year master plan for transit so that the full commission could send it Dec. 2 to the state, which won’t release $20 million in annual grants without the plan.
That 10-year plan is revealing in both what it does not propose and what it does.
Despite what some commissioners seek, it offers no growth of the Metromover system (you know, the one that is free and thus raises no revenues for the future) and it is specific that for at least five years Miami-Dade isn’t going to try to expand the system.
Moreover, while many commissioners want to grow the larger Metrorail line, which was once to link the county’s major population centers, the plan says in essence that the short leg to Miami International Airport built two years ago will be the system’s finale. Buses, the plan says, are the county’s answer.
The reason growth of both Metromover and Metrorail is at the end of the line, the plan says, is lack of money (you know, the stuff that another measure on the agenda planned to strip from county transit).
It’s not that the 10-year plan doesn’t envision more transit. It’s just that additions are buses.
Documents told commissioners last week that the added buses will be funded by “aggressive borrowing” against the sales tax we pay for transportation (you know, the money that commissioners a decade ago diverted from all the rail expansions that voters for the tax were promised but now are no longer planned).
That borrowing, commissioners were told, is to be repaid from either local option gas taxes or the general transit budget (you know, the cash that another motion on the agenda wants to freeze).
This fiscal year, the plan notes dryly, the transit department’s “planned capital expenditures totals $113.7 million with capital revenues totaling $101.2 million.” That’s a $12.5 million shortfall in the same year in which commissioners plan to strip $6 million from transit. Something doesn’t add up.
In fact, it doesn’t add up in a far bigger way. The documents note that the 10-year plan is short $781 million in funding its planned spending.
The needs are certainly there, as anyone who drives here knows. As the documents say, “Travel times commuting back and forth to work are steadily increasing such that residents are spending more time commuting in traffic to reach employment centers every day.”
Yet county transit today covers only 62% of the urban area.
The county’s system is just the biggest piece of the puzzle to patch together if we’re to get more of those ever-increasing drivers out of cars and where they’re going on time. Some of the county’s cities have trolleys or buses – but they neither connect with the county system nor, apparently, talk with it.
At the exact time that the county was to meet on its 10-year plan, in fact, the Miami-Dade County League of Cities transportation team, unaware of the planned county votes, was meeting miles away on the same transit needs.
Yet the transit plan stresses its intense outreach so that everyone would have input.
That plan is called MDT10Ahead. Will any of you who have even heard of this allegedly highly publicized plan please raise your hands?
This, bear in mind, is a 10-year roadmap for the county’s transit. It must pass the commission Dec. 2 after a still-unscheduled committee hearing in order for the county to collect those $20 million a year in grants. And it won’t be revised again in a big way for five years.
Easy. We are just the messenger here. Don’t blame us.
If you’d like to read in detail that “strategic guide for public transportation in Miami-Dade County” that includes no rail or Metromover or streetcar or light rail or baylink in its 10-year span, it’s at www.miamidade.gov/transit/mdt-10-ahead.asp
If you aren’t complaining about getting around, you might not care that the transit department’s analysis for this plan compared its system’s performance to similar transit agencies elsewhere and to its own performance over the past five years. But that analysis did not include the public’s needs – the ranking that really matters.
That and, of course, financing. In a summary of the 10-year plan, the county notes that this year’s transit operating budget is $657 million, yet planned revenues are only $650 million.
Let’s see: Population grew 10% in a decade, no roads have been added, commuting time gets longer each day, capital spending for transit this year is $12.5 million short of being funded, operations are $7 million short of being funded, plans for the decade are $781 million short of being funded, local transportation systems barely speak with the county – yet commissioners plan to strip $6 million pledged to transit and wonder why the public is fuming.
As a business innovator who splits time between New York and Coral Gables said Friday after driving around the county, he might sell his home here, in part because our biggest roadblock to economic growth is transportation.
But don’t worry: the county will reschedule that transit meeting. Maybe this time they’ll invite all the local interests to comment too and get moving on the economic and quality of life costs of standing still on transit.