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Front Page » Opinion » Metromover fare is right track, but let voters engineer it

Metromover fare is right track, but let voters engineer it

Written by on February 25, 2015
Metromover fare is right track, but let voters engineer it

We applaud a county committee that seeks a fare on our long-free Metro-mover but prefer a means other than a direct commission vote to do the job.

Though a fare is fair for many reasons, it’s unlikely to pass the commission – and it probably shouldn’t, because the county pledged a free system to win voter OK of a transit sales tax.

To overturn the ride-free ordinance would require an improbable nine of 13 commission votes. It would be easier to put the issue on the ballot and let voters themselves decide. That would not only be more easily achieved but would be equitable – let the people choose to unwind the misguided promise.

That would leave commissioners blameless, because in 2002 they offered voters a free ride and made it law. So it should be those holding the IOU who decide whether the county must forever keep that promise – a pledge that deters transit growth and perpetuates roadway gridlock.

If it’s counterintuitive that free transit perpetuates gridlock, note this: Metro-mover rides aren’t really free. The county subsidizes them. Every dollar of subsidy could have been spent to add transportation rather than just keep what we have going.

Transit subsidies are substantial. They pulled $168 million from county general funds in 2013 and $18 million from local gas taxes. That’s $186 million a year that could have helped grow transit. You can bond that into billions.

Granted, only some of that money went to Metromover. Also granted, all urban transit gets some subsidy.

Still, every million we use to grow transit rather than fund free rides is better spent. And our general property taxes must do the job if fares aren’t funding transit as transportation sales tax receipts shift in coming years to repaying bonds for what we’ve already spent.

We’ll pay either way, but direct payment seems more equitable than taxing those who don’t ride equally with those who do. Plus, via fares we can let tourists help us pay for transit that they now ride free.

Riders are using Metromover more and more. Last year use grew 3.6%, outpacing the larger Metrorail system’s 2.6% gain. Meanwhile, bus use fell 2.2%.

The 4.4-mile Metromover serving the urban core carried 9.2 million passengers last year, half of what Metrorail carried and only an eighth of what the buses did. Still, Metromover is where the growth is.

When Metromover went free in 2002, riders increased 51% from the same month the prior year, so some worry that with a fare these riders would stop using the system.

But it’s no longer 2002, and what would those riders do now instead? Driving and parking in the urban core get worse each year and far more expensive too. Meanwhile, our downtown population is larger, younger and more likely to rely on transit. What could replace a $1 Metromover ride for economy, efficiency or speed? For the vast majority, probably nothing. But it would bring the system more than $9 million annually.

Metromover now is carrying passengers who need it far more. We’ll add more soon as more people live downtown, more offices fill, Brickell City Centre opens (and with it a new Eighth Street Metromover station that was closed even as system use rose), and frustration with driving grows exponentially.

Timing is ideal to let users help fund transportation’s growth without fear of a rapid falloff in riders.

Of course, a fare won’t be popular. It’s never popular to pay for something that once was free. Yet it’s rational and fair.

The county says a 50-cent fare would barely cover the cost of collecting the money. At $1, however, a fare could generate money for the system, which is aging badly and needs not only expansion but upgrades to improve reliability.

Commissioners are understandably reluctant to push for a fare. Who wants to be linked with fees?

But there’s no political downside to letting voters themselves decide if people who ride Metromover should help maintain it rather than spreading the cost of downtown transit equally around the county and letting the tourists off free.

And it’s only right that voters get the final say. They created a transit tax for new service that commissioners quickly subverted to other uses. If commissioners also decide on their own to levy a fare it’s doubly duplicitous.

Given the right to vote and the facts, however, Miami-Dade residents are wise enough to choose the right road – one that lets riders pay for a privilege that grows more valuable with every mile per hour that downtown traffic slows and every dollar per hour that parking costs rise.

At $1, a Metromover ride would still be a great deal.

8 Responses to Metromover fare is right track, but let voters engineer it

  1. DC Copeland

    February 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Sending the question to the public of whether or not to charge people to ride Metromover will probably cost more than the estimated price of installing fare collection machines at Metromover stations (half-a-million dollars). Elections aren’t cheap (although they could be if voting took place via the Internet). This immense waste of public dollars would inevitably tell us what we already know: the public is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. You can lie to us once (re the 1/2 cent sales tax we voted upon ourselves for mass transit projects which were “reimagined” for things that had nothing to do with transit) but trying to get us to allow government to give us the shaft by voting for its collective insertion ourselves just won’t happen. So, if you want to add a fare to Metromover, the commission might as well just vote for it themselves– and kiss their future careers (and pensions) goodbye because they will surely get voted out of office the next time around.

  2. anonymous

    February 25, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Super inefficient – infested by homeless bums – sometimes walking is faster – you can uber anywhere within the metro mover’s range for 5$.

    Pick up the pace, clean up the homeless looking for free Air Conditioning and handouts and the public will use it.

  3. marc

    February 25, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Been using it recently on week days and it’s packed with students and tourists along with the normal dregs of society, nothing different than any other forms of mass transit in other cities

  4. metromoverlover

    February 25, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Save money by stop giving free rides to seniors.

  5. Adam Old

    February 26, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    One question to ask is whether charging a fare on MetroMover will actually pay for the infrastructure of fare collection once you factor in new station attendants and their pensions, new farecards/dispensers, and the inevitable drop in ridership that will come along with it. It is my impression that it did not make sense in 2002 and it probably will not today.

    Homelessness and mental health are problems that need more complete approaches than to simply be swept off of the MetroMover and our sidewalks and under the rug.

    MetroMover removes cars from the already-congested streets of Downtown Miami. Instead of wondering whether yet another (taxpayer subsidized) lane will finally solve Miami’s traffic problem, how about giving people the option to just not participate in it? Put the money and impact fees for road widening into transit. Then the argument about whether to raise fares, reduce routes, cut golden passport, or just do nothing becomes moot.

  6. Ben Grimm

    February 26, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Charge a fare and kill the ride. The Metromover system does not replace the car… at all. Most of the system is within walking distance. That’s more than half of the ridership. And there’s the catch-22: without good ridership numbers the state and federal governments won’t contribute to the expansion of a system that isn’t being used enough.

    For those of you thinking government needs to turn a profit on this you should know that transit systems make money, ever. That’s why the private sector stopped doing by the 1960s.

    • Ben Grimm

      February 26, 2015 at 3:34 pm

      *don’t make money (keyboard replacement)

  7. Adam Old

    February 28, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    It’s true that transit systems don’t make money, but neither to freeways or municipal streets. They are both supported by taxes. It’s time to stop holding transit to a higher standard than our automobile infrastructure, especially considering all of the negative externalities associated with auto-dominated city design.