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Front Page » Opinion » Commission should let public vote to add Metromover fare

Commission should let public vote to add Metromover fare

Written by on March 15, 2016
Commission should let public vote to add Metromover fare

Hand it to Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who long has advocated a Metromover fare. Restoring a fare is smart, equitable – and very hard.

Back in 2002 when Miami-Dade voters levied a half percent sales tax to fund more mass transit, a tradeoff was to end the 25-cent Metromover fare.

The fare indeed vanished – but commissioners diverted most of the sales taxes to run older transit rather than add miles, while they pulled back other money that long had kept transit going.

It was classic sleight of hand, like when voters OK’d a Florida Lottery to aid education. The state then moved existing education funds elsewhere, so the lottery did nothing but pick gamblers’ pockets. But just because others con the public too doesn’t make it more palatable.

Meanwhile, with paid bus use in freefall, the free 4.4-mile Metromover has more than doubled rides from 4.7 million in 2002, when it had a fare, to more than 9.9 million last year. Last year’s Metromover gain was a slim 25,000 boardings while county buses lost more than 4.5 million.

More rail is vital but money is scarce. Even a $1 Metromover fare – less than half the bus and Metrorail rate – could add $10 million for transit. A Metromover fare the same as bus or Metrorail could top $22 million.

Via preliminary legislation that advanced last week Ms. Jordan wants to restore a fare. It won’t be easy, because she needs 9 of the 13 commission votes followed by a public ballot OK in November.

Good reasons to charge on Metromover include a rail lifeline. If the county could add $22 million a year fares, the cash could fund bonds to build rail in underserved areas. It could also finish the incomplete Metromover, sending it rolling into areas now brimming with residents and workers who could hop out of cars and onto trains, cutting core city congestion.

Second, even at $2.25 Metromover would be a bargain, far better than pricy parking in downtown, Brickell and the Omni.

Third, thousands of new downtown and Brickell condo residents now ride Metromover. These well-to-do riders can afford to pay when the poorest in the county have no rail service at all, much less free service.

Fourth, visitors and tourists ride Metromover free. Fares would let them help repay us. In hotels we tax tourists extra, but we give them rail transportation absolutely free.

Fifth, even at $2.25 we would subsidize riders. Fares never pay the full ride – true costs are far higher. But a fare lets users put some skin into the game.

Of course, restoring a fare does assume that the commission won’t just empty the fare box to replace other transit spending rather than add to it, as it did in 2002 with the sales tax. Would commissioners behave more responsibly now?

Another negative could be lost Metromover riders when a fare was tacked on. Use might take time to grow again, but it would, because when the Metromover works it’s far superior to driving around downtown or Brickell.

“When it works” is a caveat for one writer to, since the Metromover shuts for repairs far too often to rely on. The aging system does need more than standard upkeep, an investment to make from general county funds now and not from a new Metromover fare.

Nobody wants to pay – when was the last time anyone wanted to pay for something that’s free? – but everyone knows that they need more transit. It will be up to Ms. Jordan and like-minded commissioners to show voters why a fare is more than fair.

Finally, officials say it used to cost more to collect a Metromover fare than the county received. But that was at 25 cents. At $1 or $2.25, collections would far exceed costs.

We long since discarded turnstiles for Metromover. If the county found replacing them costly it could try an honor system without turnstiles. Transit systems elsewhere put fare loses in honor systems at 3% to 5%. Simple math would tell the county if that much loss would exceed the cost of turnstiles.

Ms. Jordan’s measure is due a committee airing April 13, when she faces a fight. Already three commissioners have voted to not even discuss a fare. That’s three votes against more transit, three votes to subsidize Brickell and downtown at the expense of poorer areas elsewhere, and three votes for more traffic congestion.

If those three commissioners and others who may be on the fence reconsider carefully, however, they’ll recognize a countywide benefit from letting the public decide in November whether a Metromover fare can be a small price to pay in the battle against urban gridlock.

5 Responses to Commission should let public vote to add Metromover fare

  1. DC Copeland

    March 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I agree with you on a lot of things, but not on this one. Keep Metromover free. If you want wealthy Brickell users to fork up some bucks, tax them directly according to their address. If this ever comes to a vote by the public it will be soundly defeated. And Ms. Jordan should be ashamed trying to make her working-class constituency take on another cost of living hike. I think she has been “serving” them way too long and has developed a distinct disconnect with them.

  2. Tom

    March 16, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    And it will keep the bums off which has gotten way worse since they made it free.

  3. Ray

    March 16, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Unfortunately these lifelong career commissioners in Miami Dade county for so many years have ignored progressing mass transit in the county even after the 1 cent fund was provided for it. It is now concerning to see the amount of condominium skyscrapers going up in the east-side and all the suburbia sprawling on the west while they continue to look the other way.

  4. Simon

    March 17, 2016 at 8:04 am

    On one hand, I agree. But think about how cumbersome it would be have to pay for metromover and metrorail service? It would make the experience much less enjoyable than it currently is.

  5. Adam Old

    March 23, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Wasn’t the whole point of making it free that the fare revenue barely paid for the infrastructure required to collect the fares? I agree, use impact fees on Brickell and Edgewater condo developers to pay for transit, then give them a required parking exemption.