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Front Page » Transportation » Will on-demand and trolleys slay county transit?

Will on-demand and trolleys slay county transit?

Written by on January 29, 2019
Will on-demand and trolleys slay county transit?

As Miami-Dade residents continue leaving county transit for city transportation services and other alternatives, some county commissioners are wondering aloud if the shift could be permanent – and what should be done if it is.

Cities get more than 20% of about $300 million generated annually through the half-percent sales tax voters approved in 2002 to expand transportation across the county.

They first used the funds for roadway and signage improvement.

Later, many launched trolleys and shuttles, with almost 30 such vehicles serving 29 cities today.

Now, cities are using the “half-penny” to fund app-based on-demand services like Freebee, which already offers services in Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Islamorada, Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Lakes, Pinecrest and part of Coconut Grove.

Similar deals with other rideshares, like Uber and Lyft, may soon follow.

“As this grows… I can foresee [within] 10 years from today that all we have is on-demand,” Commissioner Jean Monestime said Jan. 23. “Thinking progressively, it makes sense.”

While city transportation services have seen a ridership boom in recent years, the opposite has been true for county transit, whose ridership across all four modes – Metrorail, Metrobus, Metromover and Special Transportation Services – has plummeted 23% since 2015, a November 2018 county ridership report shows.

That decline is the county’s own doing, according to transportation advocacy nonprofit Transit Alliance Miami.

An analysis the group published last year showed trolley ridership has grown 10% every year since 2013, “demonstrating a clear (and unmet demand) for transit.”

“Paradoxically, free municipal trolleys compete against (and sometimes replace) county bus services – but almost never cross municipal lines, fragmenting the overall system,” the study states.

People’s inherent desire to use the most convenient and affordable transportation available is also a driving factor in less county transit use, Miami-Dade Transportation Director Alice Bravo said.

“Uber and Lyft, they’re offering different products – Uberpool, for instance – that bring the price down,” she said.

But by using tax dollars to pay for those services, the county may be funding its own competition, Commissioner Barbara Jordan said.

“It’s having the same effect that Uber had on the taxi community,” she said. “It’s like we’re promoting private enterprise free, because we’re now saying it’s OK for on-demand services to be subsidized… and we’re losing revenue for our public transportation system.”

Because unincorporated areas receive no similar half-penny allocation, residents there will be further left behind as money meant to broaden transit funds free programs that cannibalize it, Commissioner Joe Martinez said.

“[It] isn’t free, because we’re giving them 20%, but it’s free for their residents,” he said.

That incongruity, Ms. Jordan said, is especially troubling in light of massive development in well-off cities that have benefitted from transportation provisions nearly half of county residents won’t use.

“We have to look at our public transit system and how [we’re] hurting [it], unless we make it free, [which] to me is what’s fair, because we’re not collecting revenue from condos that are going up downtown,” she said. “We’re not looking realistically at what [we’re] doing in terms of public transportation, because we’re slowly destroying it.”

11 Responses to Will on-demand and trolleys slay county transit?

  1. Ken H

    January 30, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    I recently moved to Brickell from Chicago and don’t own a car. I’m also a senior so get to ride public transit for free so I believe I have a pretty good perspective, untainted by cost. Metrorail and Metro Mover are fantastic for the areas they cover. Buses, on the other hand, are kind of a joke. Everything about them doesn’t make sense: the routes, schedules and bus tracker app. Numerous times the app has shown a bus a couple minutes away and then it completely disappears from the app and never arrives. The routes are circuitous and don’t coordinate between lines. As a newcomer with no political agenda, if I were given complete control over routes and schedules I bet I could increase ridership 25% by rationalizing the system. People WANT to take public transportation, but it has to be convenient and reliable. Metro Rail and Metro Mover meet that criterion. The buses don’t even come close.

  2. DB

    January 31, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Everything in the Miami Area is unbalanced right now. Let me emphasize on this, I don’t have the exact numbers but I’m looking at this from a plain point of view. If feel like they are selective in what they’re doing. MDT just purchased 300 new buses. How is that possible when they’re cutting routes taking out bus stops, adding trolleys and shuttles everywhere. They privatized certain major and essential routes which is really, really the reason for the decline.

  3. Alex Harris

    January 31, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Ken H……You and I need to meet up and discuss this….what you’re saying is nothing but pure, solid, unadulterated FACTS.

  4. Karen Lawrence

    January 31, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    But why doesn’t the bus system work? Think air conditioned terminals would make the bus more comfortable to take. The terminal would make a convenient place to wait and meet other riders.

  5. DS Lamb

    February 3, 2019 at 2:18 am

    When you take money away from people who have paid in for transportation improvements just to benefit a few, that is just stealing.
    Just call it what it is.

  6. Jose Roeder

    February 5, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Uber and Lyft, don’t alleviate traffic. We don’t have dedicated bus lanes. We don’t have reliable and timely bus schedule, We have a train system that is inadequate. We don’t even have an app telling us when a bus is showing up.

    It is important to integrate our cities and neighborhoods to the mass transit system. We don’t have walkways and paths that take us from a bus stop to our destination, this includes safe crosswalks, parks and plazas.

    Europe has it right. It takes dedication and money. As long as politicians keep promising to cut taxes and that Uber and self driving cars is he way to go, we will be talking about this and in 50 years we will have little to show for it.

  7. Mark-Anthony Barnes

    February 6, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Say we could build a whole new underground line from Dadeland to the fincas near Krome Avenue. This line would have to charge passengers I believe $5 per trip (which is still cheaper than Washington’s Metro, where a one-way trip could cost as much as $16 on some lines but runs a profit). For the new line not to bankrupt MDT’s already perilous financial situation, it is clear that any westward expansion would need to attract a much larger number than those who make the Dadeland Station commute already to justify the cost ($1 billion to build, and an additional $200 million to operate). For such a line to be as transformative as the proposed new Kendall parkway it would need to attract 92,000 car passenger equivalents. Today’s entire Metrorail line only attracts 150,000 total daily passengers along its entire 25-mile length.
    So, the answer is no, we shouldn’t build a new metro line into west Kendall because we already know that it won’t attract enough new riders to justify the cost to build or operate it. And it never will, unless the Kendall area decides to undergo a massive urban retransformation of its current suburban layout that would allow for even denser and higher structures to be built within the corridor so it could reach the density needed but would give the area a much more residential feel. Something tells me that this will never happen in Kendall. Further South towards Homestead and Florida City? Perhaps, but only if planners plan for it.

  8. DS Lamb

    February 6, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    Density will give Kendall a much more residential feel??? Areas west and south shouldn’t get metrorail because it won’t draw enough riders because not enough live close enough to the rail??? The buses coming from the south are so full that many times they bypass stops. I was told by an FDOT rep that NO mass transit systems in the US were profitable and most operated at a 35% deficit.So it will always need to be supplemented by additional dollars. What also happens in this county is that funds are siphoned off from the projects they were intended for and given out by the handfulls to other
    Why is it that we need to spend an additional 20plus MILLION for another one year on engineering plans for other transit boondoggles?
    For some people there will never be enough condos and apt.buildings in south Florida. But I guess that kinda speaks to those who make their living that way.

  9. DS Lamb

    February 6, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    OH, and PS…do the trollies for munis of less than a total of 20,000 residents with their sparse ridership warrant THEIR expense? Wouldn’t it be more feasible to provide those trollies to a larger population, like Kendall? Especially since Kendall densities are MUCH greater Than Pinecrest and other tony cities.

  10. Mark-Anthony Barnes

    February 7, 2019 at 11:01 am

    My friend, you seem to have missed my most important point. A new Metrorail line heading westward would need to gain NEW RIDERS, above and beyond those that are already making the trip to Dadeland every morning. And while some new ridership is possible, one would have to suspend disbelief if we were to truly think that it would attract 92,000 new riders from the Kendall suburbs. This is what a new Metro line into West Kendall from Dadeland would need to attract to even come close to the impact the new parkway would create.
    And I agree, once the parkway is built please add more buses and trolleys into the mix to take advantage of the improved highway access.
    Also, a Florida City/Homestead extension would make sense in the future provided planners zone for it now given both areas aren’t fully built out yet, there is still time to avoid the mistakes made when planning the Kendall area.
    Also, the money for the trolleys comes from the half cent tax collected in the communities that they operate in. Kendall is unincorporated so you’ll need to talk to county leaders about the feasibility of a trolley servicing the area. Though, I recall plenty of buses on all the major roads in Kendall when I lived in the Hammocks 13 years ago. Has that changed?

  11. Jos Roeder

    February 7, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Unlike a new parkway, a train line can be expanded by simply adding more trains. A parkway, by the time it’s built, it’s already obsolete.

    We in the USA must leave the mindset of anything but trains is better.

    The latest idea is self-driven cars will solve our traffic problems. Except this does not taking into account that a single 90-foot train car holds 80 passengers. While a car is self-driven or not, to hold 80 passenger takes 1,200 ft. The average car is 15 feet long. At 1 persons per car 80 cars x 15 feet=1,200 feet.

    Trains make sense: cheaper to built, expand and maintain.