As our friend Verticus from MVB discussed in our recent post on the Miami streetcar, a monorail system would prove to be a slightly more efficient transit system than a streetcar- if you were comparing the modes strictly on that level. Looking at it strictly as a Transportation engineer, as Verticus has suggested, I can attest that any mode of transportation which travels along its own dedicated right-of-way will prove to be a more efficient form of moving passengers around. However, as I have come to realize throughout many years of studying and thought, looking at our environment strictly from a system optimization perspective, sacrifices an inclusion of other major contributing factors. I’ve outlined these factors below in a brief comparison between the Miami streetcar and any other form of transportation (such as Verticus’ Monorail concept) and analyzed them from the perspective of an urban planner and a transportation engineer.

Passenger Efficiency- As I stated above, this is the one major advantage a dedicated right-of-way will have over streetcar technology. However, even the efficiency of the system has its drawbacks when placed in the context of the urban environment we are studying: Miami’s Design District. Typically, passenger rail systems established on dedicated ROW’s feature stations located no less than a mile apart. The long distance between system stations makes these types of transit ideal for moving passengers from nearby townships and suburbs (or Sprawled areas where stations feature extensive parking,) rather than intracity connectivity. The purpose of the streetcar is to create an intricate web of urban transit and its closely placed stations (1/3 of a mile or so apart) permits more independent mobility on a fixed rail system (more on the benefits of this later.) Installing an advanced signalization system along the streetcar route ensures that the streetcars will always receive priority at intersections and will ensure the movement of the system along the route.

Street Interaction- The streetcar here has the clear advantage, located at the street level rather than a fixed guide way hovering above the city streets. I cannot stress enough how important tying in our transit systems to our streetscapes is when trying to establish vibrant urban neighborhoods. The streetcar invites street level activity on the sidewalk and ground level of adjoining buildings.

Economics- A rough comparison of recently completed modes of transit across the United States:


Portland, Oregon- 4.6 mile loop- $12.4 million per mile
Tampa, Florida- 2.3 mile line- $13.7 million per mile
Charlotte, North Carolina- $31 million per mile
Denver, Colorado- $27.6 million per mile
Salt Lake City- $42.2 million per mile
National Average- Approx $40 million per mile


Las Vegas, Nevada- 4 mile line- $87 million per mile

Cost per passenger mile:


San Diego- $0.17
Salt Lake City- $0.15
Dallas- $0.55
Portland- $0.29
Sacramento- $0.42
Denver- $0.40

Fixed automated guide way systems:

Jacksonville Skyway monorail $10.71
Detroit Peoplemover $5.80
Miami MetroMover $3.42

Plain and simple, the cost associated with acquiring the necessary land to create elevated stations and guide ways any dedicated ROW transit would require would make the project wholly financially infeasible. The clear advantage of the streetcar is that it will be built entirely on existing ROW’s and municipally owned land. For power source efficiency data, please click here.

Environmental Vitality- Hurricanes pose the obvious biggest threat to creating a permanent system of overhead wires to power a streetcar system. We have not yet identified a potential solution to this issue, however we know one exists given the ability of streetcars to survive the strongest winter winds and snow storms of Canada and Northern Europe.

Conclusion- What many people fail to realize is that the streetcar is a solution for the City of Miami’s transit needs. It provides a system of reliable urban transit which will make much of the city more accessible to all residents. The advantage of any fixed rail system over an advanced bus network is that rails bring about land use changes and buses do not. Establishing a fixed rail network allows the city of Miami to permanently alter parking requirements, building setbacks, and many of the other vital components which differentiate an urban setting from a suburban one. The streetcar isn’t designed as aide to the suburban Kendall, Homestead, or Pembroke Pines commuter, but rather the residents which will be infusing the downtown core. The streetcar provides the means for current and future city of Miami residents to easily enjoy urban mobility. Combined with the new regulations instilled in Miami 21, the Miami Streetcar will reduce the need for automobile use for those residents living within its’ sphere of pedestrian access.

For more information, please visit the City of Miami’s FAQ regarding the Miami Streetcar…

7 Responses to Miami Streetcar vs. Monorail: A Brief Comparison

  1. Anonymous says:

    If we’re going to look at the monorail, then why don’t we just go ahead and expand the Metromover?

    Which brings me to my question, why don’t they just expand the Metromover instead of creating a new mode of transit? Costs, locations, land?


  2. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Simple, Cost. The Metromover experiment enacted hastily in the 1970s by the Federal government was a half hearted effort to provide urban public transit. Unfortunately, many of the systems were never completed let alone studied fully to get a better understanding of how these Automated systems should have been built. Miami’s, being the most extensive and connected to other forms of transit is the most successful of the 3 completed systems but still features higher costs per passenger mile than what should be accepted.


  3. serial catowner says:

    I don’t know where you are in the design process for a new trolley system, but it seems you have a great argument here for the third-rail solution implemented in Bordeaux, France.

    I’m no expert, but it would seem that isolated wire damage from snow loads would be different from a city-wide destruction of overhead wire by a hurricane. Most video footage of hurricanes shows lots of stuff blowing around in the air which would probably take down overhead wire, and then of course you’d have potentially live wire on the ground.

    So it may be that these factors would justify any additional expense of using a state-of-the-art third rail system.


  4. JM Palacios says:

    That’s why I mentioned the system, Innorail, in my post the other day. It’s the only potential solution so far as it has actually seen real world use. Washington, D.C. is supposed to be looking into viable third rail alternatives too. See this article.


  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand the street car. Why go to all the expense and trouble for something that is just a bus on tracks? If you want to move people faster than they can move themselves in traffic, then put in a transit system that will do the job of getting them out of traffic and to where they want to go.

    As for Monorail, it’s the cheapest way to get people out of traffic. Simply put - It is out of traffic and it’s guideway is lighter weight than conventional (or LRT) rail, so it is by nature cheaper to construct. It is also less obtrusive to it’s surroundings, since it has a smaller surface footprint due to it’s lighter weight guideway. Pinellas County did an intensive transit study a few years ago and Monorail was the hot choice for a while until they decided not to spend the money and go for busses. The cost of the system they were going to install was around $35m per mile and it was a medium capacity system, not a disney ride.


  6. Louis Haywood says:

    You’ve got to be kidding, Anonymous. Less obtrusive to its surroundings??? I guess that’s kind of like how elevated highways have small footprints. personally, i’d rather have the road.

    And do you really think that building a FREAKING MONORAIL is cheaper than a streetcar?

    Why, God, why? Just look at the stats that were in the entry.


  7. Anonymous says:

    I am a resident of Miami Beach since 1978 and used to live in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne has the second largest tram service in the world. As a former resident of Melbourne, the tram or electric trolley car is the most efficient, cost effective and useful public transport vehicle there is. The monorail system proposed will detract from the urban environment much like MetroRail has done. Tram cars can look like any vehicle classic or modern. Also, the tracks need little maintenance. The tram cars are basically no different from buses except are not prone to be stuck in traffice having primary right of way. Miami Beach, while being a resort city is NOT Disney World. We do not need any mono-rail system. The existing mono-rail at MetroZoo is obsolete where maintenance is a problem because there are no replacement parts, they need to be manufactured. Overhead electric wires for tram cards withstand strong storms because they have nothing hanging from them like street lights. The cable are similar to powerlines. Finally, Miami Beach once had trolley car service, it would be an asset to bring it back since tourists are already familiar with it from the home country.

    Raul B.


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