As the County Commission is set to vote on Commissioner Gimenez’s proposal to repeal the transit surtax word from County Hall is that it will not pass. Gimenez plans to respond by going straight to the voters via a petition drive to get the item placed on the ballot. In response County Manager George Burgess issued a memo voicing the administration’s strong opposition to the measure, while highlighting the various achievements of the tax.
As celebrity Super Agent Ari Gold says, “You have to manage your client’s expectations.” It is only partially true that the PTP was ‘unmanageable’, as Mr. Burgess claims. Part of his job should have been sounding the alarm bells early on (when he still worked for the Commission) rather than operating under a business as usual mentality. I agree with Mr. Burgess that repealing the tax is a BAD idea, but money was wasted on bloated salaries, free rides, and ‘road improvement’ projects that should never have been funded by the transit tax in the first place. As soon as the administration saw limitations of the tax, they should have cut unnecessary expenses (like the free rides or road improvements = $90 million) in favor of making sure that the long term outlook was good enough to get federal and state funding. They cannot simply continue to pass the buck to the Penelas administration by claiming that the plan was too lofty to begin with. The People’s Transportation Plan is only a first step in providing reliable and convenient mass transit for South Florida - and seven years have come and gone with little actual expansion of the system. The handling of the transit tax and the PTP is symptomatic of the business ethic in this town over the last decade: unrealistic expectations about how much things cost/are worth, coupled with bad management, and an ostrich like mentality that if you ignore a problem for long enough it will just go away.
So where do we go from here?
1. Enough with repealing the tax. It’s here and we need it. For those of us who voted for it, we need to realize that it has been re-purposed for maintenance, free rides, public works projects, minor expansion of metrorail, and major bus improvements. Far from being a financial vehicle for expansion, the transit tax is what we needed to begin with: a dedicated source of funding for the transit system (not necessarily for expansion).
2. Now that there is a way of funding upgrades and maintenance we need a source of funding for expansion. Some commissioners floated the idea of an additional helf-cent sales tax (to be consistent with other metropolitan regions), but considering the bad PR that has come out of the first tax, I wouldn’t hold my breadth. More realistic is to take the item to voters - a ballot measure that would list the top 4 major rail lines to be funded by a bond (similar to the General Obligation Bonds) - and allow people to vote on which one they want. In this way expansion happens incrementally, and expectations don’t go beyond what we can afford.
The People’s Transportation Plan had a busy week last week. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, a steadfast critic of the way the CITT has been mismanaged, has formally proposed sending the item back to voters for a referendum (in the hopes it will be repealed). This couldn’t come at a worse time for MDT considering looming service cuts on the horizon when property values are reassessed this year and the county has to scramble for all the cash it can get its hands on. Commissioner Gimenez: what is our ‘Plan B’? We cannot simply remove a major source of funding from our system. Yes promises were made, and the money was never sufficient to make big moves. but we need to make sure that we don’t cut off our nose to spite our face.
In what seems like a strange coincidence (read: sarcasm), the first major rail project funded by the PTP finally broke ground after seven years. Yippie. We can finally get to the airport (arguably the first place the Metrorail should have gone). Now all we have to do is get it to go to the beach. Now that George Burgess and Commissioner Jordon have squeezed out the only positive PR they are going to get out of the PTP, I wonder what their next steps are.
“Our challenge now is to creatively fund other corridors on a priority basis,” said County Manager George Burgess, who said voters were over-promised in 2002.
Ok, we were over-promised. We get it. Now what? Are we operating under the PTP, just looking for ‘creative funding’? Are we considering cheaper BRT options? How about streetcars? There needs to be more transparency in the planning process. The failure of the PTP was not that it over-promised, but that it was not marketed correctly. We should have been looking for creative funding since 2002 (in addition to the CITT). Surely, no one thought the tax was going to answer all of our problems. The CITT shit sandwich that we are all eating won’t taste good until we have a workable plan for implementing the PTP (or its descendant): it’s time to get moving.
The CITT is officially useless. Yesterday the commission voted 9 - 3 to allow the use of surtax dollars for maintenance and operations of the existing pre-surtax transit system. Without the need to provide oversight of surtax dollars I don’t see what purpose the CITT has (other than the fact that the County legally has to keep the board working to collect the tax per the ballot measure voters approved). Here is the wording of the 2002 ballot question:
Shall the County implement the People’s Transportation Plan including: Plans to build rapid transit lines to West Dade, Kendall, Florida City, Miami Beach and North Dade; expanding bus service; adding 635 buses; improving traffic signalization to reduce traffic backups; improving major and neighborhood roads and highways, including drainage; and funding to municipalities for road and transportation projects by levying a ½ percent sales surtax whose proceeds will be overseen by the Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust?
Sigh…oh well. So the plan was oversold. So money was whittled away on free passes, and a 20% municipal share, and inflated salaries…etc. etc., but where does that leave us?
If commissioners hadn’t supported the change, the transit agency was already preparing to make deep, unpopular cuts in the older, more productive routes that existed before the sales tax.
Instead, with Tuesday’s vote, transit manager can use the ”new” money to support ”older” services that existed before 2002 — and instead make less painful cuts on newer routes that haven’t attracted as many riders.
I feel conflicted about the change. I realize the practical problems confronting the mismanaged system (as described above), but I’m also pissed as hell that our leaders don’t take transit seriously enough to fund it correctly. The calls for repealing the surtax are well founded - why should we continue the tax when it isn’t being used for its intended purpose? What would the County do if it did not have the luxury of surtax dollars to fall back on? I think they better start thinking because people are losing their patience - and this is not a service the County can just stop providing. When/if the tax is repealed the county is going to have to scramble to get their assess into gear or face throngs of unhappy voters.
P.S. Repealing the tax would be a step back for this community. I don’t think it is the right thing to do - yet.
I mentioned last week that the commission is going to consider changes to the rules governing the transportation surtax- allowing for flexibility in using the funds for operations and maintenance. Larry Lebowitz goes a little further today and describes the result of the proposed legislation:
If the measure is approved on Tuesday the county would give [itself] a lot more flexibility in determining how to blend sales-tax revenues into the budgets of the transit agency and other county departments like public works, the 311 call center and the General Services Administration.
Greeeaaat. I’ve never been one of the ‘repeal the tax’ advocates, but the commission makes it so hard to believe they will use this money responsibly. The problem isn’t the tax, but that the county doesn’t want to pick up where the tax leaves off. They want the tax to be THE funding mechanism for whatever size system the tax can pay for, and that is not going to fly. We voted on a tax for expansion and that’s how it should remain. If I thought for a second that this change would lead to an expanded and functional system I would say go for it, but this is just another step in the wrong direction. What do you expect from a commission that simply doesn’t care about mass transit, or good planning, or quality of life, or reducing our dependence on foreign oil, etc. etc. Sigh…
A lot happened this week behind the scenes and between the lines. Here is a review:
Kudos to this editorial today from El Nuevo Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth. I think he did an excellent job in highlighting how mismanaged our transit system is. Accountability goes out the window when ten different departments and municipalities are ‘responsible’ for certain aspects of mass transit. I’m always talking about how our system is ‘mismanaged’ but that really isn’t the case at all. It’s a question of priorities, and transit has not historically been one of them.
Our planning priorities were on full display this past weekend in an insert produced by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the Herald included in its Sunday edition. The insert describes work done to date and future projects. If you are not familiar with the MPO, it is a County run organization that is charged with coordinating the various transportation projects around Miami-Dade, as required by Federal Department of Transportation rules. Their mandate is described on their website is:
“…to have a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process that results in plans and programs that consider all transportation modes and support metropolitan community development and social goals. These plans and programs shall lead to the development and operation of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient, economic movement of people and goods.” (emphasis added)
Many worthy goals, but unfortunately their focus is more on expressway and road building projects than on balancing roads with mass transit. My favorite part of the insert is titled “Miami-Dade: Urban Travel Trends” which utilizes graphs, bright colors, and a lot of traffic engineer lingo (vehicle miles traveled, peak period speeds, etc), with only a brief mention of transit under a graph called ‘Transit Mode Share’. The text accompanying the graph states, “the countywide transit mode share in 2005 was approximately 2.5%” It goes on to say that share will grow, “albeit modestly.” Ok. I find it disillusioning that the organization supposedly responsible for coordinating our transit system is not very optimistic about the future growth of MDT.
Truth be told, after this week’s political farce concerning tranist fares and another half cent tax, I might tend to agree with the MPO. Our future transit does not look so good because the people responsible are alseep at the wheel. Commisioners Bruno and Barbs: wake up!! You have have been reaching in the dark these past few weeks trying to placate your constituents. I know this issue gets heated and personal. Let me be clear: this is not a personal attack. It makes it difficult for those of us who are transit advocates and who supported the first tax increase to justify anything you ask for now because of how the money has been squandered. Surely you can understand that. Next week I am going to work on a series of posts on how the People’s Transportation Tax has been spent to bring to light how that opportunity has been, and continues to be, botched.
If you really care about transit, and Commissioner Jordan I think you care about getting the Orange Line built, here are a few recommendations that can serve as confidence building measures that might make any fare or tax increase palatable:
- Make the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust the sole entity responsible for deciding what happens to that money. Give it back its teeth, and allow it to do its job.
- Charge veterans and the elderly. We can’t give away transit that doesn’t exist yet. Until MDT gets its house in order, they should be charged, albeit at a reduced rate that should be revisited when MDT’s finances get better. MDT needs income, and the Trust shouldn’t be responsible for giving it an allowance every month.
- Charge for the Metromover. Same reasons as above.
- Have MDT work with the Trust. Recent reports from Miami Today describe how the Trust is having a tough time getting cooperation from MDT with regard to budget issues. How is the Trust supposed to operate if it doesn’t know how much the system costs to maintain?? This is silly.
Note to Mayor Carlos Alvarez: the strong mayor powers you wanted came with responsibilities, ie. get MDT organized. How can they run the business of Miami-Dade Transit without a budget. Helloo?? Not to put all the blame on you though, as you’ve only really been in charge for a short while.
- Tie the 20% Municipal Transportation Plan funding to transit specifically, not transportation which has become synonymous with roads and expressways. A majority of payments to municipalities have been spent on roads, resurfacing, and other road related infrastructure. The PTP was marketed primarily as a transit plan. Spend money on rail, buses, and the infrastructure related to these much needed systems. Our roads are in fine shape. That way projects like the Coral Gables Trolley continue to get funding, while other money is free to be spent on, oh, I don’t know, maybe a few bus shelters (around International Mall maybe)?
- Increase fares to be consistent with our how efficient our system is. Don’t over do it. We want to pay for our transit, but we want to get something in return.
You need to rebuild our confidence in your ability to provide us with a functional and growing transit system. Very soon public perception of transit in this community is going to turn from being a nonessential ‘social good’ to an indispensable and basic part of the infrastructure of the city. When that happens, when people start to feel like they have no choice but to get in their cars at $8.00 a gallon, watch out Commissioners and company. The mob will be ruthless, and the storming of the Bastille will seem like a trip to Disneyworld in comparison to your worth in the public eye.
- PAB supports the Marine Industry. So do we. The unofficial Port along the Miami River is critical economic engine for our community and should be working to unify into an official entity (Say: a Miami-Dade Port Authority?) in order to maximize the potential of all of our resources.
- The PTP is a mess and the CITT doesn’t have a real budget. I’ve got to commend Miles Moss for his work thus far as the Chairman of the Trust, too bad the County Commission stripped the trust of its teeth…
- This headline is precisely why I stopped reading the Sunpost (plus all the attention they give to Norman Braman): “County Eliminates 600 Bus Routes” Oh really? 600? So much for that “The Story Matters Slogan” because facts sure as heck don’t…
- Arthur Teele Park; has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? Never mind all the corruption and bribery allegations, let alone the most dramatic suicide in Miami’s History…
- Miami Beach Commissioners are looking to remove the Bike lanes from a reconstruction plan for Alton Road. Anyone else see a lawsuit coming?
FDOT is obligated by state statue to include bike accommodations where possible. They were recently sued by a Boca Raton bicycling group for refusing to put bike lanes on A1A. They lost - a decision which we hope will scare FDOT into taking bicyclists more seriously.
- This CGG headline is fitting: “There’s always something to complain about” That just about sums up their mission, doesn’t it?
- Farecards are coming and we couldn’t be happier. MDT will spend $72 Million to finally upgrade the transit fare collection system, phasing out the cash only system for a new high-tech card. However, on the downside, MDT is also looking to increase fares to $2 among other things in order to improve the federal ratings of the proposed North and East/West expansions…
- Man who tried to commit suicide by rail this morning is alive and well, even after he was run over by 3 rail cars…
- Ana Mendez performs a mini experiment and finds that walking around downtown is easier than driving (duh!) I find it shocking how many Herald reporters don’t use transit regularly…
- The CITT has reversed its original decision to refuse the funding for new metrorail cars. We can likely kiss one (maybe two) of the original proposed extensions goodbye…
- Downtown Doral is rising…
- Rumor has it that the state is working on an incentive program to bring a new Hispanic owned airline to MIA as well as a reincarnation of Eastern Airlines…
- Here is another no-brainer: Rising Gas Prices Lead to Increase in Public Transportation…
- CITT will reconsider whether to vote for new Metrorail cars (Miami Today News)
- Central Grove to get street-level office space (Miami Today News)
- Plans for Metro Zoo theme park nearly complete (Miami Today News)
- Anti-Miami 21 Commissioner Regalado announces candidacy for Mayor (Miami Sunpost)
- More drama over the Miami mega-plan (Miami Sunpost)
- Metrorail controversy over “ghost posts” (Miami Herald)
- Cyclist win the right to sue FDOT for failing to implement bike lanes (Bike Blog)
In case you’ve spent the past couple of days living in a cave (or more likely, not paying attention to local transit news) there is trouble brewing on the horizon (by horizon I clearly mean this week) over at
Last week, the FTA dealt a serious blow to the next major phase of metrorail expansion, the north corridor, by downgrading the once favorable rating of the project. The new Medium-low status doesn’t quite kill the project yet, but it places some serious funding hurdles in the way, which, if overcome, will set the project back by 6 months to a year (in
Apparently, the administration of Miami-Dade College North Campus has been working with county transit planners for the last three years to bring not only a station on campus, but a gym/wellness center, a 2000-space parking garage, a conference center, classrooms, and a bookstore. However, all of this would have forced a $26 million relocation of the US Army Reserve Armory at NW 27th Ave and NW 119th St, which the county cannot afford. Furthermore, it appears that these expenses were never even taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement given to Washington, which means any federal aid allocated to the county for the North Corridor would not include these MDC expenses. From the Lebowitz’s Streetwise column:
And here’s where it gets really strange. All of the letter-writing traffic is one-way, with Vicente (of MDT) memorializing his understanding of what agreements were reached in these meetings.
Nobody from Transit ever responded — even though the agency clearly couldn’t afford to make these ludicrous promises to the college and hope to compete against dozens of other U.S. cities for $700 million to $825 million in matching federal funds for the North Corridor.
Transit’s files are curiously thin on the issue. And three key players from Transit’s side of the talks are no longer with the agency. One retired last year. Bradley was fired in March and one of his top aides a few weeks later.
Yet, records show that Transit was already warning federal regulators in early 2006 that it might not be able to afford the armory relocation, forcing the agency to consider the station closer to the MDC-North main gate.
Why Transit couldn’t brace Vicente with the same candor about the armory site in early ’06 remains a mystery. And someone definitely should have told him, in writing, that the agency couldn’t build that massive conference center-garage without endangering the federal funding.
It’s also upsetting because the whole thing is just so juvenile. This is the kind of thing that just cannot happen at this level of government, especially when dealing with billion dollar capital projects and $800 million subsidies, not to mention the future of Miami-Dade County.
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