Funding and bus service were the themes of the night at the second annual Miami-Dade Transit Summit. In attendance were Mayor Alvarez, County Manager Burgess, Assistant County Manager and transit guru Ysela Llort, and Commissioners Barbara Jordon, Chairman Moss, and Carlos Gimenez. The audience was a mix of transit aficionados and transit users (or both) who gave a wide variety of suggestions on proposed route changes, funding mechanisms, and general discontent with the job the Commission and administration are doing to provide transit service to the citizens of Dade County.

The word affordability was repeated several times, and each time it made me cringe. How can we hold a public good like transit up to some artificial standard like affordability? Who determines what is affordable? Are our public schools affordable? Who pays for the O/M of the police and firefighters? We do. We determine what is affordable . Transit costs what it costs, and it needs to be funded whether the commission likes it or not. Affordability is not a factor, because if it was then the most affordable option would be to buy current transit users a car, dismantle MDT and call it a day. Why waste any more time and money on a public good you don’t think we can ‘afford’?

I was impressed by the many speakers who gave solid, common sense suggestions as to how to improve the system and to fund it. Here just a few of the observations I thought were on point:

  • Use the surplus of MDX toll revenue to provide premium transit. The MDX representative was proud of the nearly $10 million dollar contribution they had made to MDT, but that doesn’t go far enough. The New York MTA recieves over $400 million of surplus revenue from bridge and tunnel tolls. Why can’t MDX provide a similar service? Not to mention the roads that are not tolled at all, like the Palmetto. Even a modest toll on this road would go a long way to funding the O/M of our transit system.
  • Expand the tax increment districts to beyond go beyond the station areas. As transit is a good that reaches beyond the area surrounding the station, then so too should the tax benefit come from a wider area. Duh.
  • Increase the gas tax.
  • Stop giving away free rides to the elderly.
  • Provide a thorough audit of how the 20% share of the PTP that has been used by municipalities. (I especially like this one as I am pretty sure any audit will uncover how this money has been wasted.)

Some of the best comments came from members of the local Transport Workers Union 291. Intelligent, well thought out, and passionate comments were made by the men and women who are on the ground every day and know exactly how the system works (or doesn’t). They rightfully criticized the plans for BRT expansion, citing Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities that were investing in light rail, rather than BRT. With a similar O/M cost, and higher capacity I agree with them.

I had prepared comments, but by the time my turn came to speak, all of my points had been addressed by the other speakers, save for one. It was a challenge to the administration and Commission to stop blindly throwing money at the transit ‘problem’ without having any goals or benchmarks to measure success. Throughout the night, the common response to audience concerns was “Other cities have the same problems we do.” I agreed, but observed that they did have solutions to the problem, we just were not implementing these solutions. San Fransisco recently set a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, why can’t we do the same?

In her closing remarks Commissioner Jordon responded to my comments by saying that they did have goals, but didn’t have the funds to reach them. I don’t know if she understood what I was saying, but as a person who is well versed on the subject, I have yet to see in writing a commitment by Miami-Dade County to increase transit ridership by any amount. How can we guide our investments in all forms of transportation if we don’t lay out a framework to achieve certain goals?

In the mix of transportation options available to people we include cars, transit, and walking/biking.  Currently, our transit ridership share is only 2.5%, with walking/biking less than that, which means more than 90% of the trips taken in Dade County are by car. This is not an accident. In the same way we plan for future highway and roadway expansion to accommodate future ‘demand’, so too should we do the same for transit.

My challenge to the Commission and to Mayor Alvarez remains: make a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, and fund that goal. That is the only way we are going to get out of our transit black hole.

10 Responses to Reflections On The Second Transit Summit

  1. Prem says:

    I could only stay at the meeting for an hour before I had to leave for work.

    But as I posted in my comment card, city officials took an awful lot of time to congratulate themselves, but refused to refer to any mistakes made other than the half penny.
    Mayor Alvarez mentioned multiple times that mistakes were made, and would never be made again.
    First off, that’s a complete lie. I wanted to throw a shoe at him while he said that because everyone knows they’re going to make, and continue to make, plenty of mistakes every day. One such mistake, and I don’t know if they mentioned it in the meeting, is that the upcoming route adjustments still have not been posted on busses. Most people do not know it will happen!

    Second, he didn’t bother mentioning a single one of these mistakes, and probably with good reason. Had he bothered to get specific I’m sure we’d be able to point out to our county overlord exactly how wrong he is.

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  2. Complete Streets says:

    Everyone must stay vigilant and fight the long fight as we will take minor victories along the way. I’m glad to see Transit finally has come to become an issue that draws the mayor, manager and commissions attention. Now we have to continue to write suggestions, letters, etc to your legislators.

    Remember to write Gov Crist about high speed rail funding. I see changes in our lives. Believe it.

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  3. Rog in Miami Gardens says:

    I sent in an e-mail comment about upgrading our buses because they’re old, loud, energy inefficient and uncomfortable. Almost all large- and medium-city transit properities across the country are upgrading their fleets to the “skinny” back seats. They are so much more comfortable for both the person in the seat and the person sitting behind.

    Anyways, I didn’t get a chance to find out if my comment was addressed, as I was minding the computer lab, and the one night there’s the transit summit, an influx of students came in to have their essays checked. Grr! Lol.

    It’s important to mention that last year’s summit had a wiff of anger and frustration in the air, as county and transit officials got blasted from every side for the handling of the one-cent tax. I’m certain that’s why, this year, they planned the summit on a weekday evening, gauranteeing that a smaller number of citizens would show up. Hmmm…

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  4. Juan Navarro says:

    Very awesome coverage there, Tony, thanks for the entry on it and keeping us informed.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I have worked with MDTA as a vendor here and there and other public entities in this county and all over South Florida, and those issues you were stating on here have been around for a while. I remember these same issues coming up with Penelas in the 90’s and we still never solved them.

    Funding is the key here, and they are way too many roadblocks there for it. Miami seems to not have a Tax base (I could be wrong) of any kind to support a real Transit system. I’ve lived in San Francisco and been to NY many times and yeah great transit systems, but you know how much people pay in taxes there!?!? Huge amounts, and they pay it almost happily since it has a deluge of industry and money. What is that here? Where? What is that source for them to tap into? Other than Tourist, Oranges and Guns, I don’t see where the base is for more, that’s something that needs to be addressed.

    No I’m not saying that means making stupid mistakes like the BRT expansion, for sure, but I’ve seen time and time again how the Commissioners and Mayor can’t think on there feet and maneuver towards certain goal, they just don’t have that much imagination. At the same time, with little or no funding, it gives them even less to work with.
    Of course, if you even mention taxes to most Miami-ans as a Public Official you might as well start packing now.
    Especially with the excuse of this economy, people will go Ape-shit over any type of taxing and whoever you need to contend with on the next ballot you shove that into every paper they can.

    I mean look at the idea of not giving the Elderly free rides!?! That’s political suicide. With the power the elderly have to vote, coupled with just just shitty WSVN news piece about how poor Agatha can’t see her grandchildren because the bus costs too much, YEEEESH, you talking poor Ballot Venom.

    One of the things that burns me is that I think Miami is in a Catch 22 situation when it comes to both Funding and Ridership which is intertwined. It seems that ridership needs to go up for more funding, but then you also need more funding and more routes to get ridership!
    I think people need to make an effort ( me included) to really try to get ridership up in Miami, and try to work with the transit station and different areas to get it going. We may not have money but we have ideas! We also have a voice, and I think the Mayor’s Office and the Commissioner need to be made to hear these needs, but in many voices.

    (BTW, this is not any sort of critique on your points, so much as just a thought on them. I think you have good points that are right on, and sensible, but politics I think is the problem here)

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  5. TransitDave says:

    Tony, Affordability is important, if it is in the context of the farebox recovery ratio……If a certain percentage of operating revenue is not recovered by fares charged, then the feds will not give you federal matching funds to build premium transit. That is why the Orange line didn’t get funded, along with the complete neglect and mismanagement of the 20 year maintenance requirements of our existing metrorail system.

    The bottom line is that our elected officials don’t have the political courage to raise fares on everyone (including the elderly) enough to operate the system properly. I can’t say I blame the feds. Had the PTP been managed properly, we would have gotten the orange line funded years ago, and probably gotten at least another line funded as part of the stimulus package of the past year.

    As I’ve said before, all involvement with MDTA needs to be taken away from the county commission and put into a body like the MDX. Otherwise, we’ll be addressing these same issues next year, and beyond.

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  6. Tony Garcia says:

    Good comments guys.

    TD, I didn’t say affordability wasn’t important, but it certainly shouldn’t be the measure of how/why we make decisions. Farebox recovery is important, but the revenues will never make up the difference between the cost of O/M and the fare in any case. The federal New Starts rules are an issue, and hopefully will be revised next year. The important thing, as you and Commissioner Jordon pointed out, is political will. Raise the necessary funds and stop giving away a service that should be paid for. I keep saying if normal people like us are given a system that actually works, Im sure we’d be willing to pay for it. On a yearly basis, the cost of car ownership far outstrips the cost of transit ridership.
    My point is that without a measurable goal to work toward nothing will ever happen. It is as true with transit as it is with life.

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  7. Juan Navarro says:

    (I’m paraphrasing here)
    “You convinced me, now make me do it” -FDR

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  8. Javier says:

    Tony - Thanks for keeping us informed. With respect to establishing a goal, a great idea. We need to know where we are headed if we ever hope to get there.

    For politicians, however, scariest thing in the world is goal-setting. As they may find themselves held to it.

    Let’s not forget that transit is only half the battle. We need more land-use reform, like Miami 21, that creates the needed density along set corridors that can eventually house a light rail line or rapid bus line.

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  9. Transit Advocate for balanced transportation says:

    It is obvious that the administration is not fully behind transit even as residents are asking for better transit in every transportation meeting from the FDOT 5 year workplan, to voting for the sur tax, and even public meetings. It is also obvious we are not going to get Metro rail expanded without creative solutions and the south corridor has been overtaken by MDX to build an interstate on the bus way.

    I propose a new set of solutions:
    1. Complete the Busway north along the Ludlam Trail including bike/ ped facilities connecting South Dade to the MIC. The right of way is there and an asphalt bus way is low cost imediately fundable rapid transit project.
    2. Work with MDX to build a complete transportation infrastructure including Rail, BRT, Express Lane tolling highway along the S. Dade Busway (Dadeland to Turnpike) and along Central Corridor (MIC/LeJune to Gratney/ Golden Glades). All transpotation system facilities would be built by MDX and transit services would be run by MDT; the stations would be funded by MDT. WHY???- MDX knows how to build large projects, engineering and has the money to pay for them. Transit ensures MDX facility is not overcrowded along with variable tolling on 3 lane reversible or a 4 lane standard expressway. (Remember the expressway is coming, lets get on board and build the trasit too.)

    Lastly as part of the 1/2 cent sur tax: 1. I’m in favor of keeping our promise to the elderly and free Metromover downtown. (All we need is another couple thousand elderly driving 20mph)
    2. Cut the city’s direct funding by 25%.
    3. Stop all spending transit sur tax money on lighted street signage on street signals. (I like them, but this is Public Works job as they are replaced.)
    4. Stop all sur tax spending transit money on sidewalks. (This money is being mis spent on pet projects that have little effect to help bus routes.)
    5. Stop all sur tax spending transit money on salaries and supplies for MDT. Only maintenance of trains, new trains, new stations, renovation of stations or rails, buses.
    6. New Bus shelters should be reserved for locations based on bus line ridership levels. The old style bus benches with an ad on the back rest can be used for low ridership routes. Shelters- should not use glass that is a maintenance headache. See the new South Miami downtown bus shelters have an attractive screen that is easy to repaint and should not have the maintenance costs.

    These suggestions would increase Metro Rail, make needed maintenance improvements, expand BRT and allow expressway improvements for Central and South Miami-Dade. Yes it includes all transportation forms.

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  10. Tony Garcia says:

    Thanks Transit Advocate. I think these are reasonable suggestions (although I would charge for metromover). I would go further and say that the responsibility of transit/transportation in Dade County should be taken away from the Commission altogether. Make it a separate entity (with the same structure you suggest above.) Call it the Miami Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Also, the land use changes you suggest, as with Miami 21, have less to do with density than they do with walkability. I know we have gone back and forth about the right amount of density, but as you say it would only take 3-5 story buildings to do the trick (65 upa?)
    Juan,
    you hit the nail on the head “One of the things that burns me is that I think Miami is in a Catch 22 situation when it comes to both Funding and Ridership which is intertwined. It seems that ridership needs to go up for more funding, but then you also need more funding and more routes to get ridership!”
    That is why political will/leadership is so important. To build ridership you need to build the system first. It will not happen until the system is in place, and you can’t put the system in place without making a gamble on the future of transportation in Dade County. That is a big risk for a politician to make considering they are only as powerful as their last election. Transit takes decades to build, so it might happen after a particular politician is in power. Sigh…

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