On Wednesday, the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) and the Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) hosted a transit summit in Fort Lauderdale. The event, attended by several hundred transportation professionals, featured short speeches from the directors of all the South Florida transit agencies as well as some words from other transit advocates and “luminaries.”
The FPTA also took the opportunity to highlight their foray into social media, the IM4Transit campaign. Roughly akin to a Facebook “Like” or the too quickly forgotten Facebook groups, their goal is to sign up 100,000 Floridians who support transit. If you care to, sign up at IM4Transit.org or head over to Facebook and spread the like. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) also expressed their support for the IM4Transit campaign, which serves as their pilot program in social media.
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.
As advocates of transit and alternative transportation within the Miami region, we have a duty to our future region to stay vigilant and continue to push for greater funding for alternative transportation methods and improving our current roadways and infrastructure. Secondly, we must make sure that we act responsibly and respond when public meetings are held. This Wednesday night is the County’s 2nd Annual Transit Forum. This is our chance to speak directly to our elected leaders. I urge everyone to write your county and local commissioners and attend this important meeting wearing your organization or interest in alternative transportation. If you belong to a bicycle organization wear your t-shirt, if you are an avid competition cyclist wear your cycling shirt, etc. We must show unity in numbers. The City’s of Miami, Miami Beach, and Pincrest have all passed bicycling measures recently. Now we need to demand the connections and upgrades of all future roadways for cyclists, pedestrians and transit.
Specifically regarding transit and rail infrastructure I ask you to write your State Senators and Representatives to support the December special legislative session on transit and demand a dedicated funding source for statewide transit projects. Florida is competing with outher states for federal dollars that we all pay in taxes. Let’s bring that money back to Florida! I would like to thank Senator Atwater for sponsoring this legislation currently being proposed as a $2 fee on all rental cars in Florida to be used as matching funds for federal stimulus projects and to fund Tri Rail and Sun Rail commuter rail services in Florida.
I hope to see everyone next Wednesday at the County Commission Chambers after work 5:30pm wearing your sport, organization or cause. Together we can make positive changes for the Miami region.
- Today the County discussed today ending the costly and moronic appeals of the last round of UDB lawsuits (brought on by the State’s rejection of the expansion). Katy Sorenson, always the voice of reason, sought a motion to end the appeals, but was shut down by Chairman Moss. Katy will now be proposing a resolution (at a subsequent meeting) to end the appeals. I hope she is successful. Why they are continuing to spend money we don’t have on this (while cutting important services) is beyond me. Kudos to Mayor Alvarez and the members of the commission who see this as a waste of time and resources. Sigh.
- The tentative date for the yearly Transit Summit is November 18th, from 5-8 pm. Ysela Llort described the format of the meeting as one where we discuss “living within our means.” I’m skeptical of what will come out of this meeting given the content of the recent Transit Development 10 year plan. (More on this in a separate post).
- Warren Buffet is making a big bet on the future of rail in the US, expanding his rail holdings of Burlington Northern Santa Fe. (NYTimes)
- I heart Katy: The MPO approved a resolution sponsored by Katy Sorenson that requires ghg’s to be taken into account when preparing transportation planning assessments. “The MPO is responsible for planning our transportation system county-wide, and the choices we make now will be felt for generations,” said Commissioner Sorenson. “Factoring carbon emissions into the choices the MPO Board must consider in weighing mass transit and road projects is a good first step toward a sustainable transportation system for our County.” (County)
- Awesome: 119 Acres are being added to the South Dade Wetlands Project through the EEL Program (total land saved so far: 19,577 acres).
This past Tuesday Broward county held a transit summit with the intent of getting input from the public on what is wrong with public transportation in Broward County and what can be done to fix it. Mayor Joseph Eggelletion started up the public portion of the summit. The most notable thing he mentioned was that Broward county wants to “think green” with their transit. This is a departure from recent trends, as they have foregone any hybrid options for new buses such as the highly touted articulated buses for the 441 Breeze route. Perhaps they will follow PalmTran’s lead and use biodiesel.
The president of the American Public Transportation Association, William Millar, delivered the keynote speech. His speech offered a few pointers to improve transit, but nothing earth-shattering. The most insightful information of the summit was some numbers comparing the transit system in Broward county to other Metro areas, from Miami to Seattle to Atlanta. [I
don’t have these numbers with me at work.] They all have more buses and more rail than Broward county, but only because they each have a dedicated funding source. Last year Broward voters passed up a 1% sales tax increase that would have gone toward transit, and the system will continue to stagnate if residents are not willing to pay for expansion.
Two of the suggestions I wrote down were to secure a funding source and to connect to Miami’s Orange Line Metrorail when they come to the Broward County line. Metrorail’s deputy director told me their final elevation was such that Broward County could connect to their tracks. The ball is in the hands of the voters. If we can vote to tax ourselves, the county says they will listen to us and use that money where we want them to. In the meantime, additional summits will be held on Nov. 13 and on Jan. 24. Go andtell them how to make our transit better.
I didn’t get to stay for the end to hear what other comments were, so I don’t know if the overall tone was good or bad.
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