Text and photos by Eric Van Vleet

Public transportation in many ways captures the zeitgeist of a time and place. Adorned with art nouveau entrances and gorgeous white tiled interiors, Paris’s metro harkens back to the days of grand public works. Bogota recently strengthened its image internationally with their successful and much imitated TransMilenio bus system.

Bus service in Miami-Dade expresses something profound as well, but not necessarily a vision the county would want to be widely known for. Plainly, in Miami-Dade the bus system’s only reliability is its unreliability.

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The most common topic of conversation between bus riders is not about local events or the weather, but the unreliability of the bus system. Ideas about the deficiencies in the bus system for many riders seems to reveal a profoundly cynical if not realistic understanding by working class people in Miami-Dade as to how much the county is willing to invest in their ability to move efficiently.

Just the other day I was waiting for a bus that was 40 minutes late. Finally as my bus arrived, an elderly woman who had waited much longer began to fume. As the door closed I heard her yell:

“This city only cares about tourists. They don’t care about us anymore!”

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Instead of shouting at the bus driver who is merely trying to navigate traffic and drive their route, often I will call Miami-Dade transit to lodge a complaint every time the bus is more than fifteen minutes late. One time while complaining about a late bus, I heard a man laughing behind me. When I got off the phone, he said to me:

“Don’t you know, nothing will change by you doing that.”

His cynical laughter toward my complaint echoed a kind of futility that I had heard in the voices of so many people complaining to each other about the bus service. They all just figured speaking would do not good since no one was listening.

Such a detached attitude might be possible if people did not rely on the bus for getting to work, running errands and seeing friends and family. Instead of letting go any expectations about it arriving on time, better that we as its most frequent riders continue to vocally demand better service.

Continuing to call each time the bus is late would at least provide the county with data so that they could better see where and when they experience delays. Their customer service number is 305-891-3131.

Once the bus system actually becomes more reliable, people may start to drive less and take the bus more, which would limit Miami’s other great source of collective suffering—traffic. Bringing innovations from the Metrorail like real-time updated schedules and information about delays would greatly benefit bus drivers and cut down on useless and anger-inducing waits for passengers.

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Increasing dedicated bus lanes could decrease traffic delays making busses more reliable and quicker. Certain routes like the #11 and #8 simply need more buses as they are frequently packed and seats are difficult to find. These and other improvements would improve service for current riders, while also likely attracting new riders, including tourists.

20141209_084452Any place like Miami that is as a ‘global city’ should not look in wonder only at its rapidly proliferating glass high rises sure to be readily filled by a transnational clientele, but it also should look at what’s happening on the ground and on the streets where citizens waiting for the bus are never quite sure when and if it is going to come.

Everyone equally deserves to move comfortably and efficiently to and from the diverse neighborhoods and local landmarks that make Miami-Dade so unique.

Eric Van Vleet is a PhD student in the Global & Sociocultural Studies program at Florida International University. He is a fixture on Miami-Dade bus route #8, though prefers route #24, through the banyan-lined roads of Coral Gables. His courses’ reading materials show erratic underlining because of the buses’ frequent and unexpectedly abrupt stops and drops into potholes.

5 Responses to Where’s the Bus? Experiencing a Global City through its Mass Transit System

  1. John says:

    Miami is not a “global city”. Those who have been around can tell you that.

       3 likes

  2. Mike Arias says:

    As a public safety roadway advocate for years I have been attempting to have much needed additional bus shelters installed on the public roadways throughout Miami Dade to protect the riders ( especially the seniors and the disabled )from the weather elements with no success.

    I do not understand why this cannot be done throughout the County in a reasonable timeframe since the County does not pay to build and maintain the bus shelters rather the advertising companies do. The more shelters available means additional advertising revenue which also benefits the riders.

    In addition, to the bus shelters which are much needed installing a safety guard rail or other type of safety barrier in front of them to protect the vulnerable riders that, are either standing or sitting adjacent to the public roadways with a high volume of passing vehicles which can easily become errant at anytime is a public safety hazard for all residents / bus riders.

    Our elected and transportation officials wish to provide Bus Rapid Transit service as a substitute and less expansive option than mass transit heavy or light rail service.

    To make matter matters the population is estimated to double in Miami Dade within the next 5 to 10 years and BRT service combined with the overall poor condition of the roadways / bridges which do not have the adequate volume capacity is undoubtedly a recipe for more or rather worse traffic gridlock to occur on ALL of the public and many tolled roadways throughout Miami Dade.

    Commuting by either walking if it is a reasonable distance or by bicycling although very hazardous in South Florida looks like will be the only viable alternate modes of transportation available for the commuting residents.

    I wish that I could end on a more positive note however, based on current practices the future for the much needed mass transportation and roadway enhancements in Miami Dade simply looks very bleak for a long time, at least another 10 years of having to deal on daily basis with a poor transportation system that, its entire operation needs to undergo a major overhaul as soon as possible.

    Limited funding which led to a reduction in routes, along with outdated technology and equipment/ buses / train vehicles for the last 30 years and now ALL of the existing issues have all simply continued to get worse not better and this has undoubtedly led to the culmination of having the poor transportation system which is currently operating today.

    If this City wishes to become a first class Metropolitan / Global City it must address the existing mass transportation problems and resolve them as soon as possible which would be in every residents / visitors vested public interests.

       3 likes

  3. Kenneth Garcia says:

    And what ever happened to the GPS system they were supposed to be installing on all the buses a couple years ago in order to get real-time bus tracking? That would at least let us know whether we’ll be wasting your time waiting for a bus that’s not coming.

       1 likes

  4. Daniel Manichello says:

    Mike Arias is, unfortunately, absolutely right. The only way to change the pathetic state of public transportation in this city is to turn on its head the current power structure at almost every level of government and at every vested state or local agency. Simply put the leadership stinks, in Tallahassee, at the County, at MDT, in the municipalities.
    A bus system is the foundation of any good and reliable transit system. In a city as spread out as Miami, providing reliable, comfortable and safe service is essential. Riding a bus in any city around the world would immediately give you an indication of a place’s level of sophistication, how that city prioritizes basic services and the respect it has for its own life blood, its’ residents. Take one ride on a 20+ year old, perpetually overcrowded S bus between Miami and Miami Beach and there is no doubt about the conclusions you will make about Miami. As a daily rider on that route, I can assure you “global city” will not be one of them. Rather you’ll wonder IF and when will I arrive at my destination? What is that smell? Why are there cockroaches everywhere? Why don’t people make way and offer their seats to the elderly and women? Is there a bus stop on literally every block? I still have to put exact change in this machine?
    I think BRT is a no-brainer or at the very least dedicated lanes for buses during rush hours on say the MacArthur, Tuttle, Biscayne Blvd., 8th Street, Flagler, 27th Avenue, etc. Something that was realized in Curitiba, Brazil nearly 40 years ago and has been replicated all over the world is here still “under study”. The South Dade busway has been neglected to the point that one would have to think it was intentional. Soon that former asset in our public transportation infrastructure will become yet another tolled roadway.
    Cashless payment also. Imagine the convenience of being able to purchase, load or check on your Easy Card at thousands of points of sale like that Publix or CVS right next to the bus stop. But in the infinite wisdom of the leadership at MDT they choose a system where installing more kiosks like the ones you only see at the Metrorail stations and Omni bus station is prohibitively costly. MDT also can’t coordinate with Publix, CVS, Walgreens or Winn-Dixie or other large retailers to make Easy Cards available for purchase. I know that one can reload on the internet and perhaps that feature will be added the MDT Tracker App…one day.
    Ponder that while you wait, without a clue as to where your bus is, at one of those stupendously horrible shelters that visually and spatially pollute our sidewalks.

       3 likes

  5. B says:

    What is badly needed is transit priority zones and corridors. For example, traffic signals that adjust as the bus approaches, bus only lanes, bus queue skip lanes, special left turn boxes that busses can use to skip past the left turn queue, ect. In Miami-Dade, we have some locations which are optimized for pedestrians, but we have no meaningful prioritization of busses over automobile traffic, so busses just sit in traffic with everybody else. Even on the Busway, the busses still have to wait for the light cycles just like all of the cars on US1. And yes, I do mean prioritization at the expense of some automobile traffic capacity. We have the space, but we continue to prioritize automobile traffic capacity above all else, to our own detriment (…never mind that 3 stopped traffic lanes have the same capacity as two stopped lanes-namely, zero! and cars unlike busses can always find alternate routes). Let’s start with the #3, #8,#11/211, #36/J, #37, #77, and C/S/120 corridors.

       0 likes

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