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.
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!”
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.
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.
Any 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.
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