In a Class of Its Own
Proponents of Miami-Dade Transit are fond of describing it as a world class system; a term that has garnered much derision among its regular social media critics (yours truly included). Indeed, it is no mystery that political and financial challenges plaguing Miami-Dade Transit have made it one of the worst public transportation systems in the nation, and many factors play a role in the complete disaster that is Miami’s public transportation. But, what really takes it over the top, and puts it in a class of its own is the pervasive rudeness, lack of compassion and disdain for MDT commuters by its public-facing staff, like bus drivers and third-party security guards.
While there are certainly exceptions of drivers and security guards working at MDT who approach their jobs with a courteous disposition, and show a willingness to help a lost passenger or answer a question, it is undeniable that many more take a much dimmer view of the people they serve, and refuse to even engage in the most basic forms of polite behavior.
Using Miami-Dade Transit, one often gets the impression that our patronage is resented by the people manning the buses and train stations. A distinct air of contempt is present in many of the day-to-day interactions people have with Miami-Dade Transit staff. A simple question like “When are you leaving?”, when a bus you’ve been waiting on for thirty minutes arrives, and the driver decides to take a break, will elicit a death-stare before you get an answer, if you get one at all.
The Chicken or the Egg
Frustration runs deep in everything related to Miami-Dade Transit. From broken promises to broken buses, from terrible traffic to ridiculous schedules, everybody’s pissed.
Are drivers and other MDT staff simply reacting to users lashing out at the system’s egregious inefficiencies or the other way around? In my personal opinion, formed after years of riding Miami’s buses and trains, there is a massive cultural component within MDT, that is to blame for most of the issues in the customer service department.
There’s no doubt, however, that angry and exasperated riders play a major role in exacerbating an already delicate situation, and contribute to deteriorating attitudes among those behind the wheel of MDT’s buses and others who deal with the public on their behalf.
Nevertheless, it is the Transit Department’s responsibility to make sure the system’s users feel welcomed and respected. A modicum of civility should be the minimum requirement for any person tasked with a job that serves the public in some way, and especially one that represents an entire city. Ideally, they would display a genuine desire to be helpful and informative.
Miami-Dade Transit users have a lot in common with the late and great comedian, Rodney Dangerfield. We get no respect. Mainly, this lack of regard for bus and train riders is expressed in an absence of effective environmental design and an embarrassing paucity of information when something goes wrong and passengers are stranded on Metromover or Metrorail tracks.
Departing from any of the three end-point terminals of the Metrorail, such as Dadeland South, Airport Station or Palmetto, can turn out to be a game of Black Jack (another of Rodney’s favorite things) should you want to get on the next train out, and there happens to be a train on both sides of the track. You won’t find a single piece of signage or hear any kind of announcement that will tell you which train to board. Your only recourse is to spot the elusive train conductor when he or she is on their way to the front or hope that only one of the trains has closed doors, allowing you to pick the other one by process of elimination. But, even then you might be wrong.
Similarly, distinguishing between the green and orange lines of the Metrorail can prove less than straightforward. Even though the recently installed screens on all Metrorail platforms purports to display the color of the incoming train, this information is not always accurate, and only a glimpse of the crooked paper sign taped to the conductor’s windshield can confirm it.
The scope of PA announcements on the Metrorail and Metromover are quite limited, as well, and live updates are so rare, you’d think the only microphone is set up in some janitor closet down a little-used hallway in one of MDT’s out-of-the-way facilities. Perhaps the one that leads to that bathroom no one wants to use because it only gets cleaned once a month.
Another way MDT shows a want of consideration for their customers are the neglected state of their facilities, including public restrooms, elevators and a dearth of waste bins in many stations, as well as the vehicles themselves.
The filth inside the trains and buses is appalling. Several train cars have large holes running along the side paneling and even a few on the floors of the cars. Mice have been caught peeking through by users’ camera phones. Buses don’t seem to get cleaned at all, beyond a cursory trash removal, and roaches are a common sight in the older models.
Toilet paper scarcity in Metrorail restrooms has been documented by freelance writer and journalist, Maria de Los Angeles, a.k.a., “Vice Queen Maria” in her scatological meditation during her adventures using Miami-Dade Transit.
Elevators in the various train and Metromover stations also serve to demonstrate MDT’s disregard for its users. The constant breakdowns can be attributed to the underlying political high jinks, that result in lack of funding for proper mechanical maintenance, but what about the rancid urine smell?
Low Hanging Fruit
Obviously, the problems facing Miami-Dade Transit as a result of municipal graft and other issues are very complicated. But, there’s no reason the current system cannot be improved at the most primary level, which is customer service and routine sanitation.
It might not fix the system’s underlying shortcomings, but it will make the road there more tolerable, and less likely to be littered with half-eaten apples like the one I nearly sat on the other day on my way home.