Give Me Your Tired
They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes. But, in Miami, we might as well add late trains and buses to that tired phrase. And tired, we are. Tired of waiting for our city leaders to put aside blatant self-interest and crony-capitalist tendencies to finally do something about public transit here.
Declining ridership has been the result of people encountering a system so bad, many prefer to sit in I-95’s parking lot day after day than face Miami-Dade Transit’s interminable delays and breakdowns.
With bumper-to-bumper traffic becoming a regular occurrence, Miami residents are desperate for a functional transit system, that offers respite from an increasingly onerous daily commute. Despite this, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has decided to abandon the platform he ran on to get reelected, and sponsor yet another toll-road initiative, while floating pie-in-the-sky technologies for mass transit, that only serve to derail the conversation.
Unfortunately for us, the masters of illusion who run the Magic City have only made what amount to cosmetic changes to a decaying transit system, despite collecting billions from taxpayers, who are beginning to grasp that they’ve been taken for a ride of a completely different kind.
The incompetence runs deep, and decades of bad relations with the transit union only makes the situation that much worse for riders, who are the ones who ultimately pay the steepest price.
Off The Rails
County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, and friends, rolled out the first of the new Metrorail cars a few months ago to much self-congratulatory fanfare. A big photo op party was held at the Airport Metrorail station, with beleaguered Transit director, Alice Bravo, and other municipal luminaries cutting ribbons and boarding the new Hitachi-manufactured 4-car train for a private inaugural ride.
The tone-deaf “leaders” chose a weekday morning to have their ceremony, disrupting travel times for actual commuters. Only four new cars were actually put into service. Not even enough to make one complete six-car train, as the original Metrorail once had (according to legend); but enough to hold a press conference and unveil a cheap plaque.
Since that banner day in December of last year, the gradual introduction of more new train cars, which had been scheduled for two new cars a month, has hit a troubling, if predictable, delay. Many of the spanking new train cars have already suffered similar mechanical malfunctions, that took the old trains decades to manifest, like doors that do not open and broken air conditioning causing them to be removed from service on several occasions.
Cynical Metrorail users have christened the new trains with mythological monickers like “Unicorn” and “Centaur” due to the improbability of actually riding one. But, even if they’re fortunate enough to catch an elusive, clean car with functioning A/C, their good luck is likely to be offset by having to cram against other riders like sardines in the packed train.
The Metrorail, of course, is far from the only problem in the Miami-Dade Transit ecosystem. Buses are an even worse proposition for anyone looking to use it.
Anyone who has sat (or likely stood) at a Miami-Dade bus stop with the intention of catching one, has invariably come across the fact that MDT buses do not keep their schedule. Not only are they late on the regular, many simply never show up. “Ghost buses” are an everyday affair in Miami, and can make an already long wait, a cruel and frustrating affair.
Hour-long wait times for buses in Miami is not only common, it is inevitable if you are a regular rider. The only exception is if you’re a tourist leaving the airport. Miami is very interested in getting you to your hotel as quickly as possible, so you can start spending your money in South Florida. But, if you plan on relying on public transportation for sight-seeing or getting around, you’re better off staying in, and calling for room service.
In spite of this, MDT is extending wait times for some of the most used routes and even cutting them altogether. The reason cited for these cuts is lack of funding, which is really just lack of political will by Gimenez and his sycophantic chorus of self-interested County commissioners.
Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who literally chairs the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee, has stated repeatedly that he would see to it that Miami-Dade County gets the necessary funds to expand and improve its mass transit system, but so far Mayor Gimenez has chosen to break campaign promises and is angling, again, to build more space-wasting asphalt toll-roads.
Next Stop: Conundrum
At this point, with such a disastrously inefficient transit system perpetually neglected by an entrenched political class, what is the way forward for a city in dire need of transit options?
The advent of Uber and other ride sharing services has provided some relief to the transit-dependent residents of Miami, but they are also a contributing factor to the increased congestion of our streets, and while these apps are good in a pinch, they are not a mass transit solution.
Likewise, the privately run and free Miami Trolley, is another play for tourists and not genuine option for moving across the city on a daily basis. These low-capacity, and torturously slow retro buses are further hampered by capricious drivers, who have no compunction about leaving their trollies, full of passengers, in the middle of a route to make a Taco Bell run. To make matters worse, Miami Trolley route frequencies are completely unpredictable.
The only positive transit stories with a semblance of efficiency occur within the various incorporated cities inside Miami-Dade County. Services like the Coral Gables Trolley, which has been efficiently operated for decades, works well for the “City Beautiful’s” downtown area. Miami Beach has also developed a good trolley system as of late, and in North Miami, the Haitian community took the initiative long ago with the jitneys.
Maybe it’s time to forget about letting the County have anything to do with transit, since their interests clearly lie elsewhere, and have shown no responsibility in terms of managing and maintaining the current system. Perhaps a more local approach is called for, with cities themselves receiving federal or County funds to develop their own transit systems and only centralizing the payment systems, to facilitate logistical issues like bus or rail transfers.
The bottom line is that Miami-Dade County has proven unequal to the task of running a mass public transit system, and that is unlikely to change in the near future or even a generation.
Several Counties in South Florida came together recently on a contingency plan in case of an unprecedented sea-level rise event. Mass evacuations are contemplated, and considerable resources have been allocated to prepare for this possibility.
If things don’t change, we can always look on the bright side. Our terrible transit system could drive millions out of Miami, making this end-of-the-world scenario less daunting.
Survivors will tell tales of magical vehicles that ran atop copper tracks high above the city. Instead of horned equines, with flowing white manes, that jump over rainbows, unicorns will become metaphors about lost mobility, and a new day will dawn as our descendants strive to reach their Valhalla.