Carless in Miami
The look on people’s faces when I tell them I don’t have a car is usually one of absolute bewilderment. The question that invariably follows after they get over the initial shock is some variation of how I can possibly live in Miami without one. As someone who has used MDT for over 20 years to get around this city, no one is more understanding of their befuddlement, but my answers never seem to clear up the confusion. After all, why would anyone put up with late, infrequently scheduled, frequently broken-down buses and a so-called “metro rail” that features a single line – no, the airport detour doesn’t count as a second line - in 90-degree weather, to boot?
It’s a valid question. But a more valid question is why our city leaders continue to neglect our transit system, while repeatedly using it to collect tax money. The SMART plan, unveiled to much media fanfare late last year, is yet another in a long list of similar proposals brought forward promising the expansion of public transit system everybody knows the County needs. Politicians make the speeches, tout the benefits and announce from the bow of the ship sightings of Miami’s bright future.
A Mayor Mistake
Mayor Carlos Gimenez pulled off one of the most egregious about-faces in recent memory when he turned on his own campaign promises just months into his last term. No need to maintain the façade if reelection is not a consideration. He can afford to shed the pretense and get to work for his real constituents: property developers.
Miami has always been developer heaven. The Metrorail plan was originally nothing but a hook for developers, who were supposed to flock to Miami and build along the banks of the suburb-to-downtown rail line. The idea was to cater to a white-collar workforce that never materialized thanks to the emergence of the Internet and the subsequent decentralization of work. 35 years later, the Miami monorail – as it should more aptly be named – continues to shuttle only a few thousand people a day. Ridership has decreased, despite claims to the contrary. Some city commissioners even claimed that ridership had gone up because train cars appeared to be packed. But this is nothing more than an illusion caused by the dwindling number of train cars, which have to come off line as they break down and the parts needed to fix the old steel wagons are no longer made.
New cars are currently being manufactured and scheduled to be on the tracks sometime in 2019. Mayor Gimenez will still be in office at that time, unless drastic action is taken by the people of this city. His 180 on transit, proposing more buses instead of implementing the SMART plan as it was intended and once again defrauding the residents of Miami should be enough to bring us together to recall this Mayor. Unfortunately, most people are making car payments. They look at people like me and think I’m crazy for even making the effort. I don’t really blame them. They have kids, jobs and in their day-to-day hustle to make ends meet, who has time to deal with a dysfunctional transit system that doesn’t work?
Local Swamp Thing
U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee, is responsible for allocating federal funds for transportation projects across the nation. Appearing on the local ABC affiliate channel 10’s Sunday morning news show yesterday, he decried the lack of consensus plaguing municipal politics that has resulted in no projects even reaching his desk in Washington from Dade County.
“Get me something that’s real… that I can fund.”, said the Congressman as hosts posed the issue of the SMART plan and Gimenez’ duplicity. “With the need we have here (and) nothing gets to us”, he added, further eroding Mayor Gimenez’ credibility who just last week stated that no federal money was available for transit. County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, Jr. also made an appearance later in the show and largely backed the Congressman, assuring the panel that he would soon bring a resolution to the floor regarding transit.
According to Bovo, there is currently $1 billion in available County funds to make the North Dade Corridor – part of the long-awaited Metrorail extension – a reality, as well as several millions more in other city coffers waiting to be utilized for transit purposes.
Escaping the Trap
At the end of the day, it is always a matter of political will. But unless we make it clear that we want a competent, useful and reliable public transit system, they will continue to divert funds to their pet projects. Recalling Gimenez is the clearest message we can send to Dade County. He made his reelection campaign all about the SMART plan and now he is trying to weasel his way out of it.
Those of us who use Miami Dade Transit are used to waiting, but we can’t wait for this train any longer. Gimenez and friends’ vision for Miami is one of luxury condos for foreigners and a low-wage local service economy. It is the traditional tourist trap model that thrives off a poorly educated local population serving the provisional needs of visitors and results in a high-crime, heavily segregated city.
The transformation of Miami starts with the recall of Mayor Gimenez. If he is allowed to finish his term, it will be yet another capitulation to dishonest politics and we will continue to have the government we deserve, not to mention late to work.