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.
Transit Miami reader and Emerge Miami coordinator Leah Weston shared the following letter with us, containing some poignant feedback and observations from the new-ish Miami Trolley service in downtown Miami.
Sent to TrolleyInfo@Miami.gov
I am writing because I would like to make some comments about the Miami Trolley Service. While I am happy to have the mobility from my apartment on the south end of Brickell to the Metro station, I have observed a few issues over the past month and a half that I have been using it and felt like I should give my feedback.
(1) The trolley is completely unreliable. The signs say every 15 minutes, but that is just dead wrong. Oftentimes what will happen is that I will wait for 30 minutes and see two or three trolleys going the opposite direction pass me before one going in my direction shows up. The B bus follows almost THE EXACT SAME ROUTE and it is MUCH MORE reliable. I’d rather pay $1.25 to get somewhere on time than to stand around indefinitely, holding a huge pile of heavy books (I am a law student) and sweating profusely.
(2) Why is there no way to track the trolley like you can with the Metrorail and the Metrobus? If the purpose of public transportation is to be able to get around without a car, I need to be able to plan my trip.
(3) Whoever designed the stops at Brickell Station lacks complete common sense. There are two stops–one for Northbound, one for Southbound. However, the two stops are VERY far apart. That’s fine, except for the fact that there’s nowhere on the FRONT of the trolley that indicates which direction the oncoming trolley is going. Both the North and Southbound trollies stop at the Northbound stop to let people off. I personally have to go Southbound in the afternoon when I arrive home. If I think a Southbound trolley is coming, but it turns out to be a Northbound trolley, I have to run back and forth like an idiot with a 20 pound pile of books. Also, there have been a number of occasions where I think a trolley is heading my direction, but it turns out not to be and, in turn, I miss the B bus back home and have to wait another 15-40 minutes (whenever the next trolley decides to come). Long story short: A 20 minute commute home turns into an hour commute. Might as well drive my car for that kind of efficiency.
(4) Finally, about a month ago, I dropped my work ID on a trolley. Shortly after this happened, I promptly wrote an e-mail inquiring about my ID. About a week later, I got a phone call from someone at your office, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner, but that they had shred my ID. That ID also happened to contain a $50 monthly student Metro pass which I had paid in full and which was nonrefundable. While I understand the policy, there are a few problems with this scenario: Why don’t you have someone regularly checking your e-mail account? Why doesn’t the fact that my name and the name of the judge I was working for appeared on the front of the ID merit a little bit of investigation? The woman on the phone also told me she would “see what she could do” about my Metro pass. Why did she never follow up with me?
I’m sorry for the lengthy diatribe, but I thought you should be aware that your service is sub-par and needs improvement. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about what I have written.
What has your experience been with the Miami trolleys?
This is the EyeStop Bus Stop developed by MIT’s Senseable Lab.
The EyeStop is partially covered with touch-sensitive e-INK and screens, and features state-of-the art sensing technologies and a variety of interactive services. Riders can plan a bus trip on an interactive map, surf the Web, monitor their real-time exposure to pollutants and use their mobile devices as an interface with the bus shelter. They can also post ads and community announcements to an electronic bulletin board at the bus stop, enhancing the EyeStop’s functionality as a community gathering space.
Today was the first time I used one of the bike racks mounted on the MDT buses, as I did a bike-bus commute from South Beach to FIU Biscayne Bay. I boarded the 93 bus at Omni station and loaded my bike onto the rack closest to the driver. I should note that I ride a steel city bike with a pair of panniers – this is a heavy bike with an even heavier rear wheel area. But I got it on and locked it into place following the instructions on the MDT website. It still felt wobbly so I asked the driver if I’d done it correctly, to which she responded with a non-committal sound I took to mean yes.
Long story short (the longer version was posted to my blog), the locking mechanism slipped off the front wheel and the bike fell off the rack at my stop on 135 St & Biscayne Blvd, being hit by the bus into the next lane. It wasn’t run over, thankfully, but it was damaged so I couldn’t ride it. The driver reported it but did nothing else, shifting the blame entirely onto me and then leaving without even saying sorry. I filed a complaint via the MDT website but I fully expect them to blow their nose with it. I accept it was partly my fault because I may not have locked it properly, but I also asked for confirmation from the driver and received none. The driver also obviously was not paying attention to the bike otherwise she would have noticed when the locking arm slipped off.
I see bikes on the bus racks every day and I assume these reach their destination fine and dandy. But while I realize my case may be out of the ordinary, I cannot be the only person who has used these racks for the first time and did not know if they were used correctly. The buses should have better signage explaining the proper operation of the locking mechanism, and the drivers should be trained (and frankly required) to make sure that bikes are properly secured, especially when people ask them explicitly. While MDT may not make itself responsible for every single bike that goes on one of their bus bike racks, it cannot be good for business (to appeal to the basest denominator) if cases like mine happen more often.
Has anyone else out there had a problem with the MDT bus bike racks?
- Changing the practice of architecture: A group of Scottish scientists have invented a 3-d laser modeling device that produces ultrafine images of structures. “The drawings and computer simulations long cooked up by developers and architects will be replaced by more detailed, easier-to-comprehend, more objective views, in essence democratizing knowledge.” (NY Times)
- Still truckin’: The rally for SunRail is gaining momentum as various civic groups and elected officials back the rail plan. (Winter Park Observer)
- Congratulations Miami, your political landscape has changed dramatically. What will that mean for transit, walkability and cycling? Only time will tell. (Herald)
- Why aren’t we doing this: Check out this great article from the Transport Politic about Tampa’s plans to fund a light rail expansion with a penny sales tax. “The local Metropolitan Planning Organization incorporated the rail project into its long-term plans and has completely reversed course in favor of transit funding; current spending is tilted 83% to highways, while the long-term plan, with almost $12 billion in expenditures earmarked by 2035, provides for a 50-50 split between transit and roads.” This is exactly the sort of shift that needs to happen with our own MPO. It is time to dramatically alter the funding formula of the MPO in favor of mass transit and non-motorized transportation. (Transport Politic)
- Good News/Bad News: The commission adopted a series of bus service cuts/adjustments, increasing headways in most instances. The good news is that they abolished bus to bus transfers. (Miami Dade County)
FDOT’s I-95 Express Lanes were recently awarded the People’s Choice Award of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Read the release on the America’s Transportation Award site. Say what you want about the project, but the numbers are in and have shown a definite increase in speed on northbound I-95 where the High Occupancy Toll lanes were installed.
It’s not all about the automobile, either. Articulated express buses should be running on these lanes in January. According to the 95 Express website, the intent is to extend the existing Broward County Transit service running on 441/SR-7 to the Golden Glades interchange to reach downtown Miami. We’ll keep you posted on this new service.
(video courtesy of the Miami Herald)
Reactions seem mixed, but mostly frustrated to date.
Might the frustration lead more to consider public transportation?
Let us know what you think, and if you have experienced the lights thus far.
The Florida Department of Transportation has issued a new document entitled Accessing Transit:Design Handbook for Florida Bus Passenger Facilities. At 176 well-illustrated pages, I have yet to dive into this one, but from a quick skim it looks to offer something for every bus transit geek. Download it here.
Looking internationally to, um, Canada, the University of British Columbia released A Cost Comparison of Transit Modes. Their research found that of all major modes of transportation, excluding bicycling or walking, modern trams (streetcars) are the most cost effective transit investment dollar, as well as the most environmentally friendly. Click here for a nice, well-illustrated synopsis of their work.
Miami’s streetcar can’t come soon enough…
If you’ve been too distracted by elections and Vice Presidential nominations this week, maybe you haven’t heard yet that Miami Dade Transit may be cutting bus routes. Larry Lebowitz at the Miami Herald has the details on the routes that could be cut. These are routes with plenty of ridership, so nothing to be taken lightly.
We are sorry we didn’t get this news out before Mayor Carlos Alvarez won reelection by a landslide. It seems these cuts are being proposed by him and County Manager George Burgess. Lebowitz says that they would be returning the total miles of bus service “close to the pre-sales tax levels of 2002.” That would just prove that the sales tax initiative has failed. I believe that Miller-McCune magazine was justified in putting the Metrorail expansion and the sales tax inititiative on their list of “The World’s Biggest Boondoggles.”
The county commission will be voting on this issue Sept. 2., along with the vote on the proposed fare increase. We urge them to clean up this mess by seeking new sources of income for existing transit service, and coming up with a solid plan to expand Metrorail and bus transit—not by cutting existing service or putting extreme burden on the riders. The Herald offered some suggestions in a follow-up editorial, and we agree with most of their points. Especially the one suggesting to stop handing out free rides before raising fares or cutting service.
MDT is underfunded, and the county has been using this expansion sales tax to make up the difference. Commissioners need to find another dedicated funding source to keep the trains and buses moving, and then get the expansion back on track with the originally committed funding source. How about raising property taxes to fund the budget deficit? If you have a better idea, let us know.
Tomorrow, Broward County Transit is having a public hearing on changes to some bus routes. Instead of the service cuts that South Florida sees too often, it looks like their changes mostly consist of service improvements and the addition of a new express route. See their press release for more details, and head over to room 422 of the Broward County Governmental Center on August 12 at 2 PM to put in your two cents’ worth.
There’s aso a Transportation Development Workshop this Thursday, August 14, from 3:30 to 5:30 PM at the Broward County Lauderhill Towne Center Library. Again, hit up the website for more info on the Transit Development Plan and the workshops.
And don’t let the bus hit you on your way there.
One Hour and forty minutes – that is how long my commute was this morning from Coral Gables/Coconut Grove to my office in Doral. Utilizing the 37, 36A, and 41 buses, I seamlessly (for the most part) was able to get to work before the 9 AM arrival time goal.
My day began at 7 AM with a 17-minute walk to catch the 37 bus in Coconut Grove. The morning was cool and the lush shade trees in the grove provided a wonderful canopy that shaded much of the walk (Really, walking Miami would not be terrible if we had an adequate canopy cover.) Standing, waiting for the bus to arrive, I watched as car after car of single occupant vehicles began their daily commutes while joggers utilized the main highway multi-use path. The 37 bus arrived about 3 minutes behind schedule. Once aboard, I began to realize the biggest downfall of the entire MDT system; route alignment. Route 37 meandered in and out of the Douglas Road Metro station, Tri-Rail station, and all of the concourses of Miami International before finally reaching my stop at NW 36th Street about 40 minutes after I had boarded.
The transfer to the 36A was perfect. The bus had pulled up behind the 37 as I was disembarking. The 36A was standing room only and one of the passengers was a fellow coworker of mine who was also attempting to go car-free for the day from Miami Beach. The 36A was filled with Doral employees including some Carnival and city employees. The 36A transported us to the Doral Center on NW 53rd street where we (and nearly everyone else on the bus) transferred (yet again) to the 41.
As we boarded the 41, the bus operator immediately warned us not to photograph her or her bus, after she spotted us snapping a couple of pictures before getting on. The route dropped us off just across the street from our offices on 97th avenue, leaving us to cross the treacherous 41st intersection that lacks pedestrian signals.
From my experience this morning, the biggest flaw with MDT’s system is the route alignment and unnecessary transfers. The MIC-MIA connector will alleviate some of the problems for many of these buses, eliminating the junket to the terminals for several routes. MDT also needs to introduce a cross-county route that transports passengers across Doral, rather then leaving us at its doorstep and expecting us to transfer to another route.
The whole point of this experiment was to illustrate how difficult it is get to the second largest employment district in the County, Doral. As I shared with my coworkers, this type of on-hands research is critical to understanding what types of problems we face in the planning industry (from transit to land use.) Disturbingly, I know of several transportation planners who have never stepped foot on a public bus, let alone walked across a busy street and yet these are the people we designate to design our public spaces.
I cannot wait for my ride home – on paper it should only take an hour, if all goes well…
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