By: Eli Stiers, Esq. and Leah Weston, J.D.
We were disappointed by dismissive statements of Miami-Dade County Commissioner and Chair of the Finance Committee, Esteban Bovo, at the recent public meeting on the County’s annual budget. Bovo’s comments have been memorialized in a YouTube video posted by Ms. Weston. In response to a request that the Commission prioritize funding for better public transit, Commissioner Bovo displayed an outdated perspective that is out of sync with the needs of our ever-growing community.
While acknowledging his own frustration with the paucity of our transit options, compared to cities like Paris and Washington, D.C., Commissioner Bovo lamented that living without better access to transit is a “sad reality about Miami.” We could not agree more. We further contend that lack of better public transit is preventing Miami from joining the roster of world-class cities.
Where we strongly disagree with Commissioner Bovo is with his indifference to the status quo. His statements that Miami’s “car culture” is “in our DNA,” and that it would be difficult for people to leave their cars and “stand in the hot sun” to wait for a bus are problematic. We think that Miamians choose to sit in cars for hours on crowded interstates because they lack other options. Indeed, when the only option is to wait for a bus in the Miami heat, most will choose a car. Those who cannot afford a car, on the other hand, are left to cope with our chronically underfunded and underperforming transit system.
Commissioner Bovo’s comprehension of how transit inadequacies affect immigrants and retirees is similarly flawed. The Commissioner dubiously claimed that immigrants and retirees come to Miami seeking the freedom of the open road after leaving other parts of the world that usually have better transit options than we have in Miami. To the contrary, immigrants and retirees, frequently of low and moderate incomes, are more dependent on transit than any other demographic. This is bad news for Miami – an area recently documented by the Center for Housing Policy to be the least affordable place in the country for middle-to-lower income families, due to combined housing and transportation costs, which account for a whopping 72% of income!
Offer the public something better, like an expanded Metrorail service that truly links our community, and our guess is that many Miamians will abandon the stress of the daily commute on I-95, US-1, 826, and 836 for the comfort of an air-conditioned train car, and the chance to read a book, answer e-mails, or take a nap on the way to work or school. It is not a “small segment” asking for better transit in our community. To the contrary, Miamians are desperate for better transit. Don’t blame the culture and concede defeat—find a way to move this city forward.
In his final comments on the video, Commissioner Bovo segued into a discussion about road construction, undoubtedly to allocate more millions from the budget for an ever-expanding morass of highways, which are antiquated and overcrowded from the moment they are opened. This kind of thinking is outdated, and this method of addressing transportation in our rapidly-expanding metro area is unsustainable.
We agree with the Commissioner: our transit woes stem from a lack of leadership and vision for our community. We are frustrated, however, that despite recognizing the problem, and being uniquely situated to address it, he seems unwilling to fix it. We challenge Commissioner Bovo and the rest of the County Commission (who also make up the majority of the MPO Board) to change their thinking about public transit in the County. With better leadership and vision, Miami-Dade County can have a real mass transit system in Commissioner Bovo’s lifetime, contrary to his belief. As an elected official, you cannot throw hands up and claim that the dreadful status quo will never change. You must be the impetus for that change.
Eli Stiers is a Miami attorney with Aronovitz Law, Director of Safe Streets Miami, and Board Member with Green Mobility Network.
Leah Weston in a founding Board Member of TrAC and a recent graduate of UM School of Law who is currently studying for the Florida Bar.
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