Tag Archives: Miami

Return to me

I am finally returning to this strange passion of mine–the world of transit.  In the coming weeks, I intend to post pictures and commentary from recent trips to Chile, New York, San Francisco, and Dallas, where I rode transit and made observations.

Before getting into the specifics of those transit systems and my trips on them, I would make a few general observations, both about those systems and about transit in general.  My perception, backed by some data, suggests that we have something of a paradox in public transportation today.  More people than ever want to use it, and more of it, in their daily lives and for special trips (i.e., high speed rail out of town), but funding lags.  But to me, if a city like Dallas, one of the more sprawling and “transit-unfriendly” I have seen, can add three light rail lines and a commuter rail line to Fort Worth, that says something about the bright future of transit nationally, if not worldwide.  Whether for financial, environmental, moral, logistical, or other reasons, people want alternatives to driving themselves where they want to go.  What’s important is for people to accept the need for upfront investments in public transportation that lead to a tremendous amount of additional value in their cities and states, that put money back into their pockets, time back into their days (in the ideal scenario), and the like.

I’ll say more about all of this later.  For now, here’s a quick update from South Florida, which I visit frequently.  While at first it might not seem so significant that a bus is dropping stops and running express, the report claims that this change in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area is significant: “The service was launched last January as the first true regional cross-county bus service that allows riders to take a single bus deep into the heart of the adjacent county without having to switch to another bus after they cross the county line.”

And returning to the idea of money in people’s pockets, “”I am looking forward to experiencing a shortened ride to and from the downtown area,” said Marc Cohen of Pembroke Pines. “Even in a gas efficient vehicle, a round trip in and out of Miami will run about $6 in gas. If you want that express lane, add another $4. There is an obvious saving of time, money and gas here. Who can complain?”‘

Beyond taking away reason to complain, my hope is that South Floridians begin thinking more about a reason to switch.  In all my visits to South Florida, it is obvious that much of the region does not lend itself nicely to transit.  You have limited walkability and long stretches of major roadways with lots of traffic signals.  So, to make transit competitive with driving, at least on the basis of how long it takes, is not easy.  I applaud the South Floridian initiative, in this case, to recognize the need to connect the cities of the region and to put in place measures to enhance the riding experience–dedicated lanes, sensors to change traffic lights for buses, etc.  I hope it helps ridership and changes the way South Floridians view transit.

#snappatx

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Rolling rolling rolling…keep them railroads rolling

I’m encouraged to see Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist sign a bill into law that encourages more high speed rail in Florida–a state that’s seen some success with commuter rail but could really benefit, I think, from inter-city rail.

I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes some “restoration and enhancement” funds rather than just new lines.  As I’ve said before, it’s a lot cheaper to maintain than to build new, but it’s not always as politically “sexy,” so I’m glad Crist is willing to commit to maintenance, not just new capital.

Florida fun

I am intrigued to read of Florida’s special session on high-speed rail and the Republican Governor’s endorsement of it, especially given that he’s in a tight primary race. It’s not that Republicans never support transit, but it appears that Florida Republicans seem to want to frame it on the basis of fiscal responsibility (how expensive it is to build rail) rather than how it stimulates economic growth.

“Debate quickly became polarized on the session’s first day with nearly one-third of legislators absent. Supporters said rail projects would spur hundreds of thousands of new jobs and ease traffic congestion, while opponents disputed job-creation numbers and said the price tag is too high.”

It seems like there is enough support for both SunRail and Tri-Rail from the legislators in Central and South Florida, respectively, for this high-speed rail plan to move forward.  The concept needs support in “swing states” like Florida to catch on elsewhere.  I know plenty of people who work in one part of Florida and have to travel to other parts regularly, and this would help them and enhance the tourism experience for lots of visitors.  Even in a relatively big state, I think it could work if it’s competitive with driving–three hours from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando, say–and with flying on price (maybe $20 for that trip?).

Terror on the…rail line?

(With apologies to Billy Joel–bonus points for anyone who can cite the song lyric)

I am a little surprised by this–didn’t realize transit systems outside of New York and DC took such anti-terrorist precautions.

Starving South Florida’s commuter rail?

I visited my family in Florida over Memorial Day weekend and read several stories in a few days time (and there are several from earlier) that document a dispute between the state of Florida and transportation officials in the South over funding for commuter rail (Tri-Rail).  Evidently, the Tri-Rail folks are asking for a $2 rental car fee to offset cuts they’re taking from the local jurisdictions who provide much of their funding, and the state Legislature balked.  Now, there’s talk of the elimination of all weekend service and much less frequent service during the week.

For all the good stuff happening in transit these days, it’s disheartening to see the lack of political will to at least sustain existing levels of transit service.  I have ridden Tri-Rail a couple of times, including from the Fort Lauderdale airport, and I have generally found it to be comfortable, clean, easy to use, and popular.  South Florida is a huge, sprawling region, and while a single commuter rail line may not make much of a dent, the dent it does make is meaningful and should serve as the backbone of further service for a very congested region.

Separately, here’s another interesting story about how high-speed rail (between major cities) in Florida might stack up against others’ proposals.

South Florida’s Transit

I visit South Florida often to see family and take vacation.  I’ve had to convince my wife and family that the area does, in fact, have ways to get around that are not car-based–despite land-use planning that makes transit planning a challenge.

On a Saturday morning, I took Broward County Transit from my parents’ house in Plantation (a western suburb of Fort Lauderdale) to a museum in downtown Fort Lauderdale.  My sister-in-law dropped me and my nephew at the bus stop–a one minute drive that replaced about a 15 minute walk.  The #30 bus arrived on time and brought us right to the heart of downtown, a couple of blocks walk to our final destination (the New River Inn).  The bus was fairly crowded for a Saturday morning.

The fare for my nephew and me came to $1.85 ($1.25 for me, $.60 for him).  I did not carefully study the fares beforehand to know that his fare would be the slightly awkward 60 cents, so I didn’t get any change back for a 75 cent payment.  But it looks as if the youth fares will increase to 75 cents shortly.  I was glad to see that fares for youth (roughly half the regular fare) applied to anyone 18 or younger, especially since lots of teenagers might take the bus to jobs and not have a lot of disposable income.  I did not need a full-day pass so I didn’t get one, though the price ($3) seems fairly reasonable given that would be cheaper than three regular fares.  The monthly pass ($46) also seems fair given that works out to paying less than two fares a day.

More generally, in terms of finances, I am fairly certain we saved money on the bus without much (or any) real inconvenience.  Had we driven, it would have taken about 15-20 minutes (instead of the 25-30), and it would have cost me both the gas and the parking.  We stayed for around three hours, so parking would probably have run at least $3 if we were able to park close to the site (very limited spaces).  Factoring in gas, I would estimate we cut our costs about in half.

We had another interesting and somewhat difference experience taking our nephews to the Miami Zoo.  Leaving from downtown Fort Lauderdale, we boarded Tri-Rail, the commuter line connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and the Palm Beaches.  We had about a 30 minute ride ($6.75 roundtrip per adult, $4 per kid–total $28.25) to the transfer point for Miami’s Metrorail, where we rode the elevated subway for about 40 minutes ($2 per adults, $1 per kid–$7 each way, $14 total), and then transferred to a 30-minute Metrobus ride to the zoo’s entrance (free with the train ticket).  Altogether, we were in transit more than two hours each way to get to the zoo, and we spent around $45 on transit for three adults and two kids.

One interesting element of the Metrobus ride was the use of a dedicated lane for buses to avoid traffic on US 1 parallel to it.  It made the bus ride much more expedient and pleasant.

Driving, we would have needed at least an hour each way, perhaps as much as an hour and a half or more with traffic on the Florida Turnpike, plus around six gallons of gas (in a Nissan Armada SUV, around $12 now, though was double recently), plus tolls ($4 total with Sunpass).  Financially, driving had an edge (fairly substantial); chronologically, it also had an edge (less substantial).

My wife and sister-in-law did the transit route to make me happy, and the kids enjoyed it, too; they like the adventure of riding transit.  But I think it’s a tough sell, particularly when you’re looking at 2-3 different tickets to ride and paying significantly more than you might by driving.  I think it points to the possible need either for locating zoos nearer to transit (where fewer changes are needed) or for creating more local zoos rather than the larger regional model like the Miami Metrozoo.

I also think transit systems located adjacent to one another could consider developing a shared card (comparable to the TexTag here that works on toll roads around the state).  That way, you could store value on it for commuter rail, light rail, subway, bus, etc. and easily transfer from one to the other without worrying about remembering different fare amounts or stopping for tickets.