At the corner of a street in the cities of Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables, someone is hopping onto a brightly colored trolley that is fare-free on their trip to their destination —whether it be for work, errands, or a fun night out. In doing so, the trolley riders remind drivers behind the trolley that they could be hopping onto the trolley and saving money on gas and avoiding the frustration of the contrived parking arrangements necessary in Miami-Dade County (“the County”). In stark contrast, somewhere in Unincorporated Miami-Dade County, a monstrous accordion bus, is pulling onto the shoulder of Kendall Drive to pick-up a reluctant transit commuter. The unfortunate drivers behind the bus are then sent into a conflicting state of emotions, unsure of whether to feel sorry for the person climbing on board the worn-down bus or anger that they are now going to miss the light because the bus takes up two lanes.
This is the tale of the two approaches to rubberized mass transit; the cities have employed a fleet of trolleys that exemplify the four factors of healthy transit ridership, while the County has done the opposite. As I have previously identified, there are four factors that influence transit ridership:
- Speed and Frequency;
- Fares; and
- Alternatives are worse value.
Unsurprisingly, trolleys meet every criteria that influences ridership. Trolleys are fast and frequent, extremely attractive and inviting, free to use, and beat driving on County streets that become de facto parking lots. Compared to the trolley, County busses are slow and unreliable, unattractive and uncomfortable, cost $2.25 in fare, and do not outweigh the costs of being stuck in traffic.
The result? In cities that have opted to run trolley systems using their share of the 20% surtax fund, people are drawn to the trolley systems, increasing transit ridership and demand for additional trolleys to further service their transportation needs. The County’s solutions have not fared as well; for example, the Grove’s #249 bus route had to be cut due to low ridership numbers. The facts undeniably point out that people love trolleys and are drawn into mass transit when trolleys are offered, thereby reducing traffic congestion. Financially, trolleys are more cost-effective than busses as well. For example, each accordion bus costs approximately $1 million while each trolley costs approximately $330,000; this means that for the cost of one accordion bus, the County could buy three trolleys.
For these reasons, the County needs to embrace trolleys as one part of the county-wide transit solution. Trolleys should serve as the capillaries to the arterial rail connections of the SMART Plan, and private vehicles-for-hire should be given smaller routes to satisfy local transit connection needs for the last mile. It is therefore baffling that, despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of trolley systems, at this month’s Transportation Planning Organization (“TPO”) meeting board members were told by the Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) that the best solution to address traffic congestion on the Kendall Drive Corridor of the SMART plan is likely to involve tearing up Kendall Drive for bus rapid transit or a rail solution—with an estimated finish date of 2026. My fellow TPO board members and I were not happy with the idea of a transit solution for the year 2026 involving the destruction and elimination of existing lanes on Kendall Drive. In response, I gathered a Sunshine meeting with Chairman Bovo and Commissioner Martinez and we agreed that sponsorship of a resolution for a trolley route along the Kendall corridor of the SMART Plan using FDOT Turnpike Revenues under the Feeder Road Statutes was the best solution to relieve congestion NOW. In sum, the bureaucrats can keep talking, but the people don’t want more big busses—they want trolleys.
Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez can be reached at 305-669-4003 or via email at email@example.com.