So here we are in February, 2018, lots of talk about a SMART plan for Miami-Dade County to include six corridors, including our very own busway, now called the Transitway that goes from Dadeland all the way to Homestead and Florida City – 21 miles of county owned corridor ready to be enhanced with rapid transit. There is much activity happening with the county department transportation studying the issue, lots of public input and, as usual, lots of political gymnastics and gyrations. The good news is our county DOT is doing a thorough study on the best mode of rapid transit for the Transitway, balancing cost with the need to get commuters out of their cars to use transit to reduce congestion and shorten the commute time. While the county DOT study has not come to a conclusion as to the mode of rapid transit it will endorse, all signs point to a recommendation for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The reason I say this is because the hard facts and numbers point to it. There is simply not enough money available to extend Metrorail all the way to Cutler Bay, Homestead and Florida City. The current daily ridership on the Transitway is approximately 16,000. To make a Metrorail extension viable, the technology that supports it requires at least 45,000 riders a day. The cost benefit analysis using federal guidelines simply doesn’t work for a Metrorail extension with today’s level of residents – and getting to 45,000 is decades away. So what’s the solution? BRT. Now before you shout out “I hate buses”, hear me out.
While I recognize everyone loves trains, as I do, when talking about expanding our transit system everyone needs to be realistic about what is doable in today’s environment and be focused on getting something done now, as opposed to years away, if ever. Extending Metrorail is simply impossible unless someone can find a money tree growing near county hall. There is little funding money coming from the federal government for transit as we learned recently in the Trump infrastructure plan.
The solution that can be achieved relatively soon is BRT. BRT is not what we currently have on the Transitway – express bus service. BRT is a wholly different mode of rapid transit. The vehicles are designed like rail cars with doors opening on both sides and you pay before accessing the platform just like Metrorail, so boarding is quick. The stations will be built to be retrofitted for rail when ridership makes rail feasible. A BRT system could be up and running in a few years since the transit way already accommodates vehicle traffic.
BRT is already being successfully used in the United States. The Orange line in Los Angeles opened in 2005 and operates on a dedicated former rail right of way, just like our Transitway. It has been proven to be highly successful with a daily ridership of approximately 25,000. Similarly, the BRT system in Eugene, Oregon has been successful with its system expanding. Cleveland, Ohio’s BRT line has been a catalyst for economic development from down town to the suburbs.
It is incumbent on the political leadership at the county level and in the municipalities along the Transitway to take a leadership role by educating the public that while everyone likes trains and would prefer an expanded Metrorail system, we simply can’t afford it or justify it with the ridership we currently have on the Transitway. But we do have an option that is successful in other cities, namely BRT – not “your grandfathers bus system” but rather a rapid transit system on rubber wheels that looks, acts and transports people just like rail but at significantly less cost, and importantly, can be up and running in as little as two years. It is time for real leadership from our to elected officials!