How Do We Fix Miami-Dade Buses? Ride Them For 24 Hours.

Dec 13, 2018

The non-profit Transit Alliance wants to improve the "big colorful spaghetti ball" they call Miami-Dade County's bus system. 

Transit Alliance released a "Mobility Scorecard" in October, grading the health and performance of the county's public transportation system. Every sector of transit, including bus, trolleys and Metrorail received a failing grades. Now, the organization is working toward solutions.

First up on the group's list: redesigning the bus system. And the alliance recently received help from the county. Mayor Carlos Gimenez has agreed to gift Transit Alliance with $250,000 toward its "Better Bus Project," an intensive two year, community-driven initiative to rebuild and redesign the bus system, but only if the group can match the funding. As part of the project Azhar Chougle, the director of Transit Alliance, and Richard Hankins, a researcher at Transit Alliance, will both embark on a 24-hour bus ride starting at 12 a.m. Friday.

Chougle joined Sundial to talk about the "Mobility Scorecard,"  Miami-Dade County's bus system and the "Better Bus Project."

WLRN: Is there something good [with Miami Dade's public transit system] to point out here?

CHOUGLE: Yes, but it's important to recognize that a lot of people look at the Mobility Scorecard and say, 'wow things are really bad. This is this is really bad. What do we do?' I would say the Mobility Scorecard is the most hopeful document we have because it's one that sort of sets the tone for progress and makes it very clear what needs to happen. There are good things happening. The county is renewing its bus fleet for example and more so than that the county is willing to work with us to fix some of the issues in there. And that's a start.

What's one thing you could change right now about our bus system to make it more effective?

The main thing about our bus system is that systematically speaking it's not very easy to use. Let's say you have to take two buses. Let's say they both run at 30 minute frequencies. That means you have a bus coming every 30 minutes. Let's say you're getting from A to B. If you miss one bus you've lost 30 minutes. Now if you need to take two buses you could lose even more time [as] those connections stack up. We have a grid system in Miami. It should be easy to get from one place to another, but that's not the bus system we have. We have a bus system that essentially a lot of the routes just go in circles. It's like a big colorful spaghetti bowl. It's really hard for people to figure out and it's really hard for people to use it. The core facet of a good bus system is it takes a lot of people to a lot of different places and we don't have a system that does that.

What do you think you're going to get out of riding it for 24 straight hours?

If anyone wants to understand what's going on with the bus system, you kind of have to be in it. You really need to understand what's going on and more so than that you really need to understand what riders are dealing with. I think everyone in Miami, whether they realize it or not, is connected to the bus system. People sitting in traffic right now, you might be right next to a bus. You probably know someone who takes the bus to work. But the thing is, we have a large bus system. It's nearly 800 vehicles, 58 million rides a year. Two out of three transit trips are on a bus. We are all connected to it and I think to see the entire system over the span of 24 hours midnight to midnight is really to experience it firsthand but not only for us but to sort of share that story and share that experience.

What happens next and what is this relationship [with the county]?

This relationship is a really special one. If we look at the time horizon for what's going to happen with transit the next one, two, three, four, five, 10 years, this is sort of the only project where in the next two years we'll see tangible real improvement to the transit system. Mayor Gimenez recognizes that we have something that we can fix now.

Is there something we can do right now?

In order for a bus to be competitive with a car, it needs dedicated infrastructure, it needs its own lane and that's not hard to do. That doesn't cost billions of dollars. It doesn't even cost millions of dollars.

Also on today's show: 

It's holiday season! And the Adrienne Arsht Center's production of Winter Shorts is back. The experience includes seven short plays co-produced with City Theater. The plays center around family, working around the holidays and our complex relationships with faith. It might be the perfect experience for those with increasingly short attention spans. Local playwright of the short, “Hapless Disciples" Jessica Farr and actors Irene Adjan and Jovon Jacobs joined Sundial to talk about this year's production.