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The First Mile, The Last Mile And Other Public Transit Day Adventures

Kate Stein
Commuters purchase Metrorail tickets at Palmetto Station in Medley on Public Transit Day, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

I'm a car driver, but for Public Transit Day on Friday I made a commute via foot, bus and train.

I say, "a commute" because it wasn't the commute I make to work every morning. Instead, I "commuted" between WLRN's studios at the Miami Herald in Doral and our studios in downtown Miami.

  Happy#publictransitday, South Florida! @luis.ferdy.hernandez and I are documenting our commutes this morning. I'm leaving Doral now, making my way to downtown #miami by foot, #bus and #train. I'll be documenting the experience here for @wlrn. Hope to see you en route! A photo posted by @steikat360 on Dec 9, 2016 at 7:23 a.m .EST

By car, this route usually takes me about 25 to 40 minutes, depending on the time of day. The Miami-Dade County Transit Tracker app estimated it would take about 80 to 90 minutes by transit -- twice as long. That's kind of what I expected since urban planner and Miami City Commission candidate Ralph Rosado explained to me earlier this week that parts of Doral have what's called a "first-mile/last-mile problem."

Read more: #PublicTransitDay: From Kendall To Downtown

That's when you live somewhere where it's hard to get to transit hubs like bus stops or train stations. You might have to walk a mile to just access the transit system. Or the nearest stop to your destination might be a mile from the destination itself.

"If you're west of the Palmetto [Expressway], it becomes really, really challenging if you're not a driver," Rosado said. "Doral is challenging, challenging, challenging."

  Walking down NW 33rd Street in Doral, I'm experiencing the "first mile/last mile problem" that's common in #miamidade #transit especially in the western part of the county. Basically, some residents may have to walk a mile to get to that first bus/train/transit stop and even get into the transit system. In the heat or rain, or if you're elderly or have a disabilities, that can be rough. I've got about a 15-minute walk to my first bus stop. @wlrn A video posted by @steikat360 on  Dec 9, 2016 at 4:45am PST

I experienced the first mile/last mile problem on both ends of my commute.

Leaving the Herald's building on Northwest 91st Avenue in Doral, I had to walk about 10 minutes to the bus stop at Northwest 33rd Street and  87th Avenue. And when I got to my final transit stop -- the Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre Metrorail station in downtown Miami -- I still had to walk another 15 minutes to WLRN's studios near the Adrienne Arsht Center. (A colleague later pointed out I could've taken the free MetroMover instead, but that option didn't appear on the Transit Tracker app.)

Read more: Planning Your Morning Commute? Imagine Planning It For All Of Miami-Dade

I like walking and the weather was nice -- cool and overcast. But that walk would have been taxing under different circumstances -- if it were hot or raining; if I were carrying bags of groceries; if I were elderly or had a disability.

  Made it to the 87th Ave/33rd St bus stop in 10 minutes -- better than the 15 predicted by the #miamidade #transit app. Yay time savings! @wlrn A photo posted by @steikat360 on Dec 9, 2016 at 7:57 a. m. EST

At the 87th Avenue bus stop, I snapped a photo for Instagram and was excited to see that I'd arrived just in time for a route 87 bus pulling into the stop. Eagerly I climbed on board, and immediately experienced a moment of panic -- I'd forgotten to check if I had enough small bills for the $2.25 fare. After watching me fumble through my wallet for change, the driver took pity and let me on for only $2. Which was great! Except that I'd gotten on an 87 bus going the opposite direction of Palmetto Station and it took me five or six stops to figure that out.

  Yeah, so that was the wrong #bus. I was feeling pressure to get on bus 87 to Palmetto Station, so I was psyched when I saw an 87 bus pulling into the stop. Also a bit panicked because I'd forgotten to see if I had small bills for fare. The super nice driver let me on for only $2, but it might have been better if he hadn't, because now I'm farther from downtown than I was when I started. Need to go the other direction. #directionallychallenged #transit #reporter #struggles on #publictransitday @wlrn A video posted by @steikat360 on Dec 9, 2016 at 8:18 a.m. EST

(This wrong bus snafu was all the more pathetic because I'd taken a picture of the sign saying that the bus goes to Dadeland North Station... i.e. NOT Palmetto Station. See above.)

Read more: Meet The Brains Behind South Florida's #PublicTransitDay

I got off the bus and the driver -- the one who'd let me on for $2 -- told me to cross the street, get on the 87 bus going the other direction and tell the driver I'd taken the wrong bus. I did, and she let me on for free. Awesome!

After that 45-minute user-error detour, I got to the Palmetto Metrorail station.

  Finally made it to Palmetto Station! It's nice. I'd come here more often except it's kinda far from our offices and my house, and also, I have a car. #publictransitday organizers say they're targeting would-be #transit users like me, who want the most efficient way to travel. For this Doral to downtown commute, a #car is waaay faster than #transit -- even if you take the right bus. @wlrn A video posted by @steikat360 on Dec 9, 2016 at 9:10 a.m. EST

It was nice. The station was clean with new-looking ticket kiosks and had a fair amount of parking. And I worked most of the way, making use of the free Wifi -- although I wished there had been a way for me to charge my phone. But still, the half hour on the train to the Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre station was way more productive than my morning commute usually is.

(And safer, too, since I sometimes eat breakfast while driving to work.)

At the Lyric Theatre station, I talked with Michael Richardson, a University of Miami Ph.D student who's been using public transit pretty regularly over the past year because of car problems. Richardson was commuting from Miami Beach to UM's Coral Gables campus, and he said he likes Metrorail, but thinks the county could improve its bus tracking system.

  Ph.D student Michael Richmond commutes from Miami Beach to UM. Today he took Uber Pool to the Overtown/Lyric Theatre Metrorail station, and will ride the train to campus. One aspect of #miamidade #transit he'd like to see improved? #bus timing and tracking. "You can be waiting three hours for a bus and then all of the sudden you get two of the same buses in a row." #publictransitday @wlrn A photo posted by @steikat360 on Dec 9, 2016 at 9:52 a.m. EST

"It [the Miami-Dade transit app] only tracks about half the buses, if that," Richardson. "The rest, it just goes on a schedule of when it's supposed to be there. And with Miami traffic, it's impossible to tell when you're going to be anywhere."

Miami traffic. That's what it all seems to go back to.

I regret that my job isn't more conducive to using public transit and cutting down on traffic (and pollution) here. As a reporter who frequently pursues breaking news stories, a car is a must-have. Miami-Dade's current transit system just isn't well-connected or fast enough if I need to race to cover a story.

But I've heard reporters in major public transit cities like New York City and Chicago don't have to have cars -- even when covering breaking news. Hopefully that will someday be the case in South Florida.

  Made it to @WLRN! #publictransitday #miami #miamidade #phonedying A photo posted by @steikat360 on Dec 9, 2016 at 10:23 a.m. EST

This story has been updated to include information about the MetroMover.