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Buses Versus Rail: Which Would You Prefer?

Miami Herald
An artist’s rendering of a Bus Rapid Transit system. Miami-Dade transportation authorities are seriously exploring the feasibility of building three Bus Rapid Transit lines that would feature articulated buses operating on exclusive lanes.";

We recently spoke with Mayor Eugene Flinn of Palmetto Bay and Vice Mayor James McDonald of Pinecrest about the debate between new bus lines versus more rail.

The county has a plan for $115 million  to go toward a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the South Dade.

Leaders, like Mayor Flinn, along with leaders from Homestead and three other municipalities, challenged Miami-Dade officials on that issue, and are pushing for rail instead. 

Eugene Flinn: I've sat and watched the buses. I've ridden the buses and one thing I've never seen in those buses is a seat. I've seen them in the morning at 5:30 coming back from the gym where you've got the buses filled. And about a third of the bus has people standing. I've seen three buses rolling along together at the same time. The ridership is there. We just have to put the capacity in place to get these people off the roads.

James McDonald: I think the real argument is, where ultimately South Dade wants to be probably in eight to 10 years. What the county wants to do is called bus rapid transit and it's completely different than what we have now. Bus rapid transit is one step below light rail. It's not just a bunch of more buses. It means what the county proposes to do is rebuild the stations. They're going to be tubes that are air conditioned, where you pay before you get on the bus just like with Metro. So what you're going to end up with is a system that is going to move more people more quickly. We have successful BRT in Cleveland; we have a successful Orange Line in Los Angeles, which has been around for about 10 or 15 years and they are now moving into light rail because they have the ridership. Fifteen thousand people per day is not enough to spend a billion and a half dollars on rail.

Flinn: What I'm opposed to is spending money on infrastructure that we can't reverse when we need the ridership. You've got to realize you've got to put some money into this, you've got to share the pain…we've got to make the investment. You don't make the investment,  you've got a crumbling city

MacDonald: Eugene [Flinn] and I are not disagreeing. What we're saying is that the county has finally recognized that we need to do something in South Dade. But the time is not now to litigate what hasn't been done in the past. The time now is to say what can we do moving forward and that's what is the good news coming out of the county, the MPO and the Transit Department.

Flinn: We know it's going to take money to do it. Let's give ourselves a livable community.

MacDonald: Building a Metrorail style structure would probably not be economically feasible.

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.