Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other officials rode an express bus along the South Dade Transitway Corridor on Tuesday morning to test new smart traffic priority signals meant to speed up public and private transit throughout the county.
The system increases the number of green lights for buses along the corridor and reduces wait times during red lights.
The South Dade Transitway Corridor is the only bus route that currently has the system. But Miami-Dade officials plan to expand it to other thoroughfares—including U.S. 1—for both buses and cars.
"All the signals in Miami-Dade County in the very near future will be smart," Gimenez said, "which should help all commuters in Miami-Dade County to get to and from where they want to go faster."
The mayor and Alice Bravo, the county's Director of the Department of Public Transportation and Public Works, noted that the traffic signal technology decreases bus travel time along the entire South Dade busway by about 15 minutes. The system for the entire county will cost around $150 million, Gimenez said.
The signals work by communicating directly with buses, said Mark Nogaki, senior vice president for sales for Econolite, the company that's installing the system. As a bus approaches an intersection, it pings a central traffic management network, which then tries to change lights to green and minimize red light wait times.
County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. sat in the first row of the bus during the test ride with Diaz and Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. Bovo Jr. said he was impressed with the improvements.
"It speaks to what an enhanced bus system along the corridor can mean," he said.
Deion Ellison, who boarded the bus during the test ride and rides public transit everyday, added that the upgrade will help him commute north from Cutler Bay faster.
The test ride came days ahead of a vote by the county's Transporation Planning Organization on whether to develop a separate "rapid transit" bus system along the South Dade busway or instead support extending the Metrorail south.
The rapid transit option would feature modernized buses designed for group boarding, stations with permanent structures for shade and rail-like crossing arms to let buses speed through intersections like trains. Gimenez has touted the system as a cost-efficient way to improve transit and increase ridership as part of the county's SMART Plan.
He said the new traffic signals tested on Tuesday could show that improving bus transit is effective and that a Metrorail extension is unnecessary. His administration has argued that the extension is also unlikely to receive federal funding because the South Dade corridor is too rural and does not have enough ridership.
But mayors and other elected officials, including Levine Cava, are calling for the county to fulfill its promises to extend the Metrorail. Levine Cava said the county can increase ridership by using the new signals. It does not need the rapid transit system, she said.
"Just like [the signal system] shows, we can improve the ride right now," she said. "Let people know that they can reduce their commute time, and we can build our case to extend the rail line to Florida City."
Miami-Dade County mayor and county commissioners are riding a metro bus this morning to test out a new traffic light system that speeds up transit along the South Dade busway. @WLRN pic.twitter.com/Y89VF5qTXi
— Sam Turken (@SamZTurken) July 17, 2018