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'A redesign was well overdue': Miami-Dade County launches the Better Bus Network

Riders board the 100 bus from Government Center in downtown Miami to Miami Beach.
Joshua Ceballos
Riders board the 100 bus from Government Center in downtown Miami to Miami Beach. Bus fares are free from Nov. 13 through the end of the year.

South Florida public transit has been described as woefully inadequate and dysfunctional. Our region seems chained to a development culture that demands we do everything by car except walk our dogs.

But last week saw some unusual optimism on the public transit front in Miami-Dade County. On Monday, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava launched the Better Bus Network. The project, which began four years ago, is the first major redesign of Miami-Dade’s bus routes, stops and schedules in almost 40 years.

“Much has changed in the world in the last 35 plus years, so we have different concentrations of population, different job centers, different traffic patterns,” said Mayor Levine Cava, speaking on the latest edition of The South Florida Roundup. “Clearly, a redesign was well overdue.”

The new system is more streamlined and many folks will admittedly find their familiar routes eliminated. But it’s billed as a way to get more bus riders where they’re going more directly and more frequently.

The Better Bus Network is the first major redesign of Miami-Dade’s bus routes, stops and schedules in almost 40 years.
Miami-Dade County
The Better Bus Network is the first major redesign of Miami-Dade’s bus routes, stops and schedules in almost 40 years.

“We had to work very, very hard to make sure that we did not leave people in the dust and that we were creative in making sure that everybody could be served, but also putting more resources towards the ones that would really improve reliability and efficiency,” said the Mayor.

In an effort to help riders become accustomed to the new routes and possibly attract new patrons on public transportation, from now until Jan. 1, Miami-Dade’s buses and Metrorail trains will be free to ride.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade County buses set for major shift with 'Better Bus Network'

There’s also Metro Connect, the county’s free shared ride service to help people get to their stops, and a new online trip planner on miamidade.gov to help riders navigate the new routes, stops and schedules.

“We do have not only the trip planner online, but we have ambassadors. You can call 311 to get advice and instruction and we have personalized help,” she said. “This is a big reason we've gone to free fares for the balance of the year … So that people can try it [and] get used to it if they haven't used it before.”

Earlier in the year, Mayor Levine Cava joined us on the South Florida Roundup to discuss her proposed budget. Among her main priorities was the urgency of improving the county’s public transit system. One of the biggest reasons was because of how hard it is for Miami-Dade’s low-wage labor force to get to jobs.

“I think that the designers were hyper-focused on the job situation …We've got more than a half million residents reaching at least 20,000 more jobs by transit in 45 minutes or less on weekdays. So those are some significant changes that were part of the redesign,” she said.

Some riders are experiencing issues

While the mayor says they’ve received minimal disruption, not everyone has been as pleased with the Better Bus plan so far.

"This has been a scary thing," 86-year-old Noemy Guzman told WLRN, in Spanish.

Guzman rides the bus almost every day to get between home and her doctor's office. Sitting at the Omni Station in Miami the day after the launch, she said she was confused because the 10 bus, which she normally takes, has been discontinued.

"This is a terribly tangled mess. The 10 used to come here, and now it doesn't, so I got lost," Guzman said.

Other riders, like James Hughes, are frustrated that some buses are still running late despite the changes. "Everybody standing out here is going to be late for work," Hughes said while waiting for the 100 bus outside Government Center on Friday morning.

Cathy Dos Santos, co-executive director of Transit Alliance, the nonprofit group that first proffered the Better Bus Network, says her organization is taking in rider feedback from bus stops and 311 calls to help make improvements to the system over time.

Mayor Cava told WLRN they are also looking for any pain points or disappointment to see if adjustments can be made.

"There are definitely completely fair concerns that folks have," Dos Santos told WLRN. "I want to emphasize that we're trying to get the [transportation] department the best community feedback and the clearest picture of where the gaps still are so that any changes that can be done in the coming months are addressed."

For more information on the Better Bus Network, transit rates and routes, visit Miamidade.gov/betterbus or call 311.

You can listen to the full conversation at the audio link above.

Helen Acevedo, is WLRN's anchor for All Things Considered.
Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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