For Carolina Levy, a South Miami resident, public transportation is a necessary hassle.
“If you don’t have a car here, it’s really hard to get around,” said Levy, 25, whose daily commute consists of one Metrorail and two bus rides, lasting nearly two hours. “It takes forever to get places. It’s dirty and smelly.”
For Miami locals, long commutes have been considered the norm. But, as the city grows, some people want transit to keep up. And trying to deal with public transportation concerns, a group of local citizens calling themselves TrAC, plans to petition commissioners to give people like Levy more options. The nonpartisan political action committee wants to make transit a priority in Miami-Dade County.
“We want accessible transportation options,” said Francine Madera, 30, one of TrAC’s supporters. “We want choices.”
TrAC’s vision is to have “freedom in movement” where residents and visitors of Miami can choose if they want to walk, bike, take public transportation or drive.
On Thursday, TrAC will join the South Florida Community Development Coalition and co-sponsor a discussion panel to promote the “complete streets” model, a resolution that focuses on making streets safe for everyone by taking a look at the roads individually and making the most appropriate street design tailored to each community.
The panel, which will be held at the downtown Miami Center for Architecture and Design, is expected to attract residents interested in the resolution along with city officials, designers, architects, urban planners and health foundations.
“Miami is growing and traffic congestion is getting worse,” said Marta Viciedo, chair of TrAC. “It is up to TrAC to show better possibility.”
Viciedo, 36, formed TrAC, which stands for Transit Action Committee, in July 2013 hoping to make Miami’s transit system more efficient and reliable.
The initiative came after Viciedo organized several transit advocacy demonstrations, including the imaginary pop-up rail station event Purple Line, where she was encouraged by others to start a PAC.
“I am blown away by how much support and interest there is in transit,” said Viciedo, who owns Urban Impact Lab, a creative space making and civic engagement company.
With the help of friend Juan Cuba, 28, and her husband Irvans Augustin, 43, the team of three was able to make TrAC an official PAC and hold several events.
Today, approximately 300 individuals are members who have attended at least one of the events or signed up online.
The group holds monthly meetings open to the public and advocates heavily on social media. By putting public transit on the political agenda, the organization believes it can bring about change.
“Our job is to find the places where things can be right and advocate for those,” said Viciedo, who thinks the current transit system lacks connectivity. “To get people engaged into the topic and have them relate that information back to their elected official and raise awareness.”
Carol Coletta, who helped introduce bus rapid transit to the city of Chicago and was a board member of the Active Transportation Alliance, thinks TrAC can make a big difference in Miami.
“Although they are doing it with a relativity small group of people, once they get past this part, they will expand and get a lot more people involved,” said Coletta, who now lives in Miami and is the vice president of community and national initiatives at the Knight Foundation.
Coletta said for TrAC to be successful, it will need people and money, but its movement is extremely important to the future of the city.
“Our risk here is that we are not investing in transit as quickly or as ambitiously as cities that compete with us for business and people,” said Coletta, who hasn’t owned a car in a decade. “That [failure to invest in transit] will put us at a disadvantage that we don’t need to be at.”
Public Information Officer of Miami-Dade Transit, Irene Ferradaz, agrees but argues that most of the existing transit budget is allocated to maintenance and operations.
“More funding would allow us to grow, possibly extend the Metrorail line and purchase more buses,” Ferradaz said. “As soon as transit becomes a priority to elected officials because of advocacy, things could change.”
The first opportunity for TrAC to take on the political forces will come during the County Commission elections in November. The group plans on holding fundraisers and drives to fund awareness campaigns as well as contribute to candidates that support transit policies.
While efforts to better the transit infrastructure in Miami are the focus, the group knows it will take a lot of advocating and several years before major accomplishments take place.
“It can’t be done by one commissioner or just one person,” Viciedo said. “It really takes buy in from the majority of officials to move it forward.”
In the meantime, the donation-based organization is recruiting people, businesses and developers to participate.
Some residents can already see the potential in an urbanized system.
“I love that I can take the trolley to work, but when I need to run errands outside of my area, I feel stuck,” said Sabrina Ferreira, 25, a Brickell resident, who recently sold her car to take advantage of public transportation.
Viciedo hopes to change the habits and perceptions of Miami residents who see a car as a symbol of freedom.
“Freedom is having ultimate choice,” Viciedo said. “If you can choose how to get around, that is freedom.”