Miami-Dade plans to trim Metrorail hours next week as part of a cost-cutting plan, closing down an hour earlier on weeknights and cutting back weekend service.
A memo sent to train operators Monday lays out the changes scheduled to start May 22. Instead of ending at midnight, Metrorail will close at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Metrorail will also scratch longer weekend hours announced last fall, with trains ending at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays instead of 2 a.m. Instead of starting at 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, the first trains will leave their stations at 6 a.m.
Metrorail also will roll back expanded service of the new Orange Line, the three-mile extension that opened in 2012 and connects Miami International Airport with the rest of the system. In October, Miami-Dade announced Orange Line trains would start arriving every 15 minutes on weekends, instead of every 30 minutes. On Monday, the Orange Line will revert to trains arriving at 30-minute intervals.
Monday’s announced cutbacks end an expansion of Metrorail services announced last October, when Mayor Carlos Gimenez was running for reelection on a pledge to improve transit options countywide.
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Jeffrey Mitchell, head of the rail division for Miami-Dade’s transit union, said the announcement is a significant blow for transit riders.
“It’s always been running until midnight. I’ve been here for 25 years, and it’s always been twelve o’clock,” he said. “You’re going to be turning people off. If I’m used to waiting 15 minutes and now I’m going to wait 30 minutes, I’m not going to be happy.”
Transit officials were not immediately available for on-the-record interviews. A draft press release prepared to announce the service reductions said late-night demand for Metrorail is very low, and that bus routes paralleling the Metrorail tracks run overnight. In a statement, transit chief Alice Bravo linked the Metrorail cuts to declining ridership and said “We are targeting the changes that impact the fewest number of transit patrons.”
The cutbacks on Metrorail follow an announced plan to eliminate stops on some bus routes and contract out others to save money. With gas prices low and the job market strong, public transit has been seeing declines nationwide. In Miami-Dade, Metrorail ridership is down about 6 percent this year, while bus boardings are down about 10 percent. Compounding the problem: a slump in sales taxes, including the half-percent tax that subsidizes the transit system.
Trimming Metrorail hours also comes during Gimenez’s push to build support for an historic expansion of the transit system. Known as the SMART Plan, the effort calls for expanding rail across six corridors in the county. Cost estimates range from about $3 billion to $6 billion, but expenses would drop significantly if Miami-Dade opted to use a high-tech bus system instead of rail.