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She’s got a ticket to ride (Metrorail)

It’s our job as parents to help our kids find their way out of the safe, cozy cocoons we’ve built around them – to take risks, try new things, be independent. Only, if you’re really paying attention, it’s our children who are often forcing us out of our comfort zones.

I rode Metrorail for the first time in years the other day. That’s because my 14-year-old will start taking the train daily in the fall when she becomes a freshman at a Miami-Dade County public magnet school. Much to her chagrin, I rode with her the first day of high school orientation last week because I wanted to feel comfortable with the notion of her taking public transportation on her own. I was amazed at the number of people crammed onto the morning train.

Downtown workers, hospital interns, college kids – and lots of magnet high school students toting instruments, art portfolios and big backpacks. All of us sailing into downtown Miami enjoying our free Wi-Fi while rush-hour traffic inched along below us.

I must say I felt a little proud. Look at Miami, we’re becoming a big city.

The last time I rode on these tracks, they were known as “Metrofail.” Empty cars silently glided around the city on an unreliable and mysterious schedule.  Today, our two lines are in desperate need of expansion, but 30 years after opening, average weekday ridership is at an all-time high of 105,500

That’s still far shy of the hundreds of thousands of people that urban planners predicted would use the transit system by now, but I started to sense that we’re on our way as I gripped the pole that morning and made a mental note to stock up on hand sanitizer.

The popularity of public transit in Miami-Dade is lagging compared to many other cities, but our Metrorail ridership saw a healthy 10 percent jump last year, according to a new report from the American Public Transportation Agency. 

Is Miami ready to give up its car culture? Maybe we need our kids to push us off our congested roads. 

My older daughter already uses a free trolley system to grab an after-school snack with friends. Some of her classmates are old enough to get their driver licenses, but they haven’t bothered. I have young co-workers who rely exclusively on the Metrorail and Metromover to get to work every day. New condo buildings near the lines promise more riders.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which provides free EASY Cards to its magnet school students, has been a pioneer in this shift in the way we move around our city. Their students’ pre-dawn rides have been going on for years without any serious mishaps. Last week, my daughter’s new school administration gave a frank talk to incoming freshmen about rider smarts. 

Steer clear of conversations with strangers, they advised. Don’t dress provocatively to draw attention to yourself. Don’t linger at stations. I added a few of my own. (Master the art of the blank stare, look for a security guard or a mom with kids if you need help.)

My daughter’s first week using public transportation went smoothly. Trains arrived every seven minutes at the stop near our house, so they were easy to catch in the morning. Afternoon rides back took only 10 minutes so we could easily time pick-ups through text messages. 

Sure, I’m nervous about her out there on her own. But I figure she’ll learn more about human nature and herself on that train than she ever will in any class. Plus, I know thousands of moms and students before me have taken this route. If our city is lucky, more of us will leave the cocoon of our cars and join them.