Just after 8 a.m. Wednesday, northbound passengers on Metrorail had a 50-50 chance of catching a train on time. The odds were worse for those heading south into downtown: Seven trains had waits of five minutes or less, but 12 were running slower — including one with a 15-minute delay.
The statistics come from a new real-time tracker of Metrorail trains by an advocacy group in Miami-Dade, the Transit Alliance. It uses online data from the county to calculate what the group determines are late trains, which it defines as any train that takes longer than five minutes to arrive during most of the day.
“This is about accountability,” said Marta Viciedo, a founder of the Transit Alliance, which advocates for more transit funding in Miami-Dade.
That five-minute gap between trains, known as “headway,” is supposed to be the norm for the beleaguered system, which is suffering chronic breakdowns and a shortage of working cars thanks to years of deferred maintenance and postponing the purchasing of replacement cars. The mechanical woes, coupled with funding shortfalls in 2017, prompted Metrorail to cut the number of trains on the schedule last spring. That required longer waiting times, with the average scheduled headway moving from five minutes to seven-and-a-half minutes.
Miami-Dade’s 2018 budget was supposed to fix that, by outsourcing some bus routes, eliminating others and unspecified cutbacks elsewhere designed to send money back to Metrorail to fund the original schedule. But while Metrorail did reverse its shortened operating hours earlier in January, it does not expect to restore the scheduled five-minute headway average until the summer, an agency spokeswoman said.
The county recently added the first new train in the $380 million replacement of the Metrorail fleet, and transit administrators promise the new equipment will lead to service improvements throughout the year.
“The age of our fleet is the cause of many quality of service challenges we are now experiencing on Metrorail. Our department is exploring every possible avenue to ensure that we secure the necessary resources to continue running safe and reliable Metrorail service,” said Karla Damian, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
“By bringing new trains into service, and restoring old ones, we are incrementally augmenting the number of trains available for service each month,” she continued in the written statement. “Frequency will improve each month starting this month, and by this summer, our riders should see restored service.”
For Viciedo, the continued delays at Metrorail represent a broken pledge by the county. “At the budget hearings, when they promised to reduce the headways to five minutes, I know it wasn’t possible,” she said.
The Transit Alliance tracker, which the group calls an audit, shows a significant amount of trains are delivering headways of five minutes or less. On Wednesday, 44 northbound trains and 38 southbound trains were labeled “on-time,” meaning they arrived within five minutes. But double that amount of trains exceeded the five-minute threshold. That included five with wait times of at least 20 minutes.
The site also counts what it calls “ghost trains”— scheduled trains that never appear in the system. The tracker counted 28 of them on Wednesday.
Miami-Dade’s transit agency has not issued a public statement on the new tracker, which went live on Wednesday. If agency officials comment on the tracker and its findings, this article will be updated with that information.