Every time Miami adds a new route to its popular trolley system, it attracts more riders — so many that the county typically cuts bus service in that area. But demand is still growing, which is why the city manager is proposing to spend another $1.4 million on new trolleys in Little Haiti and Flagami.
The move signals a shift more toward city-level traffic initiatives and foreshadows a request for more transit funding from Miami-Dade County as riders shift from county buses to the free trolleys.
As part of an $8 million mid-year budget increase he's proposing, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez is requesting that the commission approve a $1.4 million expansion of the city's fleet of trolleys, which are really buses outfitted with wooden benches and exteriors painted to resemble old-fashioned trolleys.
Gonzalez told the Miami Herald he hopes to get more residents out of cars and on public transit by putting even more trolleys on streets this budget year and next.
"We want to make it so that anybody within the city of Miami can get on a trolley and go anywhere they want," he said.
The manager said such an expansion would use up all of the city's share of the countywide half-percent sales tax meant to support transit and for the first time time eat into the city's regular budget. Miami is projected to receive about $16.5 million from the transit tax for the 2018-2019 budget year. The commission will discuss the 2018-19 budget this summer and approve it in the fall.
When Miami creates new trolley routes, Miami-Dade Transit does an analysis and determines whether bus service is redundant and can be eliminated. In Miami, Metrobus route 24 was altered to have limited stops from Coral Gables to the Brickell Metrorail Station after the Coral Way trolley was added, and route 249 was eliminated after the Coconut Grove route launched.
"This is a continuous effort that we work on whenever a municipality adjusts or adds transit services and the impact to our routes is substantial," said Luis Espinoza, a spokesman for Miami-Dade Transit.
Miami officials might ask for a bigger cut of the half-percent tax or ask Tallahassee for help.
"While there are no existing conversations, the city is prepared to approach any and all stakeholders to make sure our residents get the maximum benefit of their contributions and have mobility solutions that work for them," said city spokesman Eugene Ramirez. "The county may be an option, but there may also be conversations directly with the state."
Ridership on city trolleys has grown by about one million riders each year in the past four years. In 2013, 2.3 million people rode Miami's trolleys. Through 2017, the city reported 5 million riders, with the largest growth in Little Havana. Ridership there increased by more than a half million people from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, county transit ridership numbers have continued to drop.
Four of the new trolleys will be used on the Little Haiti route and five will launch a new route in Flagami. A community meeting to discuss the new route is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at West End Park, 6030 SW Second St.
"Having residents help us design routes that work for them will continue to ensure its success," Ramirez said. "Mobility is key to preparing Miami for the future."
Miami's trolley system has routes that run through Coconut Grove, Brickell, Allapattah, Coral Way, Little Haiti, Little Havana, Overtown, Wynwood, the hospital district and downtown.