In a race pitting the trains, trolleys and buses of American cities, Miami would finish in the middle of the pack. Miami’s oft-maligned public transportation system ranked No. 52 among 100 cities with the best and worst transit, according to a WalletHub study.
Seattle earned the gold medal with 77.97 points. Boston, anchored by the 122-year-old T, the first subway in the nation, was No. 2, followed by San Francisco with its cable cars and streetcars. Indianapolis lagged far behind in last place.
Miami scored 55.86 points and placed ahead of such major cities as Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia but behind Washington, D.C. (4), New York (7), Minneapolis (11), Denver (12), Los Angeles (14), Chicago (22) and Atlanta (47).
In car-dependent Florida, the state that public transit forgot, no cities cracked the top 50. Tampa (98) and St. Petersburg (99) were ranked near the bottom. Hialeah (78), Jacksonville (61) and Orlando (56) did not fare well, either.
City scores were based on 17 metrics. Miami-Dade County’s combination of Metrorail, Metromover, Metrobus and municipal trolleys earned a No. 20 ranking in the Accessibility and Convenience category and a 45 in Safety and Reliability, but bombed at 94 in Transit Resources, which means funding for system upgrades and maintenance (age of fleet) and scope (number of system miles and number of vehicles per capita).
San Francisco had the top Accessibility and Convenience rank, Madison, Wisconsin, had the top Safety and Reliability rank and Reno, Nevada, with the youngest fleet, had the top Transit Resources rank.
In creating its list, WalletHub, a personal finance website, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Transit Administration, American Public Transportation Association, Center for Neighborhood Technology, INRIX and input from five urban planning experts at U.S. universities.
The biggest challenges facing public transportation systems are under investment and overcrowding, said Jonathan Levine, professor of urban planning at the University of Michigan.
Levine suggested five measures that local and state governments could take to make public transit more appealing: Add dedicated, signal-prioritized lanes for buses; eliminate parking requirements for new developments, which has been done in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Buffalo and Hartford; eliminate single-family zoning to encourage higher density, as was done in Minneapolis; implement congestion pricing for areas that have high-income car commuters, like downtown Miami, and discourage Uber and Lyft from duplicating service in best-served areas.
Frequency of service (shorter wait times), better sidewalks and bike lanes, and comfortable stops and stations will attract riders, said Greg Griffin, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Miami-Dade County, in partnership with Transit Alliance Miami, is redesigning the bus route network to streamline frequency.
Improved transit service improves the economic health of cities and residents struggling with housing affordability, he said.
“Viewed at the scale of a metro area, the benefits of transit are staggering,” he said. “A study from Cal-Berkeley and Rutgers estimated that a 10% per capita increase in transit service indirectly supports between $1.5 million and $1.8 billion in wage increases per metro area.”
Suburban sprawl and tax-supported highway expansion are the main factors working against urban transit, Griffin said.
Deferred maintenance is the chief problem plaguing legacy rail systems such as New York’s 665 miles of subway tracks and Miami’s Metrorail, said Michael Smart, associate professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers. More federal funding should be shifted to train maintenance rather than earmarked for new construction, he said.
The benefits of public transit far outweigh the cons, so gridlocked cities like Miami must stop designing themselves as car-centric places to live and work, said University of Connecticut professor Norman Garrick.
Using public transit is cheaper and less stressful than driving a car. Public transit provides opportunities for people who can’t afford to own a car. It reduces pollution while making cities more attractive.
“It’s much safer for the public as a whole,” Garrick said. “If we had more PT we would not be killing 40,000 people per year [in vehicular accidents].”