Miami-Dade County

To combat crowded buses, Miami-Dade expands the fleet

One of the new extra-long buses pulls away from the government center in dowtown Miami passing a staionary one after the formal unveiling on Monday.
One of the new extra-long buses pulls away from the government center in dowtown Miami passing a staionary one after the formal unveiling on Monday. wmichot@miamiherald.com

Almost four dozen extra-long buses now cruise Miami-Dade’s busiest bus routes, a rare and welcome influx of new vehicles for a fleet well behind in its expansion plans.

County officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday for one of the 60-foot buses, a vehicle so long it turns on an internal swivel and can hold 100 passengers at a time. Each accordion bus (a nickname for the flexible part of the bus around the swivel) costs about $980,000 and Miami-Dade has funding to buy up to 64 of them. Roughly 45 have been purchased, and they’re being deployed to what transit administrators say are the county routes most in need of reinforcements.

“Before we purchased these buses, many people commuting on the busway were being left in the dust,” County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said at Monday’s event, referring to the express lane for buses in southern Dade. “The express buses were full. They were leaving people behind at the bus stops. That is not happening anymore with the capacity of these new buses.”

A recent Miami Herald analysis of nearly 27,000 complaints by county bus passengers since 2014 showed missing buses were the top gripe — because a bus was late, nowhere to be found or driving by without stopping. An aging, unreliable bus fleet is the primary culprit — in reports, administrators cited breakdowns as a reason buses weren’t making their stops on time.

Miami-Dade’s 815-bus fleet outpaced all but the largest bus systems in terms of mechanical problems in the latest federal data, and replacements have been slow to arrive. When elected officials successfully campaigned for a half-percent sales tax in 2002 to improve the county’s transportation system, one promise was to add 600 buses to the fleet. More than a decade later, the fleet has grown by less than 200.

The latest purchase, part of a $70 million authorization commissioners approved in June, is the biggest bus buy that Miami-Dade has made since 2007. It purchased 25 accordion buses in 2009, using funds from the federal stimulus program. Those buses were also 60 feet long, giving them 50 percent more room than the fleet standard of 40-foot buses.

The new buses have been on the road for several weeks. Among the routes that have them are the 34 and 38 (both run on the South Dade Busway), the 3 and 93 (downtown Miami to Aventura Mall), and the 27 and 297 (running north from Coconut Grove on 27th Avenue). They’re powered by hybrid engines running on diesel fuel and electricity.

Miami-Dade’s largest batch of accordion (or “articulated”) buses did not come without controversy. Commissioners delayed approving the purchase until June as they debated the wisdom of buying the extra-long buses, with some linking their size to traffic problems in Miami’s congested streets. Others questioned spending more on longer buses when the county could use the money to buy far more regular-sized buses.

Levine Cava was one of two commissioners to attend Monday’s ribbon-cutting; the other, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, did not speak during the ceremony. In an interview inside the pristine accordion bus available for tours, he said he didn’t see the vehicle as a long-term solution for Miami-Dade’s transit challenges. Bovo, who chairs the commission’s Transit committee, is pushing for shorter bus routes that feed into new and existing rail systems, without the need for long-haul trips that mesh well with larger buses.

“I don’t think they’re going to be an integral part,” he said of the 60-foot buses. “I’d like to see more rail.”

Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited some of bus system’s problems in touting the county’s new vehicles.

“I know there have been some routes where the buses have been overcrowded. This will alleviate that,” he said. “I want to remind everybody there is no magic bullet for our transportation problems here in Miami-Dade County.”

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