Homestead - South Dade

When is a bus shelter not a bus shelter? Ask riders who burn their butts and get wet

A broken bus shelter along the South Miami-Dade Busway photographed on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Broken bus shelters along the Busway are missing panels and roofs, leaving passengers exposed to the elements as they wait.
A broken bus shelter along the South Miami-Dade Busway photographed on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Broken bus shelters along the Busway are missing panels and roofs, leaving passengers exposed to the elements as they wait.

As if waiting for the bus isn’t bad enough, passengers along South Miami-Dade’s Busway are taunted by shabby, neglected bus stops that don’t protect them from the rain, don’t shield them from the sun and remind them daily that mass transit is an afterthought in a county that desperately needs it.

The 56 shelters along the 20-mile busway corridor that extends from Dadeland to Florida City provide no shelter at all. Many canopies have been missing for years. Those that were damaged during Hurricane Irma six months ago haven’t been replaced.

“We’re out here suffering,” said John Thompson, a barber who relies on Miami-Dade County’s bus system five to seven days a week. Standard fare is $2.25. “I got soaked by rain recently and it’s not even rainy season yet. It stinks.”

SDF04 Shelter News rk
A deteriorated bus shelter along the South Dade busway. Broken bus shelters along the Busway are missing panels and roofs, leaving passengers exposed to the elements as they wait. Roberto Koltun

Thompson was standing under a tree at the southbound Southwest 136th Street station by the Falls mall. It was not a pretty sight, with trash, beer cans and abandoned shopping carts strewn about. The stations each feature green frames with no roof or side panels, making them look nonsensical, like someone forgot to finish building them. Yellow kiosks contain either a dead pay phone on which you can place a call to nowhere or a black hole where the phone used to be mounted.

“It’s nothing like New York, where everybody uses public transportation, but I’m used to it by now. Sometimes you’re sweating in this heat, then you finally get on the bus and the air conditioning is broken,” said Thompson, a New York native.

The shelters have one row of metal bleacher-style seats, which nobody sits on because they could burn your backside.

“Some places you can find shade under a tree, some you cannot,” said Elizabeth Andrew, who was waiting under a Royal Poinciana tree. “You better bring an umbrella.”

Christine Rupp, who commutes to her job in downtown Miami, has been riding the buses or riding her bike along the busway bike lane for three years.

“It’s inexcusable that the shelters have never been fixed,” said Rupp, executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust. “The state of the bus stops is another indication of how dysfunctional the entire transit system continues to be.”

The busway’s bus-exclusive lanes along the former Florida East Coast Railway line opened in 1997, designed to speed passengers past cars on traffic-clogged U.S. 1 that runs parallel to the route. The first phase connected Cutler Ridge to the Dadeland South Metrorail station. The last segment, completed in 2007, extended to Southwest 344th Street.

There were plans to replace the fabric awnings over the shelters with durable roofs and to build louvered side panels. A Miami-Dade Transit design rendering from 2006 touting the “state-of-the-art alternative to daily traffic congestion” shows more comfortable seats, too, and promises that “bus stations will convey each areas [sic] unique community flavor” with decorative, artistic and historical accents such as “station colors and pavement texture compatible with neighborhoods.”

A great idea to lend some character to the stations — but it wasn’t implemented. Each bland stop looks the same. Landscaping to “maximize use of canopy-shade trees and intersperse flowering trees for color” never came to be. A county promotional release says passengers can “enjoy an up-close view of the colorful landscape along the bike path that stretches the length of the Busway” — but there’s nothing lush or beautiful along the sun-blasted ribbon of pavement.

A 2006 planning document from Miami-Dade Transit showing two phases of design for bus shelters along the busway. The second phase was never implemented. Miami-Dade Transit

Each of the 56 shelters was to have maps and schedules posted in the yellow kiosks next to pay phones “for customer comfort and convenience” but it’s just a blank wall. Or you might find an occasional advertisement for El Toro auto insurance or graffiti or a stray sticker, like one from the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.

Like so many of Miami’s unattractive public spaces, the bus shelters represent wasted potential.

Miami-Dade County’s Department of Transportation and Public Works has been hampered in its efforts to replace the canopies damaged by Irma by delays in securing federal money from FEMA, which could provide up to $827,000 for repairs, said Karla Damian, spokesperson for the county transit department. But all roofs are expected to be fixed in time for the arrival of summer heat and downpours.

A subcontractor is responsible for replacing inoperable or vandalized pay phones — an ongoing process — she said.

As for the trash, the county tries to keep up with a daily cleaning schedule — and new stainless steel trash cans will be in place by April 30. Safety cameras are also to be installed. The 443 trees damaged by Irma will gradually regrow or be replaced, Damian said. And on the bright side, the county has already implemented three phases of lighting improvements at each station.

In the meantime, bring your umbrella.

“When the rain comes, you just get wet,” said Hilaria Kotto, 86, who stopped driving because of vision problems and relies on the bus. “On the other hand, the bus service is really quite good most of the time. I’m from Trinidad, and in comparison, Miami’s bus system is a peach.”

Tonia Harris leaves her home in Perrine at 6 a.m. to get to work in downtown Miami. She rides to the Busway, boards a bus to the Dadeland South Station, boards a train to the Government Center and then walks to 155 NW Third Street.