Palmetto Bay is planning a partnership with Florida International University and Miami Dade College to use its bus service, the I-Bus, to transport students to FIU’s Modesto Madique Campus and MDC’s Kendall Campus.
A punny nod to the ibises that visit the village’s parks and neighborhoods, the I-Bus was launched in 2006 to connect Miami-Dade Transit routes and “increase the amount of destinations on a fixed schedule,” according to the village’s website.
With funding help from a surtax from the People’s Transportation Plan and a municipal share of the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust, the I-Bus became a reality.
“[The] initial goal was for an internal shuttle as well as serving the transportation goal of being a ‘first and last mile’ service between the busway (now known as the ‘transitway’) and internal Palmetto Bay,” Mayor Eugene Flinn wrote in an email.
Plans for the I-Bus began in 2004 when 20 residents were interviewed about their transportation concerns. Following several stakeholder meetings and three public workshops, the I-Bus came to fruition, along with several other plans to solve long-term transportation issues within the neighborhood.
The I-Bus is now used for community tours to historical spots, community picnics and community events, but Flinn said he has bigger plans for it.
“I want to work out an FIU shuttle (as well as Miami Dade College Kendall Campus) because I am hearing from people who would in fact make use of such a route,” Flinn wrote. “I want the village I-Bus to be responsive to the needs of our residents — which means it should go where it serves the most riders, not merely be an intellectual exercise.”
The project started out with two buses, later adding a third as backup. The village council recently purchased two more buses to replace the two original ones.
“These buses have been funded by the [half-cent] sales tax, not directly from [residents’] property taxes,” he wrote. “In fact, if we can increase ridership or use for school [drop-offs] and pick-ups, we will probably be looking to purchase additional buses to reduce traffic congestion on Village roads.”
Susannah Bruns Ali, assistant professor at FIU’s Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, approves of the I-Bus connecting its route to FIU.
“As a university that serves our community, exploring ways that local governments can partner with FIU to improve access for students is a good thing,” she wrote. “Many students struggle with traffic and parking that requires them to either build in more time for commutes or risk being late for class. Local governments would also benefit from reducing the number of cars on the road if more people had reasonable public transportation options.”
Others, however, oppose the council’s plan.
“The I-Bus operation in The Village of Palmetto Bay has been a complete failure,” wrote community member Don Waters. “It is just another example of politicians with good intentions, providing expensive services to the public, which the public does not need or want.”
Waters also mentioned that out of the 20,000 residents who live in Palmetto Bay, less than 20 people take the advantage of the free bus on average. He added that Flinn and Councilman David Singer have “only slightly admitted to the non-usage” of the I-Bus and presented a new reason for its use.
Flinn wrote that linking the I-Bus to FIU comes with a few challenges and expressed how varying demographics within different cities can contribute to those challenges. People who are resistant to change might reconsider, he said, especially if they are “card carrying” members of Miami-Dade Transit.
“There are a few obstacles that currently include a [two-mile] limit to use outside our municipal boundaries (which we are working with our County Commissioner to try to resolve) as well as setting up the most efficient and convenient drop-off/pick-up sites at the college campuses,” he wrote.
Ali agreed the I-Bus is underutilized and that some serious questions need to be asked before the plan is implemented.
“The first is the cost,” she wrote. “This service would need to support enough students from Palmetto Bay for it to make sense as a use of taxpayer dollars. Another approach is to partner with other local communities to make it more cost effective.”
She noted the plan would also require exemptions from the county government because Palmetto Bay has limits to how far their buses can travel.
“FIU needs to think of this idea in terms of current policies about transportation on campus,” she wrote.