Fabiola Santiago

South Miami-Dade leaders are right: If they settle for buses, they’ll never get rail

A rendering of a proposed station for a "rapid transit" bus system in South Dade. The administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez has proposed a $300 million upgrade of the bus system along the county's only dedicated highway for buses, prompting protests from some elected representatives in the area who want Metrorail extended to the region.
A rendering of a proposed station for a "rapid transit" bus system in South Dade. The administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez has proposed a $300 million upgrade of the bus system along the county's only dedicated highway for buses, prompting protests from some elected representatives in the area who want Metrorail extended to the region.

When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez rolls out transportation policy for this traffic-jammed metropolis of ours — one crumb at a time — he reminds me of my first boss at a notions store in Hialeah.

He taught me to measure ribbon and lace to the exact inch, not a centimeter more — and he would watch over me to ensure that’s all I would give his customers. Shoppers, however, always asked for a tad more, lecturing me that the gesture had been customary in the golden age of pre-Castro Cuba sales. Every seamstress needed extra fabric to account for a mistaken measurement — and adding that tidbit made for loyal customers.

Like my late boss, Gimenez is short-changing South Dade residents, giving them less than they deserve — and infinitely less than the county should invest in this neglected area if economic development and dealing effectively with clogged U.S. 1 are goals.

Growing South Dade should get the $1 billion Metrorail extension residents were promised a decade ago — not a fancy $300 million “rapid transit” bus terminal, all flash and little substance, as renderings show.

Serving the public isn’t about building an attractive carcass to attract prospective developers, but about alleviating the daily hardship of riders who everyday wait in the scorching sun, thunder and rain for a bus.

How can they trust county government to deliver anything useful when, a year later, they can’t even replace the canopy of shelters torn off by Irma?

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Elena Gregory waits for the bus in the only sliver of shade she can find. Linda Robertson Miami Herald

South Dade should be linked to the rest of the county by rail that runs above the traffic, not alongside of it, exposed to the usual obstructions of accidents, road work, police activity, etc. Rail is what people want, says state Rep. Kionne McGhee, who tweeted a robocall survey of registered voters in Homestead that shows almost 70 percent prefer rail to buses.

"People in the south understand that if they settle for a bus, they'll never get a rail," he told the Herald.

But Mayor Carlos Gimenez is pushing dedicated “rapid transit” buses as a quick-fix (by 2022) — as he pushed another expressway extension, this one past the urban boundary and through fragile Everglades — allegedly to ease traffic congestion.

That 836 extension for West Kendall was a very bad idea, with our water source being at stake, but it already won approval last month. You can picture the mayor's developer friends salivating at the opportunity to pave more wetlands around the extension as they’re doing with the American Dream Miami megamall in Northwest Miami-Dade after the expansion of Interstate 75.

Now, Gimenez has asked for a vote on July 19 to proceed with the rapid system along the 20-mile South Dade busway — and, if history is a measuring stick, the political fight is likely to go his way: He doesn’t bring anything to the largely complicit commission when he’s likely to lose.

Time for residents and rail riders to muscle in if they want to be heard on this not very “SMART Plan” for South Dade. (Those capitalized letters don't fool anyone).

Transportation officials often claim that not enough Miamians ride public transportation to sustain extended rail or expansive bus routes. But the No. 1 reason our public transportation system doesn’t work as it should in a traffic-choked county isn’t a brain-buster:

Neither buses nor rail are clean and reliable these days.

Neither buses nor Metrorail always take you where you want to go. You still need a car to get to the stations.

With no shuttle service, it takes forever to get from point A to point B.

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If commissioners weren't shoveling taxpayer funds to political turkey projects that keep them in office, they might have expanded Metrorail to all points on the compass by now.

Better brains haven’t been put to work to fix all this, I dare say, because the deficiencies affect mostly the working class and students who can’t afford cars, insurance and large gasoline bills for daily long hauls.

Shortchanging bread-and-butter workers who have to live out in suburbia because cities are prohibitive hasn’t cost any incumbents elected office — but it should. It’s no way to treat customers.

Even as a teenager new to sales, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the tightwad strategy of giving customers less than they wanted and deserved was self-defeating. They could always go to the big discount stores and get the same ribbon for less. Needless to say, the notions store didn’t survive the advent of malls.

See, my boss himself never made a dress nor had to deal with running out of ribbon.

And, except for the new kid on the commission dais, Eileen Higgins, our mayor and commissioners aren’t bus riders getting a taste of the poor service they deliver.

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