Editorials

Metrobus gets better, but not yet perfect

Randy Plant, who commutes from South Beach to Coral Gables each day, waits — and waits — for a Metrobus.
Randy Plant, who commutes from South Beach to Coral Gables each day, waits — and waits — for a Metrobus.

Get more people to take public transportation has always been seen as a vital cog in helping us navigate our way out of crippling traffic gridlock.

The current mantra of county leaders attacking the problem is this: People have to leave their cars behind and jump on Metrobus, Metrorail, Tri-Rail, All Aboard Florida or even a bike.

But a Miami Herald analysis — a deep dive into 27,000 complaints filed by those who ride county buses daily — offers a glimpse into why so many people dread the ride, when they should find it an easy way to commute. That’s because on too many routes, it is anything but a breeze.

The stack of complaints examined were filed by bus passengers since the start of 2014 through July 2015. They detail “what irks, enrages and horrifies the system’s 210,000 daily passengers.”

In short, the Herald probe by reporter Douglas Hanks reveals the underbelly of the bus-riding world.

The system’s failings are making people late for work with soft route schedules that leave riders fuming — along with their employers; forcing riders to watch fellow passengers eat meals on board, then cringe at the crawling roaches that result from the leavings. Then there’s the inconsiderate behavior of those drivers who zoom right by a scheduled stop, leaving riders stranded in their fumes.

Credit Miami-Dade leaders, especially Mayor Carlos Gimenez, for addressing this embarrassment. In July when he unveiled his budget, Mr. Gimenez trumpeted dollars for bus cleaning. “I don’t care how old they are. They have to be clean,” said Mr. Gimenez. “And they have to be safe. And they have to be on time.”

Mr. Gimenez has pledged to usher in an era of cleaner, more efficient and newer buses along with a reworking of route maps and schedules.

This year, Miami-Dade made its largest bus purchase since 2007 — investing a whopping $70 million for 45 extra-long buses for the county’s busiest routes. County officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday for one of the 60-foot vehicles.

Great.

But how did the Metrobus system become so unreliable? Wasn’t the half-cent transportation sales tax passed in 2002 supposed to finance the system? Hah!

In recent years, the recession made matters worse. Money earmarked for upgrades instead subsidized bus operations to help county’s general fund, the pool of property taxes and other dollars that sustains the Miami-Dade Transit Department. Some union leaders blame Mr. Gimenez’s austerity measures, too.

The county points out that the bulk of the complaints are about delays, and those are largely because of Miami-Dade’s congested roads. Yes, buses basically get stuck in the same traffic jams that the rest of us do. In addition, the fleet is aging and suffering more breakdowns.

Regardless, making Metrobuses run on time must be a top priority for the county in the fight to fix our traffic problems.

All components play a critical role, from the potential of the Underline along U.S. 1 to All Aboard Florida — rechristened Brightline on Monday — to Metrorail, Metromover and, yes, Metrobus.

Most important, it is imperative that county leaders continue to follow through and make Metrobus the well-oiled and well-regarded system that it should be. The county should not be complicit in making residents late for work, at risk of lost wages — or a lost job.

With the promises of the 2002 half-penny sales tax repeatedly broken, the county cannot break faith with its residents yet again.

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