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Miami Beach resident Jeff Bradley is legally blind. The 53-year-old freelance writer is among the thousands who, through necessity, rely on public transit to get around Miami-Dade County. "I drove a car until 1985, when I lost my peripheral vision," Bradley says. "I live on the Beach because it's easier to get a bus between here and downtown Miami. If I have to get to Kendall or somewhere west, forget about it. That would take me a whole day."
Bradley's love-hate relationship with the Miami-Dade Transit Agency began in 1995, when he gave up Manhattan skyscrapers for the condo canyon along Collins Avenue. "Buses were old and ratty," he says of the Metrobuses he rode nearly a decade ago. "Seats were covered in water from leaky bus roofs. It was abysmal. But they've gotten new buses on the Beach. That's a good thing."
Some problems persist. "Some of these bus drivers need classes in public relations," Bradley opines. He adds that buses serving Miami Beach run late or don't show up at all. According to public records, Bradley has complained to Miami-Dade Transit on several occasions, most recently on June 9 via the transit agency's Website. "On Tuesday, June 8 at precisely 1:08 p.m., a southbound K bus passed me at 41st Street and Sheridan Road, Miami Beach, presumably because I wasn't precisely at the bus stop, but I was running towards it waving my arms," Bradley wrote. He pounded on the side of the bus, but the bus driver ignored him. "I understand bus drivers get a lot of grief, but he's a public servant for Pete's sake," Bradley fumes later. "There is no reason for such callous behavior."
Bradley is not alone in his feelings. On an average day, Miami-Dade Transit fields dozens of phone calls and e-mails from irate transit users who gripe about late or no-show buses, not to mention rude bus drivers. Recently, New Times pored over hundreds of those complaints; interviewed dozens of transit users to gauge how the Metrobus system is working; and spent a week riding on Metrobus to experience life as a bus dependent.
Bruce Clapp, a slight, freckled, middle-age man with salt-and-pepper hair, is sitting inside a dilapidated metal bus shelter at NE 28th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. It is a quarter to noon and the heat is unbearable. The shelter looks as if it belongs on a street corner in Baghdad. Glass shards glitter on the sidewalk. Someone has stolen the electric meter from the shelter, rendering it lightless at night. Clapp waits for a southbound 3 or a 16 to take him downtown to Flagler Street and North Miami Avenue.
Clapp, age 56 and suffering from a chronic liver disorder, says he sometimes waits up to two hours for a bus to pick him up. He has a particularly jaundiced view of the system: "The bus drivers do whatever the hell they want. If they know you and they don't like you, they won't stop for you."
The transit agency, Clapp says, should hire more supervisors and adopt a zero-tolerance policy with drivers who mistreat the public. "If a bus driver gets one complaint, they should be fired!" Clapp says. "And some of these drivers need to lose weight. They're too fat."
Claudia Domenig, a 33-year-old Austrian researcher, lives on Miami Beach and uses the M to get to the University of Miami medical school campus at Jackson Memorial Hospital, located on NW Twelfth Avenue and Sixteenth Street. On November 19, 2003, Domenig says, she got on an M operated by a driver in a "foul mood." After her trip ended, she recalls, she was e-mailing a complaint to Miami-Dade Transit about the driver's abusive language toward a passenger in a wheelchair.
The passenger, Domenig says, had simply asked the driver if his safety harness was secured properly. "The driver tells the man in the wheelchair: öFuck you bitch! Fuck you!' And the man didn't do anything. I reported it to the transit agency, but I never heard back from anyone, of course."
Wencesla Rodriguez, a 56-year-old transit rider, never had a problem using her monthly transit pass until she crossed paths with a militant bus driver in Miami Beach. On October 29, 2003, Rodriguez recalls, she boarded the H at Eleventh Street and Washington Avenue. The driver demanded she show some identification to go with the pass, she says, then kicked her off the bus. "I've bought a monthly bus pass for the last five years and no one has ever asked me for an ID," Rodriguez declares. "I got off the bus in tears."
Theo Karantalis, a 42-year-old airport employee with multiple sclerosis, has filed complaints on several occasions since 2003 about the drivers on his bus routes. His first complaint was against a bus driver moving the Airport Owl too fast for Karantalis's liking. "This guy liked to step on the gas, so I told him to slow down," Karantalis says. "The driver told me to pipe down and mind my own business."
In another incident, a driver lost his temper when Karantalis was too slow to load his bicycle onto the bike rack. "The guy yells at me: öYou pulled this shit on me the other day, now hurry it up!'"