In 2002, when Miami-Dade voters approved a half-penny sales tax to fund mass transit in the county, they were promised the moon — namely, widely expanded Metrorail and bus services. They got, at best, the equivalent of a few orbiting space rocks.
Now, the Miami-Dade Commission may consider asking voters to voluntarily give up one of the promises made during the half-penny tax campaign that actually came true: free Metromover service. It's a new spin on a proposal that died in commission in 2015, except this time voters would get the final say.
Update: The proposal is dead, after strong pushback
Last year, Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Sally Heyman sponsored a resolution to reinstate fares on the downtown people circulator. They argued that because Metromover services some of Miami's most affluent neighborhoods and white-collar business centers, local residents and workers there can afford to pay a nominal fee. The funds raised, they argued, should go to supplement discounted transit options to those who need them more.
Fair enough, except the plan never quite made complete sense on paper.
Assuming an expected drop in ridership and a $1 fare, the New Tropic found that the plan would bring in up to $2.7 million per year (a tiny drop in the county's total transit budget). However, reinstalling and operating fare-collecting equipment could cost an initial sum of more than $9 million and another $525,000 per year to maintain the equipment.
Plus, no one can accurately estimate exactly how much ridership could drop. Metromover used to cost 25 cents, but when it became free in 2002, ridership immediately shot up more than 55 percent in 2003.
These days, Metromover also competes with the free (as of now) Miami Trolley service. The trolleys and Metromover aren't completely interchangeable systems, but they cover much of the same ground.
Amid all of that uncertainty, the commission failed to pass the proposal last year.
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According to the Miami Herald, Jordan will introduce her new plan before the Transit and Mobility Services Committee this morning.
It's unclear what exactly may take shape. There's no word yet about things like fare price or whether there will be free transfers from Metrorail and Metrobus.
Putting the issue before voters seems odd. It's a controversial idea with lots of uncertainty attached. It's no wonder enough commissioners didn't want to experience risk facing blowback for supporting last year's version of the plan. There are plenty of good reasons to put issues directly before voters. Minimizing risk for elected officials isn't one of them.
Besides, who exactly is willing to pay to campaign for the proposal? Certainly, we imagine enough downtown businesses and residents could fund a campaign to defeat it.