Buses on Shoulder program tests well in Kendall, officials report
By April M. Havens
Miami-Dade Transit's Buses on Shoulders program, designed to speed up traffic and encourage drivers to use public transportation, has increased the number of on-time buses for three Kendall-area routes during two months of pilot testing, officials say.
The 288 Kendall KAT, 272 Sunset KAT and 204 Killian KAT are operating on roadside shoulders during peak traffic hours, according to John Labriola, a public information officer for Miami-Dade Transit. The pilot program began during late March on State Roads 878 and 874 — the Snapper Creek and Don Shula expressways, respectively.
"For April, the on-time bus performance is significantly higher than the system average, and late buses on the Killian KAT route have decreased by 50% from earlier months this year," Mr. Labriola said.
No ridership numbers have been collected, but they will be compiled and analyzed within 90 days, Mr. Labriola said.
Johnny Martinez, Florida Department of Transportation district secretary, said the Buses on Shoulders program was a "last resort" for Miami-Dade County. "Traffic is just too overwhelming and shoulders are under-utilized," he said.
Other officials said that with minor improvements, the program can be expanded.
"So far, it is working fine from our perspective," said Javier Rodriguez, executive director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. "MDX hasn't seen any major problems or issues with the program. We have addressed some signage issues, though. We needed more signs alerting drivers that buses are working on shoulders and to be careful."
Mr. Rodriguez said the program is speeding traffic during peak hours, especially during morning and afternoon. He said the program has potential to greatly relieve traffic congestion if it is expanded to other highways — including State Roads 836, the Dolphin Expressway, and 826, the Palmetto Expressway — after construction ends on those sites, he said.
According to Mr. Labriola, Miami-Dade Transit has not drawn up expansion plans. "We will revisit it and see what the feasibility studies say and specify which highways have logistical barriers that would prevent us from expanding," he said. "We are still in the very early stages of the pilot program and have not set an end date for the pilot."
No major safety concerns or accidents have resulted from the program, according to Lt. Pat Santangelo, public affairs officer for the Florida Highway Patrol in Miami. "These bus drivers are thoroughly trained to operate on the emergency lanes," Lt. Santangelo said.
Bus drivers move to shoulders only when rush-hour traffic slows to below 25 mph. Once on the shoulder, they drive 35 mph, slow enough to prevent most accidents, Lt. Santangelo said.
"They drive very slowly on the shoulders, but slow is better than stopped," he said. "We are trying to get people out of their cars and on the buses. If we can make that work, getting around in Miami will be much easier."
Florida law requires motorists to yield to buses as they enter and exit highway shoulders — failure to do so could result in a $133.50 fine and three points on a driver's license. A $133.50 fine will result from following behind a bus on the shoulder in an attempt to pass other motorists.
But motorists aren't the only ones under radar. "We are out there monitoring buses as well as drivers," Lt. Santangelo said. "Bus drivers can get tickets for careless driving, but none have gotten tickets to my knowledge so far."
Shoulders should be repaved and other minor improvements made to take full advantage of the program, Lt. Santangelo said. "They [bus drivers] have to navigate these shoulders, which are narrow in places and bumpy in others," he said. "They are not really designed to travel on — they are for emergencies."
Lt. Santangelo said he hopes road designers take into consideration rapid transit operating on shoulders because it is an efficient and inexpensive way of improving mass transit.