Miami approves free trolley system
By Patricia Hoyos
The Miami City Commission has approved an agreement with Miami-Dade County that lays the framework for the Miami Trolley's initial fare and routes while giving the commission flexibility to make future modifications.
The agreement was needed to give the city authority to operate a transit system.
Commissioners were hesitant to set in stone a fare structure and operational hours for the rubber-tire trolley — modified buses that run on city streets — without first knowing how successful its four routes would be. However, under the agreement, the city can modify routes and fares.
"I just think we should wait until the system really takes hold," said Commissioner Francis Suarez. "In my opinion that's really the determining factor to whether the system will be viable forever."
Under the agreement, riding the trolley, which is expected to begin operations early next year, will be free initially, but the commission will reserve authority to create a fee structure that can later be amended.
The safest and best thing the city can do to ensure the system's long-term viability, Mr. Suarez said, is to carry passengers free until the city has numbers that prove people use it.
Fees are imminent, the commission agreed, it's just a matter of ensuring the system will have a ridership and, from there, figuring out what is the most appropriate charge.
Future fees will help avoid loiters and to make sure trolleys are kept clean and in good condition, the commissioners agreed.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said the Brickell Homeowners Association wants the system to be free but he thinks a fee is necessary for the trolleys to be clean, efficient and operable.
"I continue to support some fee structure because I think every time we make a small investment we expect to get some return," he said. "And when we don't make that small investment, I don't know that you get any kind of return."
Without a fare, city staff estimates that the system's funds will last until 2020. With a fare, they could potentially last until 2024. However, these projections are due to change depending on gas prices. Also, as the commission changes fares and operating hours, so will operating costs.
Mr. Suarez said, "We want to have a system that, unless replaced by something better in the future, it's a perpetual system."
During the Oct. 27 meeting, commissioners also expressed the need for data to analyze what the operating hours for each route should be. Originally, all four routes were to have the same hours, with trolleys shutting down at 8 p.m.
Commissioner Frank Carollo said the route times should meet the needs of each route. For instance, he said, closing the Health Center-Stadium route at 8 p.m. did not meet the intent of that route serving the new Marlins stadium and the retail.
The system is to run routes for Brickell-Biscayne, Overtown-Allapattah, Health Center-Stadium District and Coral Way.
The city is expected to begin receiving trolleys in January. Negotiations for a contract to run the system are still in works with LSF Shuttle.
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