Public Transit Ridership in Miami Grows

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For most people in Miami, public transportation means the bus. Expanding public transit is a hot political issue, with communities north and west of the city clamoring for the rail system to be extended. Ridership is up, but at the same time, the county is grappling with rising costs and a big budget shortfall.

GREG ALLEN: I'm Greg Allen in Miami.

There is some light rail here, but for most people, public transmit means the bus.

(Soundbite of bus door opening)

ALLEN: It's 7:00 AM at the Coral Reef Stop along the South Miami-Dade Busway, and Maggie Richards is one of about a dozen people filing aboard an express bus. We will take her north several miles, where like most commuters, she'll transfer to Miami's small Metrorail system to be whisked downtown.

Ms. MAGGIE RICHARDS: The train itself is pleasant. I don't like taking the bus.

ALLEN: But what is it about the bus that makes you stop the bus?

Ms. RICHARDS: This is pretty good. We've caught it early enough that it's not bad. Normally, it's jam-packed, and the jostling of the bus and it's just crowding. You just feel like a bunch of sardines being canned into a bottle.

ALLEN: Miami-Dade Transit hasn't updated its ridership numbers recently, but the morning commuters on this bus all agree there are more people now taking public transportation. The Regional Transportation Authority that operates a commuter line running from Miami to Palm Beach says its ridership last month was at an all-time high. Until about six months ago, Maggie Richards says she used to drive to her job in Miami's financial district each day. She now pays $75 for a monthly transit pass. Standing on the Route 34 Express bus, she says there were two reasons why she switched: traffic and the price of gas.

Ms RICHARDS: And I would honestly easily say gasoline is has gone more up than 300 percent, because I know when my bills used to come, they used to be, you know, in the hundreds, and now they're in the three (unintelligible).

ALLEN: It's about 20 miles from her home to her job. Even at rush hour, when the connections are right, Richards says it's a 90-minute trip. With the return home, three hours out of her day everyday, Monday through Friday. She's not happy about it, but doesn't see an alternative. Her job is downtown. Her home and family are in the suburbs, and driving on Miami's congested roads cost more and takes just as long. It's a mess, and she holds county leaders responsible.

Ms. RICHARDS: That's what I'm saying, that it's bad planning. They need to think about a public - I mean, like, every other way to the city has public transportation, and we're still trying to figure out how to do it.

ALLEN: Expanding public transit is a hot political issue in Miami, with communities north and west of the city clamoring for the light rail system to be extended. But at the same time, the county is grappling with rising costs and a big budget shortfall. This week, as ridership appeared to be going up, but county commission voted to cut service on 16 bus routes.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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