If your daily commute has changed because of the pandemic, you’re not alone. In the beginning of the pandemic, the coronavirus left crippling effects on the Miami-Dade public bus transit system.
What would typically be a bustling morning at the transit station in front of the government center in downtown Miami as people get to and from work is more quiet these days.
“We know that there’s a lot of people working from home, working virtually or business that are closed – so I think that the drop in ridership has a direct correlation with that," said Alice Bravo, former director of Miami-Dade Transportation and Public Works.
Following stay-at-home orders issued last March, ridership in April 2020 dropped 64 percent compared to April 2019. In November, the numbers slowly crept up, but it’s still not close to pre-pandemic levels with nearly 37 percent less people taking the metro bus.
“You can see downtown how light traffic is, so obviously a lot of office jobs are easy for people to work virtually, but we want people to know that our system is safe,” says Bravo.
The county says it’s doing everything it can to protect riders, hoping this would encourage people to come back.
They’ve enforced social distancing, mask-wearing, and the use of hand sanitizers on board. Bus drivers are now completely sealed from the passengers with polycarbonate doors. Another incentive to riders, there’s no charge to hop on - for now.
That will soon change as the county is preparing to resume fares on buses and metro rail. However, months of no fares means less revenue. Last year, the county collected about half the revenue it collected the year before.
From 2019 to 2020, $40.4 million was collected, compared to $81.9 million from 2018 to 2019. To make up for that huge loss, the county received CARES Act funding from the federal government.
“That certainly helped us stay afloat so with the ridership being down - even with the fares being suspended, there would be a revenue impact to us,” says Bravo.
Some passengers say more must be done to get the system up to speed.
“I noticed there’s a lot of change between times. Sometimes it’s on time and sometimes it’s not on time,” said Antonio Echevarra, who moved to Miami from New York City.
Echevarra relied on public transportation most of his life, never needing to learn how to drive. Now, what he calls lag in wait times, long commutes and an unreliable metro bus has him thinking about finding a new way to get around.
“I’m thinking about eventually getting my driver’s license and learning to drive, but right now this is what I’m doing right now,” says Echevarra.
It takes Echevarra about two hours to get from his home to work in South Beach, a commute that would take 45 minutes if he drove.
“If this keeps going like this, I’m not going to rely on this, I would have to do something else in the future.” says Echevarra.
The county suspended some nightly bus routes to add more buses during the day. In fact, during peak hours they would normally have about 50 buses, but they’ve added 80 to 100 supplemental buses during the day. The county hopes to create lanes on major highways for buses only to cut travel time.
“We’re a young city and we’re, I say we’re like a teenager – we have these great tools, we have the metro rail, we have the train system and the buses and we’re starting to build up the density around those systems that leads to more ridership,” says Bravo.
Bravo says the transit system is always adjusting and always responding to different factors. If you plan to take the transit system, the county strongly recommends riders to use the GoMiamiDade app to plan trips more effectively.