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  • Writer's pictureFrank Landrian

Fares are back for Miami-Dade transit riders, plus free Uber rides on scrapped routes Story by Douglas Hanks, Miami Herald

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava gets off a bus at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center to promote the launch Better Bus Network on Monday, November 13, 2023. The new bus route system came with a seven-week fare holiday too, but the $2.25 fares returned on Jan. 1, 2024.© Jose A. Iglesias/El Nuevo Herald/TNS

The free rides have ended for most on Miami-Dade County’s buses and trains, leaving the transit system to see how many new passengers will stick around when required to pay the full $2.25 fare.

Miami-Dade launched a seven-week fare holiday in mid-November to promote a new route map and schedule for its bus system, a redesign that launched the same day as the “Better Bus Network.” The fare waiver ended on Jan. 1, and preliminary numbers show bus trips grew about 12%, according to the Department of Transportation and Public Works. .

Anecdotally, I think it was a great way for new people to use and re-try the system with the new routes and frequencies in place,” said Shaan Patel, a board member at Transit Alliance Miami, the non-profit that helped design and promote Better Bus under a county contract.

There was hope free fares would draw new commuters to Miami-Dade transit, but early numbers show a mixed bag. Metrorail ridership was flat in November and December, said Juan Mendieta, a spokesperson for Transportation and Public Works.

Bus rides did increase about 13% in the second half of November compared to the two weeks prior to the Better Bus launch, he said. In December, the only full month with free fares, bus ridership grew 12% over the November numbers.

After Better Bus launch, free Uber rides for angry passengers

The Better Bus launch drew intense complaints from some riders who lost routes or bus stops in the change. Miami-Dade recently began offering free Uber rides along some discontinued routes, in addition to expanded shuttle services.

Not all transit riders pay fares, with the county’s long-running Golden Passport program offering free transit cards to residents over 65, as well veterans earning less than $36,000 a year. Waiving all fares also allowed quicker boardings as the county launched a new bus system with renamed bus lines, redesigned bus routes and other changes that disrupted daily habits for regular riders.

The free-fare rollout was messy: Mayor Daniella Levine Cava temporarily suspended her transit director, Eulois Cleckley, shortly after the announcement, saying she hadn’t approved a promotional plan expected to cost the county about $9 million in lost fare revenue.

Even though she called it unauthorized, Levine Cava also endorsed the free-fare campaign publicly. She called it a smart way to attract more riders to the system as the county promoted the launch of its “Better Bus Network” a thinned-down route network that dropped about 25% of the county’s bus stops and scrapped about a dozen lines to deliver quicker arrivals along main routes.

Are transit fares still free in Miami-Dade? Answer: No

Some riders have panned the new route network as forcing them to walk too far to catch a bus and get to their destinations. Part of the Better Bus roll-out included county-funded shuttle services that riders can hail in neighborhoods that lost bus routes, but that also drew complaints of inadequate service and long waits.

“If they would get it to work, I would be the happiest person,” said Barbara Walters, a regular transit rider who rides the bus from her neighborhood in Killian Pines to the Dadeland North Metrorail station. The changes to her regular bus line, the 104, added about 10 blocks to the 79-year-old’s walk to the bus stop.

READ MORE: Mayor said she learned about Miami-Dade’s free fares days after transit announced them

The county’s MetroConnect system offers rides in Walters’ neighborhood, but she said she finds too many other riders are requesting seats when she’s trying to get home later in the day. “Sometimes it takes me 30 minutes to even book a ride,” she said.

Recently, Miami-Dade announced another option for Walters and other riders in areas that lost routes or portions of them. The county will subsidize up to $25 for Uber rides along discontinued portions of six routes: Route 135 in the Miami Lakes area; Route 42 in Opa-locka; Route 104 in Kendall; routes 2 and 6 to and from the 163rd Street Mall; and Route E in the Aventura area.

Riders can book the trips using an Uber voucher available through the company’s app or a link on the county’s transit website or by calling 786-469-5555.

Mendieta said the county has paid for 172 Uber rides along discontinued routes since the launch at the end of December, with the average fare costing $12. He said the county contract with Uber caps the total cost at $250,000.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Levine Cava called the Uber vouchers part of an effort to make sure “no one is left behind as we refine and improve our public transportation system.”

“While many riders have seen increased reliability on their routes, we understand the need for accessible transportation options for all,” she said.

©2024 Miami Herald. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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