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A Radical Low-Tech Proposal to Solve Miami’s Transit Problems

Exec. Summary: create an app-controlled fleet of owner-operated minibuses in Miami

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Written by DeletedUser

A Radical Low-Tech Proposal to Solve Miami’s Transit Problems

Ask just about anyone in Miami-Dade what is our worst problem and the most likely answer you’ll get is “traffic”. Miami ranks at the bottom of any driving-related lists. Rush hours now extend three or four hours and it is considered normal to take 30 – 45 minutes to go 5 or 6 miles.

In addition to the sheer number of cars, there are two other factors making our traffic even more traffic: there is no room to expand our roads and public transportation is a pathetic joke. Metrorail (or Metro-Fail as it is often called) is just a straight line from the west (Kendall) to the east (Downtown). But Miami-Dade itself is totally spread out.

Combined Metrorail and Metromover ridership is around 2.3 million per month (of which 2.0 million are during weekdays). Assuming most people will ride back and forth and that 75% of them are the same people every day, this could be as little as 600,000 individual persons per month.

Bus ridership is around 4.6 million per month. This is minute fraction of the around 9 – 10 million trips made per day in Miami Dade. (NTHS Data 2009 projected to 2017 population). So the data is grim: public transportation serves a small fraction of our transportation needs.

To add insult to injury, the political establishment has not been able to come up with any solutions. Cliché solutions like trains are expensive (into the $2bn+) and take years to build.

From a potential user perspective, there are five key priorities:

  1. Footprint – The solution must be able to get people from where they live to where they want to go, be it work, beach, shopping, etc.
  2. Flexibility – As needs or passenger volume changes, the solution chosen must be flexible enough to accommodate these changes with no major disruptions.
  3. Frequency – Obviously, passenger waiting must be kept at a comfortable minimum. This will change but, for example, no one wants to wait over 15 minutes during rush hours.
  4. Low cost – If people are going to use public transportation regularly, it must be relatively inexpensive. As it relates to highly congested areas, it must be cheaper than, say, parking in downtown Miami ($10 - $14 all day) or cheaper than the gas used to go to work.
  5. Remove congestion – Finally, it would be great if the solution were able to really get rid of cars on the road.


Proposal –three key factors:

  • Minibus fleet
  • Private/Public partnership
  • Technology used for route optimization


The proposal:

1. Minibus Fleet.

Have Miami-Dade County create a fleet of 14-passenger mini-buses, leasing them to individual owner-operators and sharing the revenues.

The buses.

Minibuses come in several configurations. These particular buses typically carry 14 passengers, weigh about 11,000 lbs and have a wheelbase of 158”, so that the total length equals that of one and a half cars. At around 8-10 mpg they consume pretty much what a Mercedes G63 Wagon does. But, at $55,000 - $60,000 these buses cost half as much as a Mercedes G Wagon.

A fleet of minibuses also makes sense two other ways:

First, the fleet can be shut off during the weekend, if needed, when ridership is low.

Second, the buses are absolutely easy to maintain; these, in particular, are Fords and use commonly available engines, drivetrains, brakes, suspensions and other parts.


2. The Economics of a Public/Private Partnership

Roughly speaking, our 2.2 million people take around 3.8 car trips per day for the 9-10 million calculations. (NTHS Data). No amount of buses, metro-rails and metromovers can even begin to impact that figure. However, a fleet of 7,000 minibuses would begin to duplicate the ridership capacity of Metrorail + Metromover. Moreover, if most of the car trips are relatively short and single-person, it is conceivable that 7,000 minibuses could remove 70,000 cars off our roads per day.

A fleet of 7,000 minibuses would cost $385 million or, roughly, 20% of the cost of the equivalent Metrorail capacity.

What would the economics of a public/private partnership look like?

I propose that Miami-Dade buy the buses (through issuing bonds or securing the debt of the private citizen buying the bus) and then “sell” them to individual owners. In order to avoid an undue concentration of power and replicate the failed cab industry, one can visualize an arbitrary limit on individual ownership (10? 5?) and, in order to qualify owners the government could mandate that all owners/drivers pay for the driving lessons out of their own pockets.

Is this affordable and attractive?

My calculations show that yes, after about 180 passengers per day, minibus ownership is an attractive self-employment option:


Cost of unit
 $      55,000


Payments
84


Interest Rate (Month)
0.42%


Monthly payment
($777.36)






Passengers
                14


Passengers/day
                90
              180
              270
Fare
 $          2.00
 $          2.00
 $          2.00
Income/week
 $        1,080
 $        2,160
 $        3,240




MPG
                10


Miles/day
                80
              160
              240
Fuel Cost
 $          3.50
 $          3.50
 $          3.50
Cost/Fuel/Week
 $           177
 $           354
 $           531




Weekly Insurance
 $             96
 $             96
 $             96
Maintenance (5%/yr)
 $             53
 $             53
 $             53
Weekly payment
 $           194
 $           194
 $           194
Weekly cost
 $           520
 $           697
 $           874
Weekly profit
 $           560
 $        1,463
 $        2,366


So it is realistic that an owner/driver make $1,500 per week, which is high compared to the Miami-Dade average yearly income of $58,000.

Miami-Dade would make money by selling advertising on the buses. 7,000 buses selling billboards on the side for as little as $350/month (for both) would generate $2.5 million per month, which would help pay for the bureaucracy and have money left over to pay drivers a performance bonus. Subcontracting the commercialization to a company such as ClearChannel could be done for 25% - 30% commission, which would still leave plenty of money per month.

3. Technology used for traffic optimization

Finally, an app similar to Uber’s would measure demand and supply, making sure buses are driven to where they are needed most.

This app could also measure the performance of each bus, making sure that buses receive proper maintenance, keeping track of MPG figures, driver license renewals, etc.

Bottom line:

A public/private partnership which would create thousands of jobs can be achieved by the country “buying” a large fleet of minibuses and “selling” them to individual owners. This fleet would be highly efficient in reacting to traffic needs and improve our traffic conditions measurably.

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

Typically, one would expect the following: #1 - Low income residents with fixed jobs (e.g., retail work, maintenance...) -- people that can just go from home to work and back home #2 - Low and middle income residents who work in areas with super-high parking costs (Downtown Miami, Miami Beach) #3 - People who currently use the Metrorail but for whom it is not 100% convenient

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

Right now, there is no team. If funded, I will hire a coordinator, a social media expert, and outsource the app.

Size of your team or organization

  • I am submitting as an individual

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

1. Buy or lease four minibuses and get permits for them to be public transportation 2. Recruit four qualified owners/drivers to drive the buses 3. Create a "light" app to control the flow of the buses 4. Use social media and PR to get users to download the app and use the buses 5. Hire a coordinator to keep track of all details: usage, miles/day, repairs & maintenance, insurance and more.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

1. Occupancy and frequency (e.g., buses grow from 0% to 70% occupancy in 3 months and riders use the buses 3-5 times per week) 2. Profitability (should return from $1,000 to $1,500/week to the owner operator by third month)

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DeletedUser

Ariana:
1 - Metrofail goes, strictly speaking, sort of North by Northeast to South by Southwest, but it does stop at Dadeland, which is Kendall. I'm more than willing to concede that point. I drive in front of it daily when I come to the office on the part of US1 that is mainly west-east, but, it's a minuscule point, a throwaway.

2. Metrofail has been a total failure; I have lived in Miami on and off since mid-80s so I saw the construction from day 1. Today it carries --as I mention in my paper-- about 2 - 2.5 million passengers PER MONTH, compared to the 9-10 million car trips PER DAY. So, yeah, total failure. Even compared to other cities: Mexico City is about 26 million people the Subway carries 4.5 million passengers per day, about 1/6 of the population of the city. Daily. It serves, for a city of 26 million, 1.6 BILLION passengers per year. In Madrid, with a population of around 4 or 4.5 million people, the subway carried 585 million passengers per year. In Miami Dade, with a population of roughtly 2.8 million the Metrofail carries 24 - 25 million passengers per year.

So, yeah, by any measure, the Metrofail (as many people call it) is a total failure.

3. You might not like Jitneys, that's fine. I don't like them either. I find them dirty, smelly, and frankly would rather not take one anywhere. However, I'm not proposing Jitneys at all. Madrid is full of mini buses that work really well, they have proper seating, are kept clean, etc. Mexico City has a fantastic mini bus network that is used particularly well in the really congested avenues of Polanco (where I lived 4 years). So the model has worked in other cities.

To put it in perspective, the cab industry in Miami, for example, is also smelly, badly monitored, dirty... these guys don't even want to turn on the A/C most of the time (I spent 22 years travelling for work, so I took a LOT of cabs); Uber came along and changed all of that.

So the past is not necessarily a prologue to the present.

The key to a good transportation system (and yes, I have done my homework) is the footprint and availability. Metrofail's footprint is basically ONE STRAIGHT line and as a result, it is the failure that it is. Good Subway systems (I grew up in Madrid, lived in London, Mexico, New York, and half a dozen places) are spread out like spiderwebs with lots and lots and lots of connecting nodes.

Expanding Metrofail doesn't seem to be a rational option, in between the cost of land (even with eminent domain), the cost of building the infrastructure and getting the trains we are talking billions. Implementing a bus network (which is more rational in Miami) is probably a $200 - $400 million task and could be done way faster.

My proposal not only achieves that, but creates many more jobs, engages the drivers/owners so that they have pride in their buses (when was the last time you saw a dirty Uber car?) and is way more flexible than the larger buses. It is also doable as a test (say, 50 buses) and totally scalable, again like Uber and Lyft.

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