You are on page 1of 11


Miami Herald, The (FL) - September 15, 1985

Author/Byline: JOHN DORSCHNER Herald Staff Writer

Edition: FINAL
Section: TROPIC
Page: 10
Readability: 9-12 grade level (Lexile: 1110)
White elephant, n. -- something from which little profit or use is derived; esp., such a possession maintained at much expense.
New World Dictionary
or just the briefest of moments, zooming toward downtown
from the southern suburbs, the rider can feel that he is in a truly cosmopolitan city, a Paris, a London, something like that, his train car
filled with people like himself, educated people, sophisticated people, suburban people . . . white people, men and women in suits,
reading their newspapers and paperbacks, the men with ties, the women with Gucci bags, and in the early morning light as the train zips
over the Miami River, the rider can look east, into the rising sun, and see this majestic scene, the light glinting off the freighter moored in
the river, with the bay in the distance a shimmering gold, and at just that moment a person can think how grand is Miami, how perfect is
The moment fades almost immediately. Downtown, at the Government Center station, almost everyone gets off. Soon, on this Tuesday
morning, only two black youths and an aging black mechanic remain -- forlorn islands -- and one can notice, among the empty seats, that
there is a chilling sterility about these pristine cars: Not a single piece of graffiti, not a single G.W. * A.R., nothing.
At 8:20 a.m., the train rolls into the Hialeah station near the north end. The station is empty. Here, among the blue-collar Cubans, no one
is interested in getting downtown, at least not in such a cosmopolitan way as Metrorail. As the train heads back toward Government
Center, only five people are on the car: a woman with a little girl in a stroller, two Latin men and a Jamaican who is trying to find a clinic
and got lost. He clutches a piece of paper with the address: The place is out in West Dade, miles from the nearest Metrorail station.
"How can I get there?" he asks.
A fellow passenger shrugs. "It's difficult," he says.
Its riders love it. So does the entire Dade County establishment -- elected officials, business leaders, the press. Ask a conservative bigwig
in the Miami Chamber of Commerce, and he'll say he adores it. Ask a local labor leader, he'll say the same. And a lot more people like the
idea of it, the rail line as art object, as status symbol, as urban artifact, and they vow to themselves to use it more than they do, maybe to
go to the Hialeah Racetrack when the racetrack is open, or to go to the university for a museum show, or some other place that would
make a person feel high-minded and meaningful, and only in the backs of their minds do they think, I wish it went to better places.
In the media, the stories are usually limited to specific problems: it's way over budget, it's way behind schedule, there are cracks in the
concrete. The only opponent getting much publicity is the Reagan administration, which complains about Metrorail's cost in what has
seemed to be a predictable and unimportant way; the White House is well known for complaining about lavish government spending.
But look around a bit. Ask questions. Talk to some people who haven't been talked to.
It is not just the Reaganesque conservatives who are sniping. It's the liberal professors from bleeding-heart places like Harvard and
Berkeley. Even the no-nonsense technocrats, transportation consultants who advise local governments what to do, will tell you Metrorail
is something like the town drunk hired by medieval villages to reel about the streets, demonstrating to the populace the evils of alcohol.
"Metrorail has done a tremendous service," says Gary Brosch, a consultant at the Rice Center in Houston, " . . . a tremendous service for
other cities by showing them how things should not be done."
In fact, outside Dade County, practically every expert with an opinion thinks Metrorail is a flop. They say:
It doesn't go anywhere.
It is a yuppie plaything.
It has hurt the poor and the elderly.
It should never have been built.

Out-of-town journalists come to examine the system and leave to write caustic stories. Each mentions the sad figures: Government
officials had predicted Metrorail ridership by now would be 200,000 a day, but it is running only one-tenth of that, meaning that only about
1 of every 180 Dade residents is using the system. That's a sad burlesque of what rapid transit is supposed to be, and it pales in
comparison with places like Atlanta, which has about the same length of track, only a slightly larger population, but is carrying eight times
as many riders. The journalists' conclusions about Metrorail are withering:
"A conspicuous failure," The Los Angeles Times called it.
"The system from nowhere to nowhere," pronounced a Dallas TV station.
"Almost nobody uses it," said The Wall Street Journal.
"Could a similar fiasco occur in San Jose?" worries the editor of The San Jose Mercury-News.
"There are always plenty of extra seats," deadpans The New York Times.
Back in the 1970s, it seemed crazy not to vote for the system: First, the federal government was going to be paying for 80 percent of it; it
would be costing the county "20-cent
dollars." Second, Metrorail would eliminate a litany of city ills. It would end vicious urban sprawl of unending suburbs by concentrating
development around the rail line. It would end the waste of precious gasoline. It would stop the spread of ugly freeways. It would help the
poor get to much needed jobs in the suburbs. It would help the elderly, who could no longer drive. Every grand city in the world had a
subway or elevated -- why not Miami?
Voters marched to the polls to cast a vote for progress.
Virtually every assumption, alas, was wrong.
"No question -- it has not produced the benefits people expected," says Ron Kirby at the Urban Institute in Washington.
Jose Gomez-Ibanez, a mass-transit expert at Harvard University: "Metrorail goes through low-density neighborhoods, past highways that
aren't that heavily used. And it misses downtown by a couple of blocks. All those things spell trouble. I think they made a mistake going
with that system, rather than improving the express bus system."
Kenneth Orski agrees with that. Now a consultant in Washington, he was the assistant administrator with the U.S. Urban Mass Transit
Adminstration when Washington decided to fund Metrorail. "I freely admit I supported the Miami decision at the time. In retrospect, it was
not a wise decision, because it (Miami) doesn't have the requisite population density and travel patterns. . . . With the benefit of hindsight,
I would definitely not recommend to build it."
"Monday morning quarterbacking," huffs Merrett Stierheim. "It's one thing to pontificate from Harvard or wherever. It's another thing to
actually be down here, seeing what's going on, making decisions."
As county manager, he has been the key decision-maker for Metrorail, and he considers criticism "unfair, when the system has just
opened." Ultimately, he believes, if he gets the proper support from Washington, Metrorail will shape the future of the county, doing
everything it was originally intended to do, though it takes several decades to realize its benefits.
"It takes confidence," he says, "and a certain amount of faith to be a builder. I've been building for the future, building for our children."
And that is what is has come down to. Faced with the embarrassing statistics, the system's supporters turn to the future, with unprovable
and unanswerable hopes. As Beverly Phillips, county commissioner, says: "By the year 2000, people will be saying, by gosh, how did we
live without it?"
To Phillips and Stierheim, Metrorail's main problem has been the leaders of the Reagan administration. "They have chosen Miami as a
whipping boy," he says.
That is indisputable. Ralph Stanley, the brash 33-year-old head of UMTA, is such an avid opponent of Metrorail that he has his staff give
him daily reports on its ridership statistics. "They're my box scores," he says jubilantly. He gloats over each day's low figures as if they
were the opposing team's goose eggs.
It was Stanley's analysis that was behind Ronald Reagan's vehement attack against Metrorail, made earlier this year in front of 2,500
local-government leaders gathered in Washington. "A billion-dollar mistake," Reagan called Metrorail. The system had such few riders, he
said, "it would have been a lot cheaper to buy everyone a limousine."
Dade leaders immediately cried foul. Limousines are temporary. Metrorail was built for the long haul.
But there is no arguing that the system was expensive. Very expensive. With a billion dollars, Dade could have expanded its fleet of 400

buses to 2,400 buses, flooding all major streets with buses running every five minutes -- and run the system for free on the interest of the
$700 million left over. Or you could have taken the billion and bought 66,000 jitneys. Or if you're interested in saving gas, you could have
bought 2.5 million mopeds, passing them out on street corners like free samples of cigarettes.
Even more troublesome than the initial expense is the cost to continue operating Metrorail.
Nigel Wilson, transportation professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology: "The cost of maintaining and operating the system over a
lifetime was not considered because of the 20- cent dollars and the attractiveness of it (rapid transit) as a monument, which has
considerable appeal. . . . There is a lot more interest in building these systems than in analyzing them."
It's well known that all mass-transit systems lose money. In Washington, where the successful Metro carries 300,000-plus daily,
passengers pay only 50 percent of the costs. That's considered acceptable. But in Miami, Metrorail ridership is so low that fares cover
only 20 percent of costs. Everytime a Kendall yuppie steps aboard a train, taxpayers end up contributing $3.40 to pay for his $1 trip.
Including bus deficits, Dade's mass transit is now costing an extra $90 million a year, and climbing.
Already, politicians and business leaders are organizing support to get voters to approve a 1-percent increase in the sales tax to finance
the transportation deficits: For each
dollar you spend, you will be giving a penny to mass transit.
At this point, there is absolutely no way out. When Dade took the money from the feds for Metrorail, it agreed to operate and maintain the
system. If Dade decided to close Metrorail down, to cut its losses, to create an instant Stonehenge, it would have to find $700 million to
repay Washington. To get that kind of money, every worker in Dade County would have to cough up an extra thousand bucks.
"You've built something," says Kirby at the Urban Institute, "that is going to cost you out to eternity."
In a way, it's like we appeared on a TV quiz show and won a Rolls-Royce. We were ecstatic, until we discovered that the maintenance
costs -- insurance, gas, repairs -- are absolutely horrendous, and that we would have been better off with a Toyota, even if we had had to
pay for the Toyota ourselves.
Metrorail is almost like that. But not exactly.
Because you could always sell the Rolls.
New York's subways are dirty and dangerous. You climb out of a grimy, unair-conditioned car, walk up greasy steps, sidestepping winos,
nervously looking out for any Bernhard Goetz-types, and when you get out of the station, . . . you are right in the middle of the city. Times
Square. Wall Street. Central Park.
That's why people take it. It deposits them right where they want to go.
With Metrorail, the stations are magnificently designed -- red-tile floors, translucent glass blocks, gleaming stainless steel -- but most of
them give the casual visitor an odd sense that he is . . . well, no place.
The Vizcaya stop is about a half-mile from the famous mansion -- across six lanes of South Dixie traffic, through the Museum of Science
grounds, then across four lanes of South Miami Avenue, and then through the winding Vizcaya grounds to the mansion. The Hialeah stop
is across the railroad tracks from the famed racetrack. In both cases, ramps are being built so that a person can climb around the
Obstacle and get to the Destination.
Even more troubling is where Metrorail doesn't go at all. You cannot take it to the airport. You cannot take it to a beach. You cannot go to
the Orange Bowl, or to the Miami Beach Convention Center, or the Dade County Auditorium, or the dog tracks, or the Seaquarium, or
Miami Jai-Alai, or Metrozoo.
Even at the ends of the line, there is a feeling of being only in midjourney. At the two Dadeland stations, a visitor looks in vain for the
Dadeland shopping center. It is nowhere.
From Dadeland North, one must walk through a parking lot, across a road, over a railroad track and then through a massive shopping
center parking lot to reach Penney's at the end of the mall.
Up at the northern end of the line, at Okeechobee, all the visitor sees is a massive and virtually empty parking garage. On a bench sits a
downtown worker, Jim Bushnell, waiting for a bus. He is in the shade, but his face is red and streaked with summertime sweat. He has
just zoomed from downtown to Hialeah in 20 minutes. Now, he is in the middle of a long wait for the No. 29 bus that will take him the rest
of the way. "This town needs Metrorail," he says. "A city of any stature needs something like this. It's perfect to go downtown on it, to
museums, shopping centers. (But) they should have better connections." There is supposed to be a No. 29 at 3:30 p.m., but he says
sometimes it doesn't show up. A "phantom bus," he calls it, and if it doesn't appear, he must wait an extra hour.
"I'm in a bind," he says. "My driver license has been suspended for five years. So this is the only way I have of getting around."

There's a fundamental question here: If we have a billiondollar rail line that doesn't go anywhere and no one uses it, how did we ever get into this mess?
To answer that, we have to stop and back up a bit, for as one transportation expert has said, Dade's Metrorail has signaled "an end to
transportation innocence."
Now, transportation innocence is not something that most people thought they had,
but it's there, buried in the subconsciousness of most of us, imprinted on the part of the brain that recalls old Life magazines and Saturday
Evening Posts from the 1950s.
The future of transportation then was a shining beacon: journalists envisioned individual helicopters for all commuters and "jet trains"
zooming along at 250 miles an hour. Like the American car and its "space-age" tail fins, everything seemed to be getting bigger and better
and faster.
At the pinnacle of the dream was rapid transit. "Heavy rail," as it's known in the trade. Every city of any size or ambition lusted for its own
system. It wasn't just for transportation. It was status. The search for a "monument," as MIT's Wilson put it.
Rapid transit not only moved faster than buses, but somehow it moved better. It wasn't dirty, like buses. Not smelly, like buses. And it was
removed one from the ugly ordinariness of the city streets. As consultant Orski says: "People will use rail when they wouldn't think of
using buses."
Certainly, if you look around the cities that had rapid transit -- London, Paris, New York -- were all grand cities.
But if you examined them closer, you would see they were all old cities -- laid out according to the limits of horse-and- buggy
transportation. They were small cities, densely packed, when their rail systems began. London started its underground in 1863. By 1870,
Manhattan had an elevated. By 1892, Chicago had the beginnings of its El.
None of these cities, in other words, was shaped by the car.
All new cities -- certainly Miami among them -- were. All the sprawl, all the suburbs, all the parking lots, all the broad streets and two-car
garages, all the shopping centers, all the attractions, everything is shaped by the auto.
This sprawl was encouraged and subsidized by government. When the horseless carriage had appeared, governments paved the roads.
When people had wanted to move to the "outskirts," the government expanded two-lane highways to four-lane. When people wanted to
flee the inner city for the tranquility of the suburbs, the government obliged with freeways. Without Interstate 95, without the Palmetto
Expressway, without six lanes on South Dixie, Dade County would be a far more condensed city than it has become.
For a long time, most people didn't worry about urban sprawl, but in the early '70s, the ecology movement surged into our consciousness,
and suddenly everyone was concerned about all the concrete we used to cover breathing soil, about the air pollution and wasted energy
caused by tens of thousands of enormous gas-guzzling cars, each carrying only one person to work. All of this seemed so utterly stupid
that everyone thought something had to be done.
Now, at this point, if government people had rushed off to
college campuses, seeking answers to our transportation miseries, they would have found many interesting alternatives: expanded bus
service; use of jitneys in the suburbs; specialized mini-vans; promotions for car-pooling; penalties for using large cars.
Professors were playing around with futuristic alternatives. Almost all of them were comparatively cheap,
because they involved the use of massive transportation grids already in place -- the road systems. In some fancy designs, they made
use of already-existing rail tracks to run trolleys (as they have done in San Diego) or proposed "fixed guideways" in which buses would be
on special elevated tracks downtown and then go off onto city streets through the suburbs.
As Wilson of MIT says: "The most progressive cities are aiming at better bus service."
Not only were these systems cheap, but by using designated lanes in existing streets, they slowed automobile traffic, thereby penalizing
the person who wanted to keep using his gas- guzzler.
Only one alternative wasn't popular. "Most academics," says Edward K. Morlok, University of Pennsylvania transportation professor, "with
very few exceptions, were not in favor of rail transportation."
It was too expensive, too antiquated to meet the needs of the sprawling American city. After BART opened in the San Francisco area,
Berkeley professor Melvin Webber produced a study that explained why so few people were riding BART: Though it was very fast, people
psychologically did not like the idea of waiting in their neighborhood for a bus, then taking the bus to a BART station, where there would
be another wait for a train. Webber discovered that even if the bus was appreciably slower, riders would rather stay with it rather than
going through a second anxiety-producing wait at a train station.

Yet the 19th-Century concept of "heavy rail" remained the sexy transit alternative, both for Washington and for local cities.
As the energy crisis emerged in the '70s, Washington began pushing "heavy rail" as a solution to America's transportation problems. The
professors were out there who would have said differently, but no one was listening.
In Dade, consultants were recommending a 54-mile, 54- station system that would allegedly cost $800 million. It was an ambitious plan,
with routes running up South Dixie Highway and Biscayne Boulevard, an east-west corridor running from the airport through Little Havana
to downtown, another corridor running up Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. Dade voters, filled with the progressive spirit, went to the polls
in in 1972 and approved $132 million in bonds to build it.
It was a grand plan, a hell of a plan. Metrorail would have crisscrossed the county, touching down in all sorts of key locations.
It was not to be. Most civic leaders, it seemed, wanted the system, but not in their own neighborhood. Politicians on Miami Beach called
Metrorail a "monstrosity," and compared it with the clattering elevateds of New York. Coral Gables objected to a line that was to run up
Ponce de Leon Boulevard to the airport. Little Havana merchants didn't want any rail line destroying the beauty of their streets.
Meanwhile, blue-collar Hialeah, the county's second-largest city, was screaming that it was being ignored. Hialeah politicians said many
of the city's residents worked at the airport; it wanted
the airport line to extend north to Hialeah.
In March 1975, at a public hearing, a Miami Beach man examined the plans and complained: "The transit system will become a white
elephant, inoperable because of a crushing
financial burden." But officials at Kaiser Transit, which was advising the county on its plans, was ambitiously advising that a rail system by
the mid-1980s would carry 700,000 passengers a day.
Washington wasn't so certain. In late 1975, the UMTA staff was reported to be deeply divided over whether to approve Miami's
system. Some staff members thought that the county was so spread out that it could better served by expanded bus service.
Metro-Dade fought back, led by transportation chief John Dyer, who was a master at obtaining federal grant money. Dyer, buttressed by
Kaiser statistics, warned that
without rapid transit, the county would need a fleet of 2,250 buses by 1985 -- a number that would choke the streets and make traffic
In the fall of 1976, Metro bigwigs tried to sell the populace on a penny increase in the sales tax, to pay for Metrorail. A maverick attorney,
Richard Friedman, organized a drive against the tax, calling Metrorail "a train to nowhere." He predicted: "This is going to be a rich man's
ride while the poor people pay."
A week before the election, Metro commissioners were so concerned that they might lose, that they gave into Hialeah's demands and
promised they would be included on the rail line. After the commission's vote, Metro Mayor Steve Clark told a Hialeah politician: "Go get
us some votes."
The strategy failed. Voters rejected the tax by almost a two-to-one margin.
In retrospect, that sales-tax vote was a crucial juncture for Dade County. In other places, traffic patterns have become so bad that voters
have been willing to tax themselves to improve things.
Consider Atlanta, which faced a similar decision in the mid-'70s. People were told that their transportation future was miserable, and to
improve things was going to be very expensive, not just for construction, but for the continuing operating deficits along the way. Facing
the future, residents gladly taxed themselves an extra penny -- half going to subsidize operating costs, half to build rail lines -- because
they were convinced the area needed it.
But in Dade, there were no desperate suburbanites picketing for the sales tax, no waves of workers marching to commission meetings, no
commuters going door-to-door to solicit votes for rapid transit.
This has become an important point to the Reagan administration and, particularly, to Ralph Stanley, present head of UMTA: If something
is of critical importance to local people, they will be willing to pay for it themselves. They shouldn't just grab for something merely because
"cheap" federal dollars are available.
But that's what happened in Dade. Within a few days of the crushing sales-tax defeat, Metro officials were announcing that Metrorail
would still be built, financed by federal money. County transportation czar John Dyer said grandly: "The sales tax vote was a vote on how
you finance our local share of the construction costs. It was not a vote on transit or no transit."
Herald staff writer John Arnold wrote a prescient story: "Construction money, they say, is assured. The problem is where to go for money

to run the bus and train system once it is built."

It was one of the few times that anyone was to mention the problem of operating costs. The enormous operating deficits were ignored,
and this is why the Reagan Adminstration believes that the Metro government wandered into never-never land.
Ralph Stanley: "You have to pay for it locally. You should have told the taxpayer that a long time ago. . . . Where's the local
commmitment? Not just from the Chamber. Not just from the newspaper. From the voters."
In Washington, ignoring the Dade sales-tax vote, UMTA officials studied the proposed route and recommended that the northern leg stop
in the middle of Liberty City, at NW 65th Street and 27th Avenue, cutting out the final 3.6-mile leg to Hialeah. "The sense of our analysis,"
said a fed official, "was that the prospective ridership did not exist there now or in the future."
Hialeah politicians howled, threatening to withdraw from Dade County. Two Dade Congressmen, Bill Lehman and Claude Pepper, visited
the UMTA leadership. Within a week, Hialeah was back on the Metrorail line.
Problems, however, were not over. Attorney Friedman and his lamely named Stop Transit Over People (STOP) were so upset that Metro
was going ahead with the rail system after the voters had rejected it that he forced a referendum on whether to build the system.
On the side of Metrorail was virtually every civic leader in the county -- the entire Metro commission, both U.S. Senators, the whole Dade
legislative delegation, The Miami Herald, chambers of commerce, the business community, environmentalists, builders, unions, plus
major black and Latin leaders.
This establishment coalition spent $50 for every dollar Friedman's STOP group spent.
They brandished some ridership projections. Metrorail would be serving 202,000 daily in the mid-1980s, they predicted. They were
quoting a 1977 Kaiser survey.
It was a very optimistic prediction, based on some rather astounding assumptions.
Three-dollar per gallon gasoline prices.
Thirty-five cent Metrorail fares.
No charge for transfers from Metrorail to buses.
In the energy-crisis mentality of the '70s, many of these assumptions made sense, though an UMTA official says now that they also
contained "a lot of baloney."
Commissioner James Redford is now among those who are bitter about the projections: "We were sold a bill of goods all the way down
the line." Dyer, he says, was the "sole source of information."
Even with such wildly optimistic forecasts, the establishment sensed it was in trouble when it sent spokesmen to public meetings around
the county. As one North Dade man complained: "We wait for an hour for a bus now. Why can't we get new buses?"
In the final days before the election, Metro officials began emphasizing the buses, downplaying Metrorail. County Manager Stierheim
waved a letter from the feds, saying it threatened that plans to improve the woeful bus system would come to a "screeching halt" unless
voters backed rapid transit in the vote.
By the day of the referendum, The Herald was carefully describing the vote as concerning a "unified transportation system," consisting of
Metrorail, a downtown "people mover," and 900 buses.
The vote was shockingly tight: 50.34 percent voted in favor of rapid transit. The only reason the measure passed was overwhelming
support from precincts in the black community, where many relied upon buses to get around town.
In a post-election analysis, The Herald
interviewed political and business leaders who "despaired at how close the voters came to saying stop." How, everyone wondered, had
"one of Dade's most potent political coalitions" come so close to losing to Friedman's "disorganized, helter- skelter, poorly financed STOP
Dade's polls suggested many reasons, notably "total lack of confidence in government." They believed voters were really angry because
they couldn't get a hole fixed in the street, or their trash picked up, or their taxes lowered.
Only late in The Herald story did one person -- Commissioner Barry Schreiber

-- suggest that perhaps some voters had actually thought that Metrorail was a waste of money.
lmost as soon as Metrorail opened in 1984, a problem became apparent: the dangers of competition.
In places like New York, there is no alternative to the subway. No highway runs above the IRT, no freeway adjoins the BMT. In Miami,
South Dixie runs right alongside the southern leg of Metrorail. If you pull a few hundred, or a few thousand people, out of their cars and
onto the rail line, it makes the drive downtown much quicker and more pleasant for drivers.
Before Metrorail, one of the three rush-hour lanes had been reserved for car-poolers. Since few people car-pooled, it meant singleoccupant cars were squeezed into two slow-moving lanes, while car-poolers zipped along in their special lane.
But when Metrorail opened, the car-pool lane was eliminated. The result: rapid-transit had made car travel faster and more pleasant along
South Dixie. Which meant that there was no incentive to ride the expensive system running alongside the road.
In August 1984, three months after Metrorail began, transportation officials made a study of South Dixie traffic: They found that the
number of rush-hour cars was about the same, but that the number of persons per car had dropped from 1.46 to 1.19.
It was only the car-poolers, apparently, who had gone over to Metrorail.
By May 1985, after Metrorail had been open a year, it was becoming apparent -- at least to outside observers -- why Metrorail was having
a problem, why its ridership was so low, so white, and so affluent.
Consultant Orski in Washington: "Your ridership is really a reflection of the geographic and demographic realities of Dade County."
Commissioner Redford: "Metrorail won't work until you can walk from your apartment to the system, and until the system goes where you
want it to go. . . . It's not like a roller coaster or a water slide, where you can market ridership. You go on it only because you need it."
Dade County has several corridors where people are long accustomed to using public transportation: the Collins Avenue area in Miami
Beach, where the elderly are avid riders; the east-west route along Flagler and Calle Ocho in Little Havana, serving the Cuban lower
classes; Biscayne Boulevard through Northeast Dade, and the NW 27th Avenue route from the black suburbs in the northern part of the
county, through Liberty City, to downtown.
Usually, when a city starts a heavy-rail system, it starts by aiming at those who already are using mass transit and, presumably, want a
better mass-transit system. But, in Dade, Metrorail runs along none of the heavily traveled bus routes. Politics prevented that. As
consultant Brosch points out:
"They put (Metrorail) in a place where no people were taking a bus system. . . . That's a whole different ballgame,
because you're expecting people to learn to use mass transit who haven't been using it. . . . It was a major mistake."
Another problem, some observers suggest, is that the only real focal destination for Metrorail riders is downtown, but auto-satiated Miami
really has a minuscule downtown, "sort of like downtown Terre Haute," as Commissioner Redford puts it.
Ira Sheskin, an urban geographer at the University of Miami, says U.S. Census figures from 1980 show only 22,000 workers in the central
Miami business district. That's less than a third of Atlanta's downtown work force, less than a sixth of Washington's.
Using a broader definition of downtown -- running from the Omni area on the north through the Brickell office buildings on the south -Sheskin himself estimates that there are no more than 75,000 workers in the area, only 10 percent of the Dade work force.
Metro officials believe fervently that the downtown Metromover, scheduled to open next April, will greatly expand Metrorail ridership by
allowing passengers to stream out of the Government Center station and get to their offices by the elevated trolly that will be circling
But because of the limited downtown work force, most experts doubt that Metromover will be much of an influence. "It's got to help," says
Gomez-Ibanez at Harvard, "but I doubt it will help a lot."
Some defenders of rapid transit say they are willing to live with low ridership and huge deficits if the system can control the urban
sprawl -- the specter of suburbs stretching out to infinity -- by concentrating growth along the rail lines. These supporters look upon
Metrorail as a kind of billiondollar zoning ordinance. Which would have been fine if Metrorail were a giant loop around downtown and other central areas targeted for
inner-city growth. But it isn't. Its most heavily used portion is a sprint from downtown into the southern, affluent suburbs. By making it
easier to get to work from there, Metrorail has actually contributed to urban sprawl.
Morlok at the University of Pennsylvania: "If you improve accessibility and speed to the outlying areas, you encourage people to move to
the suburbs.

Rapid transit tends to be oriented toward a fairly wealthy clientele."

Kirby at the Urban Institute: "If you give people higher speed, they'll just live farther away."
Geographer Sheskin predicted that Metrorail will make the Dadeland area "downtown Kendall" and this is exactly what has happened.
The Dadeland South station is now the center of a mini-city, anchored by the 17-story Datran Center, a complex of offices, retail shops
and parking. Most of Datran's suites have been rented by attorneys, who traditionally have had to have their offices downtown, close to
the courthouses. Now, with Metrorail allowing them to zip downtown in 18 minutes, they can happily work in the Kendall suburbs.
"I no longer have to spend my time sitting behind a wheel," one attorney told a Herald reporter. With Metrorail, he can live in Kendall, work
in Kendall and use the train for those odious occasions when he has to go downtown.
At virtually every station along the southern route, major developments have been planned: another office-shop complex at Dadeland
North; the huge Bakery Centre shopping mall at the South Miami station; a 20-story Marriott Hotel; a masssive development near waspy
Coral Gables at the Douglas Station; a $24-million development at the Coconut Grove station; a 30-story complex at the Brickell station.
In effect, Metrorail will stretch downtown out along the 10 miles of its southern route. Recently, in a telephone interview, consultant Orski
was talking about such development as being the salvation of Metrorail when a Miami journalist suggested that the development would be
especially welcome in the northern corridor, in the heart of impoverished black areas.
"I frankly had more in mind the southern corridor," Orski replied archly. "The northern part does not enjoy the same potential. . . . Kendall
and Coral Gables are already doing well, and they will become even more affluent. Affluence breeds affluence. . . . Rail isn't magic.
Where development is not likely to occur for external reasons, rail won't make it happen."
When Metrorail opened, government leaders hosted a brunch at the ritzy Pavillon Hotel downtown. Among the 200 guests, there were
were only three or four blacks, despite their crucial support during the Friedman referendum. Mrs. Athalie Range, who had led the
campaign in the black community, was not invited.
Neither was T. Willard Fair, head of the Greater Miami Urban League.
The oversight was telling. Metrorail has not been a boon to inner-city blacks, or to the poor in general. The destination of most Metrorail
travelers is downtown, where, as geographer Sheskin and U.S. Census figures will tell you, the workforce tends to be college-educated,
white-collar, professional, and white. There are very few factory jobs near the downtown Government Center station, few jobs for bluecollar workers.
People without cars, people who depend on public transportation, need a system that will take them many different places -- to the
supermarket, the doctor's office, to relatives and church. A variety of routes is more important to them than speed on a set-rail line
between two distant points.
Ron Kirby at the Urban Institute: "Buses are for lower incomes, rail for higher incomes."
Consultant Orski: "Rail may not be the best way to help the poor. What the poor need is transportation to jobs. What they need is more
customized ways of transportation to get to their jobs. Vans, mini-buses, special taxis."
Metro officials say they have never intended to slight blacks, that five stations are located in the heart of black neighborhoods -- Overtown
and Culmer, just north of downtown, and Brownsville, Martin Luther King Plaza and Northside in Liberty City. But these stations are little
used: All five put together have roughly half the ridership of Dadeland South.
As George Knox, former Miami city attorney and a black community leader, puts it this way: "Some people have been saying all along that
Metrorail was simply a device to get the yuppies from Kendall to downtown. . . . Liberty City is a way of getting to Hialeah."
Local officials argue that Metrorail can be used for reverse commuting: blacks going from their inner-city homes to suburban factories. But
an observer can see that each morning, as suburbanites flock to downtown, the trains arriving at Dadeland are almost empty. And in the
evening, when the suburbanites are streaming home, few are going the other way.
Wilson at MIT: "These systems aren't designed for reverse commuting. The suburban jobs are not located around the suburban station."
Nor are they designed, apparently, for blue-collar Cubans. The two Hialeah stations, forced back into the Metrorail plan by politicians over
the objections of UMTA professionals, have not had heavy ridership. These two
stations, at the northern end of the line, are seeing only one-quarter of the usage of the two stations at the southern end.
Metro officials point out that the northern end has only been open three months, while the southern end has been operating 15 months,
but if one looks back at the figures for the Dadeland stations after they had been open three months, one sees that they still had three
times as many riders as do the Hialeah stations.

Actually, because of Metrorail, it appears that many poor people are getting even less help from public transportation these days, when in
fact they had been promised more. This is a critical issue in the black community, which provides a third of Metrobus ridership.
Now, the bus was and still is the backbone of Dade's transportation system. About 200,000 people ride Dade buses daily, 10 times
Metrorail's ridership. The bus costs taxpayers about $59 million, Metrorail $32 million.
Back in 1978, when blacks and other mass-transit users were supporting the Metrorail referendum, they had been promised that they
would also get a vastly expanded bus system, with at least 900 buses roaming the streets.
Transportation experts at UMTA and elsewhere considered an expanded bus system crucial to the success of Metrorail: With buses
running to more places, and running more frequently, people would be encouraged to abandon their automobile and get accustomed to
public transportation.
This is precisely what Atlanta did, first getting sales tax money from the voters, then buying hundreds of buses, flooding the streets with
buses, keeping the fares very low (subsidized by the sales tax) so that people would become used to mass transit as construction began
on the rail line.
In Miami, without any sales tax support, bus service has actually been reduced since the 1978 referendum. Over the last five years, bus
routes have been cut 5 percent, and ridership has dipped 16.6 percent. Only 400 buses now travel the streets, less than half the number
Metro promised.
What's more, the cuts are still continuing. Under a new program, called Network 86, the Metro transportation people are seeking ways to
cut bus routes by as much as 20 percent. Theoretically, riders will not suffer, because Metro is hoping to cut little-used routes, and to
eliminate routes that overlap with Metrorail.
Athalie Range, one of the leading supporters of Metrorail in the black community: "The bus system has always been our mainstay. . . . I
don't see how they can cut back on bus service, because Metrorail does not serve a sufficient number of people."
"It's one more part of the tragedy," says Kirby at the Urban Institute. "It's much easier politically to cut down on the buses than to stop your
shiny new train. So the poor are the ones that are losing."
Also the elderly -- especially those on Miami Beach and in the Northeast condos, where retired people depend on bus service to get
around town.
On a recent Monday afternoon, Metro officials met with local riders at the North Miami Beach City Hall to explain their proposed cuts in
bus service.
"We have not had a single promise kept to us," complained councilman Jule Littman.
North Dade residents listened as Metro officials told them about the bus routes that had been eliminated or reduced. One route attracted
special attention: The 59 Express, from the Skylakes Mall to downtown. A half-dozen people had come to complain that the bus would no
longer go downtown, but stop at the Metrorail station at Earlington Heights.
Margaret Flomberg had come to complain for her son, who was at work. Every morning, she said, he was accustomed to getting on at the
Skylakes Mall and taking the bus to within a block of his job near the Jackson hospital complex. Under the proposed system, he would
have to get off at Earlington Heights, climb the escalator to the Metrorail station, wait for a train, go two stops to the Civic Center, get off,
go down the staircase and walk several blocks to his job.
To the government, it seemed an efficient way of allocating resources. Incidentally, it would also boost Metrorail ridership. To Margaret
Flomberg and her son, it seemed like a waste of time.
"Why," she asked a Metro official, "do we get penalized for Metrorail?"
he Metro people remain filled with hope.
Joe Fletcher, head of Metro transportation, says he is surprised that ridership at Okeechobee, the station on the northern end of the line,
"is not growing as dramatically as I anticipated."
Fletcher is convinced that within a year, Okeechobee will be as popular as the Dadeland stations, more students and faculty will be using
Metrorail to go between the Coral Gables campus and the medical campus at the Civic Center, Metromover will bring a new popularity to
the system, and Network 86 will channel thousands from the buses onto the rail line.
"What you have out there," says Fletcher, "is an investment in the future. You have a capacity out there, a future capacity, to take -without disruption to the community -- up to 24,000 people an hour, and if you equate that back to a highway system in any one direction,
it would be an 18-lane highway."

He agrees that reducing the bus system is not the best way to improve interest in mass transit -- "It's like shooting yourself in the foot" -but that it's necessary because of budgetary pressures.
It is these financial pressures that make people like Fletcher and Stierheim especially angry.
"The ground rules," complains Stierheim, "have completely changed."
Back in the '70s, when Dade decided to build the system, federal support seemed easily available and unending. Now, the Reagan
administration is ignoring Dade's requests to expand the system and is cutting back on the federal subsidies to help pay the operating
deficits. It seems virtually impossible that there will be any expansions in the system in the next five years, and highly unlikely even for the
next decade. The 20.5 miles we've got is basically what we're going to have.
Meanwhile, the Metro government, confronted with an expensive influx of refugees from Mariel and a soaring crime rate, has had to put
the county's limited resources into items other than transit.
"If I didn't have the crime problem," Stierheim says, "we would have more money going into buses. No question, we would be expanding
the bus routes."
Outside experts have suggested several steps to improve Metrorail's problems -- cutting back on the hours, forcing bus passengers onto
the system, offering free parking for passengers -- but Metrorail officials have already taken these steps.
When Gomez-Ibanez at Harvard was pressed on what steps he would do if he had to decide what to do with a white elephant like
Metrorail, he dodged the question: "Some experts should sit down with a real fine pencil and figure out what to do. . . . That's not the kind
of suggestion I'm going to make from up here in Cambridge."
As for the argument that someday we will be happy that we built Metrorail, Gomez-Ibanez says: "It's like building an apartment building on
spec. And it sits vacant for 10 years, or 20 or 30. You have to calculate the costs, and figure how much interest that money might have
been earning."
Stanley at UMTA in Washington says it's fine if local officials want to argue that 20 years from now, Metrorail will be shown to be
worthwhile. "OK," he says, "but they should have said that at the time -- that you the voter are going to be paying a very heavy price for
this for the next 20 years, that there was going to be huge operating deficits all that time."
Stanley and Stierheim do agree on one thing: the need for a penny sales tax to pay for transportation. Metrorail will continue costing more
money, with a new tax or not, and so without it, officials will have no choice but to cut back on police, health or welfare programs.
Stierheim argues that the tax increase is an investment in the future, that Metrorail benefits even those who do not ride it, by removing
traffic from city streets. But he admits that, with fewer than 1 percent of the residents riding Metrorail, the tax will be a tough sell to voters,
and if the vote had to be held today, maybe only 20 percent would be in favor of it.
Stanley points out that almost every major city in the country now has a dedicated tax source for transportation. Atlanta has one. So does
Dallas, where voters recently agreed to tax themselves to build a massive subway system.
In Dade, officials chose first to build, then figure out how to pay. Stanley says now there is no choice: "You have to tax the people. Not
just because of federal cutbacks in support. But because you chose to build it. . . . You have taken the choice away from the taxpayer."
Meanwhile, Professor Melvin Webber at Berkeley is interested in Metrorail's low ridership figures. An early critic of BART in the Bay area,
Webber asked a Miami journalist with unmasked excitement:
"Do you really think they might shut it down?"
An interesting thought. Admit failure, close it down. A monument to a mistake. Stonehenge in Miami.
No, said Webber. That's not what he meant.
"If they do, I know exactly what to suggest: Convert the tracks to busways. You could have the advantage of speed in the crowded
downtown areas, and then the buses could branch out in the outlying areas, using the streets."
Webber considered his idea. A nice theory, he decided, but no chance.
"Politically, it would be self-destructive. They won't let that happen. So they'll juggle the books to pay for it.
"Which means," he says, "you're stuck with it."

md major-story mass transit cost analysis

Caption: color photo: Metrorail station (t); darwing: Metrorial white elephants (cover-color)
Record: 8503140126
Copyright: Copyright (c) 1985 The Miami Herald