Metromover in Miami Beach really is the Smart program

Written by Michael Lewis on November 8, 2022

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The smart dumping of two years of failed negotiations to build a monorail across Biscayne Bay will serve us well.

First, the county is getting back to the starting line with the right goal: to expand existing public transit in Miami Beach by connecting to the Downtown Metromover so riders don’t have to change stations or car.

Second, the county is dropping a tainted Baylink contract based on a deal that won the OK commission days before a full ethics investigation detailed a deal born during a trip to Hong Kong by the former mayor, some commissioners and staff using “burner” phones whose data has disappeared. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true.

While many questions surround Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s announcement a week ago that the county would seek proposals to expand Metromover rather than let a private developer build, manage and collect revenue from a government-funded monorail. county, it was the smartest move so far in the county’s so-called smart program to expand rapid transit.

This responds to this column’s Oct. 27 call for new public transit to connect to current modes and run seamlessly in one trip as far as possible in the county rather than connecting to disconnected public transit. and force users to change seats again and again. Critics of the monorail have counted up to five transit changes to get from certain areas to the airport.

The course correction erases our complaint that an Omni gaming casino planned by part of the development consortium was to be the hub of the monorail – a non-destination with no rider base or nearby employers. The developer was planning to leverage the monorail to gain state approval for a casino it touted as the largest in the world.

The new plan also responds to our call for transit connecting Miami Beach to PortMiami, the world’s busiest cruise port, to make it easy for cruise passengers to extend their vacations in our tourism mecca and expand at least some of an east-west transit that has been our vital “missing link” forever.

The mayor wrote to the commissioners that the price of the monorail had soared to $1.3 billion, with staggering capital costs 221% above what developers had quoted to win the exclusive negotiating rights. Talk bait and change!

County staff found that price increases from the 2020 negotiation agreement included 435% for systems, 381% for a vehicle maintenance storage facility, 170% for vehicle costs and 56 % for professional services.

The developer didn’t budge when the county asked for a price reduction, a memo from the county says, but instead offered a 20% discount to switch to cable cars from its monorail bait. The county found the cable technology “obsolete” and rejected it.

During talks, documents show, county staff rejected developers’ ploy to switch to uncovered walkways to connect transit modes, reduce elevators and escalators for riders, add substantial distance between transit platforms and removing a mezzanine from the downtown train station, an omission that “would have impacted passenger flow.

Incredibly, according to the report, the developer “did not provide any designs or technical layouts for the monorail vehicles, despite multiple requests from the county.” Talk about buying a pig in a poke!

Getting rid of this expensive, hole-riddled deal that never should have been was clearly a blessing.

But the mayor’s move to Metromover raises some major questions.

She and staff say the goal is to make a single trip from any Metromover station to Miami Beach. But where on Miami Beach? The rejected plan was to terminate the monorail near the MacArthur causeway. Could Metromover extend north to the Miami Beach Convention Center, or further? Makes sense, but does it make money?

Then what about the prices? Metromover was free, but will a Baylink ride be too? Otherwise, how will the system handle free passengers from, say, Brickell who want to get to the beach? These could be completely free or fully paid rides on Metromover – or through digital fare collections that should be easy when the first cars arrive in Miami Beach, now slated for 2029. What are the initial plans?

Third, the mayor touts single-seat rides, but Metromover is mostly standing. Is the goal to rebuild transit cars, add new ones with full seats, or make single-seat rides stand-up rides? It will definitely take more Metromover cars (and updates).

Next is PortMiami: the new Metromover from the Beach will be welcome there, but a walk from the current Metromover station is too long. Will the mover loop through the port or add a transit change that is no longer a single seat in the port?

Metromover lacks drivers. It is four miles from downtown Miami Beach and the addition of attendants might be advisable.

Another logical addition is Metromover on the east side of Brickell, where residences and offices could bundle passengers on the new system. The mayor’s memo notes that the new transit corridor is supposed to eventually lead Metromover to the Design District, further lengthening single-seat opportunities.

Many questions will be answered when the county calls for proposals for the vital Baylink. Firmer answers will come when the private proposals arrive – will Metromover really cost less than the monorail, and will the county finally be able to foot the bill?

One thing is certain: the commissioners elected this week will have plenty to debate in less than a year, when the mayor announces they will be handed a Baylink contract – the one they should have been given in the first place.

Ryan H. Bowman