Banana Republican - Transit Follies

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When it comes to concocting bad government policy, Miami-Dade government officials are head and shoulders above everybody else. Last week, county commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Barbara Jordan floated the idea of asking voters to approve an additional half-cent sales tax to bail out the county’s mass transit boondoggle, otherwise known as the People’s Transportation Plan.

In case you didn’t know, voters already approved a half-cent increase in the local sales tax in 2002 to finance the PTP, which includes an ambitious multi-billion dollar expansion of Metrorail across the county. The proceeds from the half-penny were supposed to give Miami-Dade the leverage to compete for federal funds to help build the new rail lines, as the federal government requires local jurisdictions to provide dedicated sources of revenue to build and operate transit systems.

Yet in the past six years since voters approved the half-cent, county officials have done nothing but squander the money and break promises made to the people.

They promised an independent citizen’s trust that would watchdog the sales tax proceeds only to have the county commission neuter its powers. They promised 24-hour rail service only to scrap it two years later because the transit agency didn’t have enough money to run the rail cars all day and all night. They promised more bus routes and more miles of bus service yet this month they scrapped nine bus routes because of a budget crunch. They promised us they would be fiscally sound yet they want to spend $5.4 million to build a Mediterranean-style pedestrian overpass on U.S.1 near the University of Miami Metrorail Station to appease the fickle tastes of the Coral Gables City Commission.

And now come Barreiro and Jordan asking Miami-Dade taxpayers to take another leap of faith and give the county more money to piss away on consultants, studies, and right-of-way acquisitions. Sorry, but no thanks.

While I certainly agree that we need to fix our woefully inadequate transit system, it is impossible to believe that the county will get it right if they had more money to flash at the federal government. Instead of coming up with half-baked schemes that pander to the public, Barreiro and Jordan should show some real leadership and figure out how the county can provide adequate public transportation with the available pot of money, which is a mix of half-cent sales tax proceeds, property tax revenue and fare collections.

In fact, Tony Garcia at Transit Miami offered some very good suggestions to get county commissioners and transit planners on the right track, including charging the elderly and veterans (who ride for free as of now) a reduced fare and giving the citizen’s trust the power to do its job. I would only add that the county consider offering a variety of metro passes at affordable prices that would encourage more people to ride the bus and Metrorail, rather than a singular monthly pass that will set you back $75 a pop. I’d also offer incentives to local companies that not only encourage, but reward, employees to use mass transit.

But until county officials demonstrate they can be fiscally responsible with our tax money, I say no to another half-cent.

-- Francisco Alvarado


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