Talking Headways Podcast: A Miami-Dade Voice for Bus Rapid Transit

This week on the podcast we are back at last fall's Rail~Volution conference. We chat with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins about the South Dade Busway, the importance of FTA ratings in getting projects built, and why she thinks it’s important as an elected official to ride transit.

The text of a portion of the interview is available below. Click here for a full, unedited transcript.

Jeff Wood: What’s surprised you most about the process for the South Dade Busway? I’m sure that there’s been a number of things that have popped up that surprised you or, or you were interested in finding out because it’s a different project than any other project that Miami-Dade has done before. There must have been something that kinda popped out at you.

Eileen Higgins: Actually the hardest part about this project is the disappointment of some of our residents. They really wanted a train. And for years elected officials had told them they were gonna get a train. But these are the same elected officials that never bothered to understand the process. They probably wouldn’t even know what the letters FTA stand for.

They certainly don’t understand the rating process. And they said we’re gonna bring you a train. And they said it loud and clear. I mean this was not like, "We might get a train." This is like, "You’re getting a train."

We had two options. We could have voted for a train, which we knew FTA would never fund. Because the ridership was so low and the cost-benefit was so outta whack, they would never have funded it. So we had the opportunity to basically mislead our residents and say, "We’re gonna vote for a train, we’re gonna submit to the federal government, five years later they’re gonna reject this project."

Instead, we took a very politically unpopular decision to build a world class BRT system. It’s gonna be, I think the longest or one of the longest  all--electric BRTs in the United States. It’s really gonna be pretty fantastic. And we made that decision and holy mackerel — the blowback from the residents was really strong and really angry.

But I had lived in Mexico City, so I had ridden bus rapid transit to work. I thought it was fantastic. So for me, I just thought this was a great solution. When it’s built, people are gonna love it. But we don’t, in this country yet, have an extensive BRT network. I think we’re getting there. We’re getting there so that more people are gonna have experiences with what bus rapid transit means and they’re gonna know what I know — it’s an above ground subway, you know, it never stops at a red light because we don’t let it stop at a red light. We change the lights. It’s also quieter than trains, right — trains are loud.

The FTA is not going say yes because they have other projects in other parts of the United States that compete for that funding. So our residents were misled. Enough of us were brave enough to vote for BRT and now it’s under construction. I personally believe it’s gonna transform the southern part of our county. I feel good that I made the right decision to bring transit solutions to people that have long lack without that. But there are also people that continue to not like me very much for it.


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