Tuesday October 23, 2007

How to ride public transportation to work

Public transportation is slow, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. For anyone in Miami with a car, it’s usually an unthinkable alternative for commuting to work. Between figuring out how to get to the bus station, waiting for a bus, the long ride, and (god forbid) transfers, this is an option most of us dismiss out of hand, despite a vague awareness that riding the bus is somehow socially responsible.

But the solution is surprisingly simple. You throw a bicycle into the equation, and a lot of the problems go away. For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking a combination of bicycle/bus to work, and on the way home biking the whole way. Follows a step-by-step of how I now get to and from work, but first the benefits:

  1. The environment, stupid. Depending on our commute time and vehicle, we’re shifting the international power balance toward countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia on the front end, and pounding coffin nails into global warming on the back end.
  2. Exercise. You know you need it.
  3. Time to read. Books. I don’t know about you, but stupid internet has eaten up most of my book reading time at home. Here’s an hour a day reserved for paper reading.
  4. Money. A weekly $40 gasoline tab is now a $7.50 bus tab. Not exactly a get-rich plan, but it’s something. Of course people without a car figured all this out years ago.

Can something like this work for you? The answer is, probably. Here’s what you do:

transit map

1) Hit the maps. Here’s a link [PDF] to the Miami-Dade transit master map. Confusing, right? No worries — all you’re doing here is getting a general lay of the land, figuring out which buses (or Metrorail, if you’re lucky) may work for you. If you’re lost, try the South Florida Trip Planner.

route map

2) Select route. Here’s the list of routes. Find the ones that seem like possibilities and check the detailed maps of their routes. (Careful: some lines pull sneaky tricks, like running differently on the weekend, or having alternating buses only loop part of the route.) Keep in mind that you can bike between 1 and 2 miles in 10 to 15 minutes, so the route only has to pass within a radius of where you are and where you need to be.

route schedule

3) Hit the schedules. Each route has schedules for both directions. Of course the buses don’t hit the stop at the precise time listed, but the map will give you a very good idea of how long the ride will take. Backtrack, and figure out what time you need to be at the stop.


4) Flag down the bus. Have $1.50 ready. Bills or coins, but no change provided. Don’t even think about a bus pass — unless you’re riding more then two routes a day, it’s a sucker’s bet. When the bus pulls up, grab the handle on the rack out front and pull forward . . .


5) Secure your bike. Easy. The bike closer to the bus faces this way, the front bike faces the other way. Pull the support arm over your front wheel, and wiggle it snugly into place. This is all fairly idiot-proof, but you can get more detailed instructions if you feel you may exceed Miami-Dade Transit’s idiot-proofing level.

inside bus

6) Ride. Contrary to popular belief, most buses are not crowded. I get plenty of personal space most of the time. The people watching is not to be underrated, but like I said, this is really an opportunity to get some quality reading done. Get off at the front door, so the bus doesn’t pull away with your bike!

ride home

7) Bike home. Bring a change of clothes for the ride home. Take all the side-roads and cut through all the parks you can. Enjoy the fresh air. Easy.

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  1. MeYeZone    Tue Oct 23, 10:14 AM #  

    What about getting harassed by homeless people? I know women who won’t ride the bus because of this problem. What if there are already two bikes on the rack? What if the bus doesn’t show up?

  2. b.a.c.    Tue Oct 23, 10:32 AM #  

    If I didn’t sweat like a race horse the duo approach would be feasible. Bus routs and waiting time are just to effing inconvenient, not to mention traffic. God I wish this city had more Metro rail lines.

    Great piece though Alesh, people who live on the beach should definitely take advantage of public transport considering parking is a nightmare over the causeway.

  3. Duran    Tue Oct 23, 10:36 AM #  

    I walk or drive to the Coconut Grove Metrorail Station depending how late I am to work, they I take the Metrorail to the Brickell stop transfer to the Metromover and take that until the 8th Street Station and then I walk a block to my office in the 701 Bldg on Brickell Ave. Couldn’t get any simpler for me :)

  4. Don Incognito    Tue Oct 23, 10:37 AM #  

    I find it really funny that Miami is (I’m pretty sure) the only American city where one has to flag down a bus, Latin-American style.

  5. Duran    Tue Oct 23, 11:27 AM #  

    I like to flag down the Metrorail just for kicks.

  6. alesh    Tue Oct 23, 11:28 AM #  


    I’d suggest 1) During rush hour the bus is 99% nice clean working people on their way to/from work. 2) during other times, if the bus is relatively empty, sitting up front by the driver. More to the point — homeless people don’t bite. The full-rack thing is a bummer. It happened to me once — I had to wait 10 minutes for the next bus.


    I sweat a lot, too. On the ride home it’s a non-issue, on the 10 minute ride from the bus to work, I get a little sweaty but it’s not a disaster. If it were I’d get to work a little earlier (it’s cool out <9am this time of year).


    The annoying thing about Metrorail + bike is that the bike has to stay with you. Otherwise I’m sure it’s much faster/more convenient.


    I didn’t realize that. But Miami presents a special challenge for public transportation because it’s so spread out (low density) over a strange shape (noodle, rather then a more circular blob). Hence there are more stops used less frequently, so it doesn’t make sense for the bus to automatically stop everywhere?

  7. Sofi    Tue Oct 23, 12:52 PM #  

    I started riding the bus when I had my license suspended, and I was not too happy about it. To my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a great experience. Since my commute is from South Beach to downtown Miami, I have continued riding the bus. As a woman, I have never felt uncomfortable, nor have I been harassed by homeless people. The people watching is beyond awesome, I save money, and I’m helping the environment. Not to mention that when I arrive at work, I am calm and at peace. This stems from not having to deal with asshole drivers or the hassle of trying to find a parking space.

  8. Biscayne Bystander    Tue Oct 23, 01:25 PM #  

    Public transportation in this city would improve immensely if conductors underwent a little customer service training. If you are on the bus and need to get off on a particular block that is not that route’s specified stop (but they pass it), does it really kill anyone to stop the friggin’ bus so you can get off at the point closest to your destination?

    I’m fortunate enough to live and work off Biscayne, but I haven’t ventured onto the bus in over a year because of all the damn construction in the area. A 10 minute ride turned in to 45 minutes daily.

  9. kingofrance    Tue Oct 23, 01:29 PM #  

    Also, if your bike is the only one on the rack, push the rack back up when you get off, the drivers usually appreciate this. Nice piece.

  10. Chris    Tue Oct 23, 03:06 PM #  

    I ride the bus everyday to work. Generally the system ranges from reasonable to atrocious, with frequent stops at crap. I certainly couldn’t use it if I needed to be at work at a specific time every morning, it’s just not reliable enough. They also need to redesign their map, I find when I’m going somewhere new I have to have two webpages open, one with the bus map and one with google maps to try and cross reference what streets the buses actually go down.

  11. Don Incognito    Tue Oct 23, 03:47 PM #  


    That’s a good point. I’ve always considered it a cultural thing, but your explanation makes sense as well.

  12. crumbs    Tue Oct 23, 05:28 PM #  

    unrelated…but KingofFrance, oh the joy your site just brought to me & my 2 year old!

  13. FerfeLaBat    Tue Oct 23, 06:36 PM #  

    I’m with Chris. I tried it for 18 months. I live in the Keys and work up by the airport.

    Busses from Fla City to the Metro are PACKED and they do not return back to where you got picked up. Walk a few blocks in the dark in Fla City a few nights to get to your car and that gets old. Seriously. I showed the driver the route on the tri-fold thingy and he said that was just a general guideline, they didn’t always have to go back to point-A exactly. Besides. He needed to get home too.

    The Metrorail now runs fewer trains at greater intervals. They are late, crowded and often break down. My last trip on the train had me in the middle of a knife fight with the Wakenhut (sp) security guy at the OTHER end of the car on the phone. By the time the police arrived I was done riding the train. Crazy, violent people who pee in the back seats, who are often wearing only paper hospital gowns and nothing else, who are talking on cell phones that don’t exist making threats, and every foul disease imaginable being hocked into the air.

    Parking at any garage from Dadeland S. up is … well … don’t get too attached to that nice paint job because if you get a spot, it will be tighter than a hookers skirt. I drive a tiny two seater and passed up “spots” because two SUVS were basically turning three spots into two in the “compact car” section. Very nice.

    If you have nowhere in particular to go and don’t need to get there at any particular time and you don’t mind a little disease, car damage, and potentially life ending danger thrown in for the ride – by all means. I’ll take my chances with the gun toating road ragers on 836 and the Palemtto.

  14. dreaming    Tue Oct 23, 09:39 PM #  

    im guessing the buses and trains over in miami are sort of foul because of the riders.

    however, ive taken to riding the sobe shuttle to get around sobe. i find it awesome. and its only a quarter. i cant believe this is allowed to exist. im certain this will escalate to five bucks as soon as people find out about it….

    i have ridden the ‘people mover’ downtown when i lived on brickell key. its route is a bit constrained and the riders are a real mix. scary after dark, too. the views are interesting, though…

  15. FerfeLaBat    Tue Oct 23, 11:28 PM #  

    Dija see this?
    Metrorail trains delayed during ongoing repairs
    Posted on Tue, Oct. 23, 2007
    Metrorail will be running rush-hour trains every 12 to 15 minutes — instead of the normal 7 ½-minute intervals — between the Palmetto and Okeechobee stations because of ongoing repairs on downed power cables.

    Miami-Dade Transit said the so-called shuttle service — one train, on a single track, running between the two stations — could be in place for a few days or up to a week.

    ‘‘We discovered some water while we were doing some routine maintenance and needed to replace some 20-year-old cable while we were in there,’‘ said Richard Snedden, assistant director for rail services. ``Hopefully, it’s only going to take a couple of days, but we’re saying a week at the outside just to be safe.’‘

    The shuttle service will run from 6 to 9:30 a.m. and from 3:15 to 5:45 p.m.

    Normal service will continue between the Okeechobee and Dadeland South stations. Trains will continue to run on normal intervals during off-peak hours.

    Extra rail supervisors and Wackenhut officers will be posted at the Palmetto and Okeechobee stations to help customers.

    Every fifteen minutes instead of every 7 1/2 at rush hour means … half the people who normally ride are not gonna make it to work on time because at rush hour you can’t pack another body on those trains. There’s no possible way you can double the normal body count during those time intervals. But they’ll try … and it will be unpleasant in the extreme.

    The things I’ve seen on the metro mover? You don’t wanna know. I’ll tell you one thing, though. If the tire goes flat? The doors won’t open. Here’s how you fix it. Everyone in the car has to get on the opposite side to take the weight off the side where the flat is and the door will open. You need to provide tips like that if you want to pile people onto Miami public transportation.

  16. Life with Children    Wed Oct 24, 12:17 AM #  

    I love the idea. I just haven’t figured out to get my child to school on mid beach and me to work in North Miami on time.
    It’s impossible at this time of our lives.
    Once my kid can take a school bus, I could take a single bus to work…but as a parent with a child in school you always have to be ready to respond to an emergency. Riding a bike to pick up a sick child is out of the question.

  17. Chris    Wed Oct 24, 12:19 AM #  

    Here’s a good example. I left work at just before 4pm today at the Civic Center to get the bus. I got to Lincoln Road at 5:30 pm. This is the Miami bus system. It wasn’t heavy traffic, it was simply the non-appearance of buses. The system is a joke. It’s one of the reasons I will be moving from this city.

  18. kingofrance    Wed Oct 24, 10:27 AM #  

    That is not my site, I just link to it because of its superbadness. The amazing thing about it is that it has existed exactly like that for about the past 8 years.

  19. vkstro    Wed Oct 24, 01:57 PM #  

    Why have I not heard of this blog before!? I’m all for public transportation. I do not use it as much I want to. But I do enjoy it more on my days off as I use it as my “limo” when I go out to the movies and dinner, never leave my camera, ipod, newpaper or book.

  20. alesh    Wed Oct 24, 08:02 PM #  

    Thanks everyone for the great comments. Two things that need to be made clear:

    1) I do not intend to claim that the Miami-Dade transportation system is well run or adequate. My particular experience thus far has been pretty good, but I’ve spoken to many people who have much more experience then I, and they echo many of the same complaints voiced here.

    2) I’m not saying the above strategy can be used by anyone. I’m a single guy, and I have the luxury of being able to triple my commute time.

    My point here was to encourage car-owners who hadn’t previously seriously considered using public transportation to do so.

  21. Kathryn    Wed Oct 24, 10:33 PM #  

    South Florida Commuter Services also has a program called Emergency Ride Home that offers regular transit riders 6 free cab rides home/year in case of emergency or unscheduled overtime. I believe you can call 1-800-234-ride to sign up. I tried to get more info from 1800234ride.com, but it’s bugging out right now for me.

    It’s a great service – got me home in 20 minutes one day when I was really sick & could not have managed a 60 minute commute including transfer!

  22. FerfeLaBat    Thu Oct 25, 11:31 AM #  

    Alesh. I agree. If you can do it, it’s well worth it. I loved being able to read for half an hour. I loved not dealing with the 836. If I could have continued safely and with reasonable expectations of decent service, I would still be riding. I hope Miami fixes it up and throws more resources at it. Our city deserves a better mass transit system.

  23. Interesting...    Thu Oct 25, 06:31 PM #  

    On my way home from work, I passed someone on Biscayne that looked interestingly similar to you. Got to say man on bike, racing through traffic: Sexy! Not to mention all that pedaling creates a great ass.

  24. Cindy    Fri Oct 26, 05:57 PM #  

    I’m really glad there are people out there advocating for public transportation and others who’ve actually given it a try. I walk about 6 blocks to the Metromover and take that into Downtown from Brickell/Roads. For those who are able to, I think a lot of one’s ability to take advantage of public transportation is to try to select a home/apt/building that sits close to public transportation. That is the reason why I moved where I moved: so I could walk to the Metromover, get to work, and forget about my car all week. All those suburban neighborhoods sitting on the fringes of the ‘Everglades’ don’t lend much to creating a transportation effective city.

  25. seventhirtyone    Thu Nov 1, 02:27 PM #  

    Thank you for this post. Since moving to Miami from NYC two months ago I’ve relied on the public transportation system. It doesn’t even come close to comparing to New York City transit, but it’s affordable and you can get anywhere you want on a bus, metrorail, or metromover. It’s taken me some time to get my schedules down – and used to a bus that only arrives every 30 minutes – but I love it. I feel sorry for people in Miami who are afraid of public transport. The view of the city from the Metromover is unbeatable. Riding the metrorail takes me back to my subway days in NYC, and it’s fast and runs often.
    Get out of your boxes of solitude and take a bus or the train somewhere – even just for fun. Also, the Coral Gables trolley is amazing – runs about every 8 minutes, and it’s free.

    I’m more affluent than most people in the cars that surround my bus in the morning, yet I prefer the world of public transportation. Thank you for reminding people that it exists.

  26. D. Whitman    Sun Nov 4, 11:37 AM #  

    I agree with Frefe:

    “If you have nowhere in particular to go and don’t need to get there at any particular time and you don’t mind a little disease, car damage, and potentially life ending danger thrown in for the ride – by all means. I’ll take my chances with the gun toating road ragers on 836 and the Palemtto.”

    I take the Metrorail when I go to a Heat Game or something at bayside; however, when you have some street person either mentally unstable or on some “chemical assistance” ranting about a) White People being the Devil or b) Street Preaching, reeking to high heaven..it really makes my group and I either stand close to the intercom and security button. After hoping it works, a bunch of us have to come and shower afterwards from the stink afterwards. At least I can shower with my date :) and if its friends showering at my place after, thouse of us already finished make it a game, a shot for every minute they’re in the shower..