During his 2018 State of the County address, Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez briefly touched on transportation conditions in the region. He emphasized the importance of reforming the county’s roadway network by investing in public transit, noting that 95 percent of Miami locals use automobiles. This is unsurprising given the lack of profitability and low ridership rates surrounding Miami-Dade Transit (MDT). Only around six percent of transportation funding comes from fares and while transit operating costs were $555 million in 2017, fare revenue totaled just $88 million.
The mayor has been vocal in the past about supporting non-traditional solutions to Miami’s transit issues, including autonomous vehicles and trackless trains. In fact, Ford Motor Company is already in the process of testing self-driving vehicles on the streets of Miami. While those technologies offer hope for the future, Miami has a successful low-cost private jitney industry frequented by immigrants and minorities that could help increase MDT ridership rates today at a minimal cost to taxpayers.
Jitneys originated before World War I. However when the county monopolized public transportation in 1960, local officials prohibited jitneys from competing with public transit routes. This led to a sharp decline in the presence of jitney services, except in racially segregated areas not serviced by the county where officials permitted drivers to operate.
In 1981, Ordinance No. 81-17 provided a specific regulatory framework for dealing with jitneys. The current iteration of this ordinance requires that jitney transportation proposals not compete with or “adversely affect” the public transit system. The ordinance states, “In particular, it shall be deemed not in the public interest to authorize certificates of transportation … where service presently exists at average frequencies of twenty-nine (29) minutes or less and/or where such service will impair special transportation provided by the passenger motor carrier industry.”
In the same year, Florida passed legislation that unintentionally allowed for the resurgence of the jitney through a provision in intercity transit regulation. The law prohibited cities from restricting private intercity transportation outside of the parameters of imposing safety and traffic regulations. A few years after passage of the law, jitney drivers caught on to this loophole and began bypassing local regulations. Robert Cervero, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California-Berkeley, claims that during this period jitney ridership in Miami peaked at 500 vans and 50,000 customers per day.
The state legislature amended the law in 1990 to rescind the restriction on local regulation. In response, in 1991 Miami-Dade reestablished regulatory barriers against jitney operators. Illegal jitney operators were subject to $1,000 fines and confiscation of their vehicles, which drove many to cease jitney operations. Under the current regulatory framework, drivers are required to receive an operating license from the county, pay regulatory fees, and establish fixed routes approved by the city. The city recommends they meet with transportation planners to propose routes that do not compete with public transit. However, officials have only issued 13 licenses in over a decade.
While transit officials have largely focused on cracking down on illegal jitney operators, there have been proposals to deregulate the paratransit industry and incorporate jitneys within the MDT framework. The 2002 Jitney Services Pilot Program Study recommended running a 6-12 month trial period where jitneys service providers take over unpopular MDT routes, in order to measure the effectiveness of partnering with the private sector and increase ridership. The proposal, however, was never implemented into an actual pilot program.
A 2002 pilot study noted that jitneys service “43,000 to 49,000 riders per weekday, or about 23 percent to 27 percent of MDT Metrobus ridership. This represents about 18 percent to 20 percent of total transit system ridership.” Study consultants compared average ridership of jitneys to an MDT operating in Hialeah and found that “ jitneys carry over 100,000 trips per month while MDT carries less than 20,000 trips.” The study recommended the privatization of the Hialeah route and suggested conducting a jitney trial study on other less popular routes. It also discussed the importance of reforming jitney licensing laws. Since jitneys are already privately run, the study estimated that there would be low costs associated with implementing the program. If MDT wished to make jitney fleets accessible to persons with disabilities, they could subsidize and lease out shuttle fleets to drivers for the duration of the program.
Incorporating jitneys and the private sector into public transit may be a viable solution for dealing with increased transit costs and decreased ridership rates in Miami. Conducting a jitney pilot program would be a step in the right direction and data from the study could help the government determine the feasibility of future partnerships between jitney providers and MDT. Decreasing licensing requirements and permitting additional routes of operation will also aid in improving the current structure and making public transportation more accessible to residents.