Trolley Time!

NORTH BEACH IN LINE FOR NEW TRANSIT OPTION.

Although it’s been talked about for years, and very seriously so the past year or two, north Miami Beach is finally in line to witness the launch of a new shuttle system.

“It’s been in serious discussion for about a year,” said Mark Weithorn of the North Beach Development Corporation (NBDC) and chair of Miami Beach’s Transportation and Parking Committee. “Once [City Manager Jimmy] Morales was on board, it started to gain steam and move ahead.

Last week, the Miami Beach City Commission decided on Limousines of South Florida, Inc., as vendor to provide the turnkey trolley operations and maintenance services.

According to City of Miami Beach documents: “The anticipated start date for the fixed route, fixed schedule trolley services being sought after in this ITB process would be July 1, 2014 with new and/or used TEMPORARY vehicles upon the City’s approval. To allow for new trolley ordering and manufacturing lead time, the City is seeking to start services with all NEW trolley vehicles by October 3, 2014. As an incentive to the successful bidder, the City shall pay a performance premium of twenty percent (20%) of operation cost for all new trolley vehicles for the period of service in operation prior to October 31, 2014.

“We hope to have the service up and operating sooner rather than later,” said Miami Beach Commissioner Micky Steinberg, who is also a North Beach resident and advocate.

There will be a Tuesday, May 20 community meeting from 6-8 p.m. at North Shore Park and Youth Center Auditorium.

Weithorn said the shuttle system is needed these days even more so today than in the past, when numerous options had been discussed during different administrations.

“Basically, because of the recession, Miami-Dade County was forced to eliminate a million bus miles countywide and that affected North Beach,” he said. “Wait times are 20-40 minutes and the bus really became transportation of last resort.”

Weithorn pointed out that 68 percent of North Beach residents have rental until and many buildings do not have parking.

“A lot of residents work hard to find a parking space and, like in Manhattan, want to keep their space when they get one,” he said. “The circulator will have a ten-minute maximum wait time and allows residents to go to restaurants, the swimming pool, the park, youth center, the senior center, etc. It opens up the city to people.”

Additionally, Weithorn said, whenever the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) redoes local streets, more parking is lost, such as happened on Harding Avenue.

“Now, parking is more at a premium than ever before,” he said. “With the trolley, residents can circulate, and the route allows people on Normandy Isle, for example, to get to Publix. With the current parking situation, if local residents wanted to go the beach on the weekend, there is no parking on Ocean Terrace. With the [shuttle system], North Beach residents will be able to get to the beach in ten minutes without having to worry about parking.”

Advocates believe the trolley system will benefit businesses as well as residents.

“I really feel it will benefit both,” Steinberg said. “It benefits residents and businesses and benefits the city overall. It’s been a long time in coming.”

Residents benefit from easy access to businesses, which then benefits the businesses as well. Traffic congestion should also be reduced, advocates say.

“They’re supposed to add modems to the vehicles so riders will have access to WiFi and stops for the [shuttle system] will have LED signs with waiting times,” Weithorn said.

Many residents seem pleased with the prospect of the new system.

“Wonderful!” said Emily Willis. “The County buses aren’t very good and the wait times have gotten horrible. A system focused just on North Beach and connecting to other transportation is perfect. We’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

Michael Diaz said he is happy to see the City of Miami Beach focus its collective attention on North Beach.

“I wouldn’t be the first person to say that other parts of the city receive a lot more attention,” Diaz said. “I’ve even heard different commissioners over the years say the same thing. But not much has happened.”

Willis disagreed, saying that minor efforts on North Beach have made the community safer. NBDC also reports considerable private development underway.

Diaz and Willis agree that the trolley service will have a benefit many hadn’t considered.

“Although crime isn’t as bad as it was a decade or so ago, if you add a commuter type shuttle like this, with that kind of movement along local streets, it should be a deterrent to street crime,” Diaz said.

Despite a timeline built in by the City, however, there is some skepticism about when the system being fully functional.

“Seems like government tends to take a lot longer to get things done than they think,” Diaz said.

Weithorn said he has learned to never guess when it comes to government and timelines.

“I am confident, though, that as far as I know, it will happen in the next few months,” Weithorn said.

Steinberg is pleased with the City’s progress – and the many benefits the system will bring to North Beach.

“I think North Beach is one of the most special and unique things about the city,” she said.

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