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Riding The Miami Metrorail (Pictures & Video)

September 22, 2008 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 15 Comments

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ABOVE: Inside a Metrorail car, passing through Downtown Miami. Photo by Miami Fever.

Ask your average Miamian what they think of the Metrorail and you typically get a look like you just asked them what they thought about the recent presidential election in Zimbabwe.

“Metrorail? You mean that thing up there?” they’ll say as they point to the massive cement overpass that hangs next to US-1. “How should I know? Nobody rides that thing.”

Such is the great joke in Miami-Dade County. Yeah, we’ve got a mass transit rail system. No, of course I haven’t taken it. That thing doesn’t go ANYWHERE. And while there are probably more people in Miami who have ridden the subway in Santo Domingo than have taken a trip on our much-maligned Metrorail, it can actually be a good form of public transportation. Yes, you read that right, and no, I am not losing my mind.

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The train to nowhere

The Metrorail, like so many public works projects in this city, began with good intentions. A mass transit system for a fast-growing city that would put us in the league of a New York or Boston in getting a large population around without clogging the roadways. But, like so many local projects down here, once the County Council got a hold of it, it ended up as an expensive, useless disaster.

The beginning of the Metrorail’s route seems to make some sense, running north up our most crowded street (South Dixie Highway) from the suburbs of Kendall and South Miami, through the University, Coconut Grove, and into downtown. A perfect first line for suburbanites commuting. But then, the system gets weird. Did they design it to go to the airport to help our residents and millions of tourists (some of whom get shot when they try driving to it), and to alleviate traffic there? Or maybe South Beach for the tourists? Or maybe the (then) new Dolphins Stadium up near the county line? No, no of course they didn’t. That might have made sense. And making sense is not the Miami way.

Who the hell designed this thing?!

What we got instead was a circuitous route snaking its way from Jackson Memorial Hospital up north through some areas that vaguely resemble South American Shanty Towns and ending up somewhere in the middle of Hialeah. Why, you ask? Well, the mayor of Hialeah at the time of the Metrorail’s route planning wanted to ensure that the train went to then-glamorous Hialeah Race Track. And in order to get from downtown to the track, the train had to snake through some neighborhoods that would make a guy from South Central think twice about getting out of his car. And since Hialeah had a large and powerful constituency, and the airport did not, we ended up with a train that runs to the track, and crooked cab drivers and an unreliable bus line to the airport. You can take a lok at the Metrorail’s route by following this link.

Now, instead of stops like “Orange Bowl” or “Miami International Airport” or “South Beach,” we have a train that goes to such in-demand locations as “Earlington Heights,” “Brownsville” and “Santa Clara” (bet you didn’t even know we had a Santa Clara in Dade, did you?). As such, the Metrorail is now basically the metal equivalent of a Seagull, flying overhead, making noise, and shitting on the people below who barely even notice it’s there.

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All the fun of mass transit without all those pesky people!

But despite the poor planning and even poorer execution, you can actually use the Metrorail as a viable form of transportation in this city. Once you have recovered from your fit of roll-on-the-floor laughing, you may continue to read on. Given the spike in gas prices, Miami’s unrelenting traffic, and the city’s new tendency to focus on developing an urban core, we may be finding that the Metrorail becomes more and more of a useful tool. Stop laughing. I’m serious.

You know how in some cities where people actually take the trains, when you sit down you will undoubtedly have the fattest, smelliest guy on the entire train sit down next to you? Or the occasional person who seems completely normal until he starts telling you about the conversation he had with Jesus - who was sitting in the exact same seat as you – two weeks ago? Not on the Metrorail. There are so few people on these trains you start to feel lonely. I’ve had entire cars to myself on numerous occasions, and it’s the kind of place where if someone sits down next to you, you think, “The nerve of this guy! I wanted my own row.”

Typically the crowd is made up professionals in the morning and afternoon rushes, construction workers in the early afternoon, and people dressed as empty seats the rest of the day. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like interacting with other people, hates sharing and enjoys sitting in air conditioning, the Metrorail is definitely for you.

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For the Downtown / Brickell set

But the Metrorail is not limited to the selfish and anti-social! If you live in either the downtown or Brickell areas, and you also work in these areas, you can legitimately not use your car for days at a time if you are willing to use the Metrorail. Need to go shopping? The Metrorail takes you straight to Dadeland and Dadeland Station. If you’re not from Miami, this is where you can visit Target, Best Buy, or any number of national retailers. You can even take the Metrorail to Publix if you’re feeling particularly lazy, as there is one just across the street from the Brickell station and Dadeland South.

Giving the finger to US-1

But the joys of riding on Miami’s most neglected civic asset are not reserved for those living in unsold high rise condos in our ever-growing downtown. Arguably the worst commute in Dade County is driving up US-1 from Southwest Miami-Dade to a job in downtown. If you take this road a drive that takes 20 minutes without traffic can be an hour and a half if you live as far south as Cutler Ridge. But fret not! The South Dade Busway (Thank you, Katy Sorensen!) runs up US-1 to Dadeland South, where you can hop on a train to your job downtown, with a 50 cent transfer, and be downtown in about 35 minutes.

Even if you live in West Kendall and have to drive to one of the many Park and Rides along the Busway, this can make the trip as short as half an hour if you time the busses right. And there is no better feeling than looking out the window of the Metrorail at the unmoving traffic on US-1 and think you’ve discovered some unknown secret.

Great for downtown workers

For downtown workers, the stops in downtown Miami are also fantastically convenient. The main stop there is Government Center which is, as the name would imply, a large building with government offices in it. But the stop, which also houses a Mertomover and Bus terminal, actually feels like one of those big, giant mass transit stations in a real, live downtown complete with newsstands, coffee shops, and people pushing you out of the way so they can make their train. It is also just blocks from the Miami-Dade County courthouse and several of our city’s largest office buildings.

Even if you are not going to the courthouse, or one of the many high rises near Government Center, it is an easy transfer to the Metromover- a series of small electric buses that circulate overhead throughout downtown and Brickell- which can take you pretty much wherever you need to go in downtown.  But more on the Metromover later.

Other downtown stops include Brickell, which takes you right into the heart of Miami’s financial district, Historic Overtown, which is good if you like getting mugged, and Civic Center, which is where you would get off if you were working in one of our many downtown hospitals.

The next stop is Culmer. If for some reason you miss the Civic Center, get off at Culmer and turn around. You have no need to go past that stop unless you like looking out the window at extreme poverty and/or the 112 Expressway. Hialeah Park is closed and the TRI-Rail (another train you can take up to Broward and Palm Beach Counties, which has a connector station on the Metrorail) is now down to about 4 trips a day, so there is really no reason to go north of that stop.

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For the six UM kids who didn’t get a BMW for their 16th birthday

College students should love the Metrorail. The convenient stop at the University of Miami allows students to live in areas like Brickell or Kendall without having to endure a painful commute to campus every day. Similarly, if one was to work at UM, or just wants to use the gym, the Metrorail is your best option. It will drop you off right in front of the Bank United Center (aka the basketball arena) and it is a relatively short walk to anywhere on campus.

But UM students, please realize something: Just because the stop on US-1 and 27th says “Coconut Grove” does not mean you can take it out to the bars or to go shopping on the weekend. That stop is about a mile and a half from Sandbar or Tavern, and it’s even about 10 minutes to get to Flannigan’s. The point is, that stop is only useful if you have a hankering for Pollo Tropical and don’t feel like driving. But, under no circumstances, should you get off there if you are going out to the Grove. Unless you are going there to buy drugs.

It doesn’t run on “Miami Time”

The other great thing about the Metrorail is that, unlike pretty much everything else in this city, it runs on time*. So when you plan your trip from your house in Kendall to get to work by 9 o’clock, you can pretty much depend on the Metrorail showing up when the schedule says it’s going to. This, I suppose, is one benefit of having less riders than your typical Harley Davidson.

If you are not the type of person who enjoys memorizing train schedules (and I mean, we’ve only got one line so it ain’t too hard) you can even track your train to see where it is at http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/traintracker.asp. Do it from your phone if you want to.

* - Except for Sundays. On Sundays the train runs every half hour and that’s if you’re lucky. That, and apparently the entire city decides to experiment with mass transit on Sundays, making the train more crowded than your typical downtown subway in Shanghai. What I’m saying is, Sunday is a good time for a family drive.

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Farecards?! We don’t need no stinkin’ farecards!

As of the time of this article, the Metrorail costs $1.50 per ride. This is a pretty good deal if you consider that New York and Chicago both charge $2, and they actually make you share seats with other people. But if you come from one of these places where the city puts some thought and effort into its trains, please don’t expect some sort of convenient “fare card” or even “bill accepter” at our turnstiles. Oh no. You want to get on the Metrorail? You better be packing lots of change. Because the only thing the turnstiles at our 22 glass-brick and cement stations have are COIN accepters. Not even $1 bills. Coins.

Now, if for some reason you do not have coins all is not lost; each station also provides one or two change machines. These machines, however, are acutely tuned in to the international finance markets, and no longer accept dollars. I mean, they may say on the front “1, 5 and 10 dollar bills accepted,’ but try putting one in. It’ll spit it out faster than a guy who’s just been told what’s in his hot dog.

I would typically allow at least an extra 3-5 minutes to get change for the train if you go given the finicky nature of the machines. And if you were ever wondering where to go to spend all those extra Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea dollars you have, any Miami Metrorail station is a perfect place. If you don’t have any, the international finance snob machines will be happy to dispense you as many as you want for your worthless paper dollars.

If you want to avoid this particular hassle, the county does offer a Metropass for $75 a month ($100 after October 1, 2008) that allows you unlimited rides on any of our trains, busses, or weird electric bus things that run on tracks over downtown. Why they couldn’t just use this same card as a refillable fare card like every other train in the country, I don’t know. But your options are walking around with 10 pounds of change in your pockets, or shelling out the 75 bucks for the monthly pass, so you make the call. And they wonder why nobody rides this thing.

Also be advised that the county will also charge you to park at any of the Metrorail stations which offer parking. You can either pay $4 a day, or shell out $6.25 for the monthly parking pass. If you are that bad at math, you deserve to lose the money you’re going to spend. Go with the monthly pass.

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Tourists and the Metrorail: It doesn’t go to South Beach

For you visitors out there, there ain’t a whole lot the Metrorail can do for you unless you are trying to see the “real” Miami. And unless you’re a bad neighborhood aficionado, only about half the system is going to be worth your while. If you are a tourist staying downtown, you cannot take the Metrorail, or even a decent bus really, from the airport. But if you want to explore, perhaps, the University of Miami you can take the Metrorail from downtown.

If you are staying in South Beach, you’re going to have to take a bus to the mainland, get off at Omni Station, and take the Metromover to Government Center to get on the train. At that point, I seriously recommend you just stay in South Beach, since there really ain’t much you will find taking the Metrorail that is better than what South Beach has to offer. Unless you’re really into urine soaked homeless people. However, if you want to avoid the humiliating experience of having the change machine reject your money, you can buy a 7-day Visitor’s Passport for $19 that allows you unlimited access to all of our lovely public transportation options.

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Metro mover: Cars with no drivers hover above downtown Miami

You may have noticed throughout this article I have mentioned the Metromover a few times. The Metromover (formerly called the PeopleMover) is an elevated electric bus system that snakes in and out of our towering downtown skylines, bringing workers from large Metrorail stations to smaller stations closer to their final destinations. It is completely automated and looks really space-aged as the buses move throughout the city without the aid of a driver. The Mover can get crowded, since the “busses” are about the size of your average Econoline van, but they are still easier – and less sweaty – than walking.

The Metromover literally goes pretty much everywhere in the Downtown/Brickell area, from the Financial District in South Brickell to the Omni Station near the Miami Herald building and Performing Arts Center in the north. It also has stops at Bayside Marketplace, the American Airlines Arena, and the James L. Knight Center. Among countless others. The Metromover is a series of 3, one-way loops with cars coming about every 5-10 minutes. These loops are:

Brickell Loop – runs from the southern and of Brickell on SE 14th St. up across the Miami River into downtown, and into the main downtown loop (not unlike the one in Chicago).

Downtown Loop – Runs clockwise through the main loop downtown, but does not go north to the Herald or south to Brickell

Omni Loop – runs from Omni Station in the north down to Government Center, runs counterclockwise through the downtown loop, then goes back up north through Bayside, past the Herald, and back to the Omni Station.

You can get a better idea of how these loops work by looking at this map.

You can transfer to any of the Metromover trains while inside the downtown loop. Which is pretty small. The Mover is great if you take the train into downtown and don’t want to have to walk through oppressive humidity or pouring rain, which are typically your 2 weather choices when walking through downtown Miami. And the best part about the metromover: It’s absolutely FREE! They used to charge a quarter, but I guess the county figured they were hassling us with change so much for the Metrorail they could spot us the twenty five cents.

The future of the Metrorail or the best half a cent we’ll ever spend

Back in 2002, Dade County voters overwhelmingly passed a half-cent increase in our sales tax to fund Metrorail expansion north up 27th Ave to Dolphin Stadium, and west to the Airport and Florida International University. Six years later guess how much track has been laid for that project? Yeah, we’re further along on colonizing Mars than we are in getting a train to the airport. And while that small spur, from downtown to MIA, appears to be the only part of the project that may actually, someday, maybe get built, don’t hold your breath. Something tells me this guide won’t be outdated for a long, long time.

But despite its limitations and massively-frustrating change machines, the Metrorail can be an economical and time saving alternative for any Miamian.  If you get as enraged at traffic as you crawl along US-1 as I do, and want to figure out a way to not have to do it again, look up at that mysterious cement track over your head. Tough you may have previously thought of it as a large piece of useless scenery, it just may me you salvation. In an era of $4-a-gallon gas, why not give the Metrorail a try? Just make sure you never go north of Culmer.

Miami Metrorail video by Rebecca Carter

Related Categories: Public Transportation Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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15 Comments on

"Riding The Miami Metrorail (Pictures & Video)"

anon says:

Too bad the Monthly MetroPass is going up to $100 a month on October 1st. What a rip off. It was enough to get me back in my car. That’s more than most major cities charge!

Posted on 09/22/2008 at 9:38 PM

joel says:

while i appreciated your attempt at humor and have decided to abstain from a harsher criticism of your “guide,” there is a giant portion of the county that does live north of santa clara and uses the metrorail for destinations in both directions, myself included.  is there a dire need to build more lines that serve more people? absolutely. but to insult those riders who live “in extreme poverty” and “in shanty towns” exposes you for how little you really know.

Posted on 09/22/2008 at 10:33 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Thank you for your understanding, Joel. No mean to insult the people living in those areas, but I have taken the Metrorail up north, to the end, many times and that was my impression of the scenery between Culmer and Hialeah. I’m sure many good people live up there, but you have to admit it can be a depressing ride.

Posted on 09/23/2008 at 12:24 AM

... says:

In Matt’s defense, while locals may have the biggest need for transportation in those sections, what the heck is there for a tourist or non-resident to do in these unattractive, crime ridden parts of town? With the exception of MIA and the Tri-Rail exchange, there is nothing to do/see via the Metrorail so no reason to advise a visitor that they need to go any further than Culmer. 

Also, I can add that I’ve taken the metrorail MANY times for no reason what-so-ever.  My son simply likes to ride the train and so we do so…from end to end, numerous times per trip.  I ALWAYS see 10 times as many people on the north routes (originating south of the Gables) than I do the south routes. (originating north of Culmer)  What’s more, there are MAYBE 5 people who are on the train when it starts from the Palmetto end versus the Dadeland end where there are at least 25 people.
Even with a need, the locals don’t seem to be taking advantage of it.

Posted on 09/23/2008 at 1:53 PM

Gus says:

“With the exception of MIA and the Tri-Rail exchange,”

MIA? Does the Metrorail stop at the Airport?

Posted on 09/23/2008 at 2:38 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Great round-up, Matt.  I use the metrorail as much as I can.  It was a great convenience when I attended classes at the Wolfson campus downtown and it’s my preferred method of transportation to downtown or Jackson.  I really don’t think enough people take advantage of it.

Starting Oct 1st the rate will go up .50 and parking will be $10 instead of 6.25.  That’s still a good deal considering gas prices and the cost of parking downtown.

Posted on 09/23/2008 at 6:18 PM

Amanda says:

I’m a New York transplant, living in downtown, working on the beach and attending UM (and no, I did not get a BMW for my 16th birthday, haha). Public transportation comes naturally to me however I have never seen a system so disorganized and poorly timed. Unfortunately I am sans car so I have no choice. It can take me anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half to get to or from school, which is a huge difference and hard for scheduling. Don’t even get me started on the bus (which, I have overheard a bus driver talking about how they “are not allowed to be early—only late).
I do however advocate more usage perhaps if more normal people (i.e. not bums) start using the public transportation (which, by the way, was more crowded then I have ever seen on Saturday afternoon after some Disney thing at Bayside) the city would be more pressed to make changes. Also,  if it ran later than midnight and more often then… rarely, there might be an increase in ridership. Getting stuck at government center after missing the last train because of a slow bus back from the beach is by no means fun.

Posted on 09/28/2008 at 11:03 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Hi Amanda, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience with transportation here.  I’m curious, does it take you 1/2 hour to an hour and a 1/2 from downtown to UM because there’s a bus transfer involved?

If it’s any consolation, parking at UM could easily be just as time-consuming during peak hours.  Even parking in the least expensive commuter lot off-campus and taking the private campus shuttle could still take a good chunk of time, although the service is great.

I would hate to be stuck at Govt Center.  I never take the metro at night and even early on the weekends it’s kinda scary.  Very desolate and nothing but vagrants around in that area (Govt Center).

Posted on 09/29/2008 at 10:34 AM

Charles M says:

I live in the new “Downtown Dadeland” area, right by the Dadeland south station, and I go to school at UM. The metrorail is absolutely ideal for coming to and from school, as US1 between Kendall and Sunset is absolute murder during rush-hour.

Posted on 10/02/2008 at 2:06 PM

Irina says:

I use the Metrorail. But than again, I am Russian. I was raised on public transportation.. Public Transit is like a second home me.. LOL.. It might look inconvenient at some times, but I love challenges…

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 8:10 PM

Mario says:

Interesting article and well-written.  While Hialeah does have a large population, not that many of its residents work in downtown or areas adjacent to the metrorail line. 

For a time, I would drive south from Miami Lakes, park in Okeechobee station and ride to my job in Brickell.  The metrorail was convenient and fast.

It’s true that the metrorail has far more people south of Civic Center.

One badly needed extension would be up Biscayne Boulevard, may be up to Aventura.

Posted on 03/18/2009 at 4:09 PM

omar says:

ive never taken metrorail before but i do notice its there why doesn’t the article mention the metrorail takes you to the mall in sunset

Posted on 03/29/2009 at 12:55 PM

Carol says:

So, as a tourist taking Tri Rail south, the only public transportation to South Beach would be an unpredictable bus that I could get at the Transfer Station? Is there a stop at Collins & 21st Street?

Posted on 06/06/2009 at 7:21 PM

mansoon says:

I actually got kekicd out of the station for not having one of those and followed up with MDT Director Kapoor. At the time, I received a response within 12 hours and had people talking to me on the phone a couple of hours later. I then received an email about a week later apologizing for the behavior of the contractors (who was throwing me off the train and out of the station, would not allow me to enter despite having in the meantime obtained a permit even had I paid again and said that I could go up or down the line and enter there). This came from my work address at UM law school (I’m a law professor) and that may have had something to do with this. Subsequent emails about drivers disregarding cyclists however still await an answer despite having been sent three times. The rationale is   I think   to show that you have signed off on rules that are contained in the brochure and if you contravene them for MDT to be able to say that you had agreed not to break them. Not sure what purpose that serves in the end since no one ever makes bikers aware of the requirement when entering a station. Markus

Posted on 06/04/2012 at 10:15 PM

Steve says:

Gus asked: “MIA? Does the Metrorail stop at the Airport?”

It does now.

Posted on 08/04/2012 at 12:12 AM

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