The South Dade Busway is a two-lane bus-only roadway constructed in a former rail right-of-way adjacent to a major arterial, US 1 (see Figure 1). The eight mile busway was opened by the Miami-Dade Transit Authority (MDTA) on February 3, 1997. An 11.5 mile extension south is planned; this is the project that is part of the Miami BRT. The extension is not discussed in this case study but is the subject of MDTA's BRT project.
Figure 1 The Busway MAX route waits for a green signal on the South Dade Busway
The busway has 15 stations in each direction from its southern end, SW 200th Street, to its northern end, the Dadeland South Metrorail station. The opening of the busway was accompanied by a restructuring and increase of transit service in the corridor. The busway was built in the abandoned right-of-way of the Florida East Coast Railway, purchased by the state in the early 1980s.
There are several types of service in the busway corridor:
- Local: Runs on the busway only, and makes every stop at all times (Busway Local).
- Limited Stop: Runs the length of the busway and beyond, skips stops nearest Metrorail station during peak periods (Busway MAX ["MAX" stands for Metro Area Express]).
- Feeder: Collects passengers in neighborhoods and then enters the busway at a mid point (Coral Reef MAX, Saga Bay MAX).
- Crosstown: These were pre-existing routes in the corridor that now take advantage of the busway where possible. They enter and exit the busway at middle points. They are designed to provide access to many destinations in the region, not just to the center city (Routes 1 and 52).
Figure 2 Minibus waits at Dadeland South
- Intersecting: Routes in the corridor which intersect with busway routes, sometimes stopping at busway stations (Routes 35, 57 and 70).
Much of the new service was planned to use 20-seat minibuses (Figure 2). These include the feeder routes and the off-peak and weekend service on the Busway MAX, Busway Local and Route 1.
The busway stations are located at roughly half-mile intervals, about twice the standard stop spacing for Miami bus routes. For example, when Route 1 operated on US 1, it had 19 designated stops southbound and 23 northbound (on the portion of the route using US 1). When it was moved to the busway, the same distance was served by only 10 busway stations. Most stations are on the far side of intersections, except at locations where a route turns off the busway, where the stop is placed on the nearside. In two locations there are midblock stops to serve major generators (a school and a mall).
Figure 3 Typical On-Line Station
All stations have large shelters designed to protect passengers from sun and rain. They have route maps and schedules, telephones, and waste receptacles (see Figure 3). By comparison, few bus stops on the rest of the system have shelters and none provides schedule information or system maps.
Figure 4 Sidestreet traffic faces red signals on Busway and US 1
In the northern portion of the busway, there is very little separation between US 1 and the busway. At these locations, the traffic signalization was designed so that the two intersections would function as one. The signal facing busway traffic is red unless a loop detector senses an approaching bus. If a bus is detected and if US 1 has a green signal, the busway also gets a green. Right turns (south to west) from US 1 to side streets are permitted only on green arrow, to prevent right-turning vehicles from colliding with busway traffic (Figure 4).
In the southern portion of the busway (south of SW 160 Street), there is more separation between the two parallel roads, and they were originally signalled as separate intersections. However, in the initial months of operation there were 14 collisions between buses and sidestreet traffic. In every case, the private vehicle driver had not noticed or had ignored the red signal at the busway. The signalization was changed in August 1997 so that the busway signalization was synchronized with US 1. From August 1997 to July 1998 there were five collisions, a much lower rate than in the first months of operation. Right turns from side streets to US 1 were facilitated by installing a right turn lane and right turn signals.
How much time does the busway save? One way to look at this question is to examine travel times on bus Route 1, which operated on US 1 prior to construction of the busway. When the busway opened in February 1997, Route 1 service was divided, with some trips operating on US 1 and some on the busway. In April 1998, all Route 1 service was moved from US 1 to the busway. The schedule time from Dadeland South to Perrine, where Route 1 leaves the busway/US 1 corridor, was 18 minutes in the peak period for trips operating on US 1 in 1997 (see Table 2-1). Trips operating on the busway were scheduled for two minutes less time than the trips on US 1. However, when all Route 1 service was moved to the busway in April 1998, the scheduled times were the same, or greater, as they had been when Route 1 operated on US 1. Perhaps this adjustment simply reflects a more realistic schedule, rather than any real change in operating speeds.
Table 1 Bus Route 1 Scheduled Travel Time
Source: MDTA 1997 and 1998.
Although buses routinely travel at the 40 mph busway speed limit, the Route 1 service schedule implies trip speeds of 12 to 14 mph. The MAX express services have trip speeds closer to 18 mph, probably due to fewer stops.
The new and modified routes described above were started in February, 1997, although the full amount of service was not implemented until the end of April, 1997. With the new schedule of April, 1998, all Route 1 service was moved from US 1 to the busway. All trips on the Busway MAX and Route 1 were changed to full size buses, due to increased demand. Previously off-peak trips had been served by minibuses. Minibus operation continued for the Busway Local service and the two new feeder routes.
Many riders switched from Route 1 (on US 1) to the new busway routes. For those using the many shopping areas along US 1, the busway is somewhat less convenient because it is slightly further from the shopping areas and because it makes fewer stops. However, busway service might have become more attractive because of the greater frequency of service offered, considering the combined frequency of the several routes using the busway (3 to 7 minutes in the peak, 15 minutes or better in the off-peak).
Service was free for the first two weeks after the busway opening. Afterwards the standard system fare of $1.25 fare was charged. However, for riders transferring at the Metrorail station, the $0.25 transfer fee was only charged in the inbound direction. This policy represents an 8% discount for riders paying the full cash round-trip fare (busway plus rail round trip of $2.75 instead of $3.00).
Boardings, Revenue Miles, and Operating Cost
Ridership in the corridor increased 49% on weekdays, 69% on Sundays, and 130% on Saturdays, as of May 1998 (see Table 2). Most of the increase in ridership was registered as soon as the new service was completely in place, as of April, 1997 (see Figure 5). A major reason for the increase in ridership was the increase in service provided, in terms of new areas served, more frequent service, and a greater span of service. Except for Saturdays, revenue miles increased even faster than boardings. Operating costs increased at only half the rate of the increase in vehicle revenue miles. This happy result was due to the use of minibuses, which cost the MDTA $31 to $35 per hour to operate, significantly less than the $51 to $53 per hour it costs to operate full size buses. The difference in cost is due to fuel and maintenance costs and to the lower wages paid to minibus operators, under an agreement between the MDTA and its unions signed in 1996.
Figure 5 South Dade Busway Corridor Boardings
Source: MDTA various years.
The South Dade Corridor has a lower density of transit demand than does the MDTA system as a whole. Before project implementation, transit in South Dade attracted 24 boardings per weekday hour of service, compared to an average of 35 boardings per hour for the rest of the system. As of May, 1998, intensity of demand was unchanged for the rest of the system but decreased to 22 boardings per hour of service for the South Dade Corridor. Given the large increase in service provided, it is not surprising that intensity of use decreased. Intensity of use increased on Saturdays (from 18 to 23 boardings per hour) but decreased on Sundays (from 22 to 18).
The busway cost $60 million: $17 million for right-of-way acquisition and $43 million for construction (including eight miles of two-lane roadway and 15 stations). Although no vehicles were purchased as part of the busway project, 46 minibuses were purchased around the time the busway opened, many of them for routes using the busway.
The marketing efforts included brochures, a directory of transit service in the corridor, an opening party, and free fare for the first two weeks of operation.
Discussion and Conclusions
The South Dade busway seems to have provided little or no time savings for transit vehicles. Yet average weekly ridership increased 56%. This increase is mostly explained by the 72% increase in weekly revenue miles. The implied elasticity of boardings with respect to service (0.78) is high. This suggests that the MDTA did a good job in deploying and implementing service. The high combined frequency of busway service, both in the peak and off-peak, may be a central factor leading to this success.
The increase in service is higher than what it would have been had the MDTA operated full size buses only. Operating costs increased only half as much as revenue miles, due to the use of lower-cost minibuses for off-peak and other lightly used service.
Related Item: Miami - Table 2: Operating Statistics Before and After