Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Jones for a Jitney


In another example of how to keep the cost of living from falling in Dade County, the City of Miami and the state want to spend $200 million of our hard earned tax dollars on an outmoded form of public transportation called the streetcar. Once found in most U.S. cities, they were fazed out of existence by the 1940's for a variety of reasons, chief among them being they crowded the same streets they were designed to serve and impeded traffic flow. In this current plan, the powers-that-be want to run lines north, south, east, and west from Government Center in downtown. We think the idea is ludicrous because:
  1. The first hurricane will rip the ugly overhead power lines to shreds making it a $200 million investment going nowhere when you need it the most,
  2. Because they share streets with cars and are locked to a path of steel rails, they will become an impediment to drivers-- especially when they break down in the middle of the road,
  3. The cost is obscenly high-- like the parking fees at the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts
For a fraction of the streetcar costs, MVB suggests:
  1. Bringing back the jitney-- and not any new fangdangled modern version either. We want the always colorful, open-air Rastamons jitneys, Bahamian, Philipino, and Haiti style Island Nation jitneys. Make the jitney fare lower than the regular bus fare but include free rides for senior citizens, annual passes, and the use of credit cards to encourge riders to hop on board. Make it a rule that all the jitneys must play "Island"/reggae music loud enough within reason that it can be heard on the streets,
  2. Hire real live Island people to drive the jitneys. Pay them a living wage with all the benefits public transit drivers already get from the county. It's all about appearances and it will give deserving people meaningful employment. Let them park their jitneys at home to keep the bueracracy and its associated costs to a minimum,
  3. Contract with local mechanics in garages along the routes to maintain the jitneys instead of burdening the already strapped transit maintenance division.
Initial upfront costs will be for purchasing the jitneys and hiring drivers. If someone makes them here, contract with him to build them-- keep the money in the county. If not, import them from the Islands. They don't all have to look the same, that will be part of their low-tech, easy-to-maintain charm.

Probably the most important feature of our plan aside from the fact that it can be implemented quicker, cheaper, and with less hassel-- no streets need to be torn up-- is redirecting the enormous amounts of money from designing, building the rail lines, and buying the streetcars, to putting it into the hands of people who need permanent jobs. For example, instead of hiring only a few streetcar operators, the county could hire fifty or more jitney drivers which, on a social level, helps keep families together when one of the parents has a good permanent job with benefits. Fifty jitney drivers at $30,000.00 a year would cost the county $1,500,000.00-- maybe $2 million including benefits per year. That's enough to employ jitney drivers for 100 years. Of course there are the costs of buying and maintaining the jitneys, but come on, that won't even be close to funding a streetcar system.

We predict tourists and locals will flock to the jitneys and that Miami will become as famous as San Francisco is for its cable cars. We believe the world will also take note of the unique way we used fiscal common sense (a rare thing in the public arena) in solving part of our public transportation problems by incorporating low tech solutions that included:
  1. Helping the marginally employed get a step up to the middle class by creating jobs and
  2. Creating work by transferring maintenance to the private sector.
Finally, killing the $1.2 billion port tunnel and this $200 million streetcar notion ought to bring down the county's high cost of living to levels that will allow a struggling workforce to hang on and remain residents.

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