Fellow blogger Rick from South Florida Daily Blog recently posted a story on the amount of time he has wasted driving through our main thoroughfares because of traffic nightmares in peak hours.
This gave me food for thought. There's not much of a respite for public transportation commuters as well.
Anyone who thinks public transportation is feasible for a "normal" life in South East Florida can kiss my proverbial big Cuban ass. I don't know how folks manage to live in South Florida without a car, unless their lives are limited to the size of a fish pen.
On Saturday, I was a panelist at a blogging conference in Fort Lauderdale. At the last minute, I couldn't avail myself of a car or get a ride.
From South Miami Metrorail, using Tri-Rail, a free shuttle and one Broward County bus: four hours for 38 miles as the crow flies. If I had used a two-axle, the drive would probably not have been more than one hour each way. I made it to my panel by the skin of my teeth.
Take note: I started at 10:30 AM to get somewhere 38 miles away by 2:30 PM, thinking it would only take me about two hours, max.
On the way back from the conference venue: three Broward County busses, Tri-Rail and Metrorail: three hours.
That's seven hours for a two-way 38 mile commute to an event where I spent a total of three hours, if that much.
Let me put this numerically: 7 hours to travel 38 miles each way for a 3 hour event = 10 hours of the day. And this was with minimal delays on the trains and busses and me making it on reasonable time for scheduled departures.
More impressive still is the fact that the local Critical Mass cycling group had traveled 17 miles in a fraction of the time on Miami's roadways on Friday night.
While it's a blessing that we do have public transportation options, that's still five hours of my life that would have been a totally awesome trip to somewhere (hey, what about Key West?) had I not simply been commuting locally for work.
Remember, I once traveled deliberatly sans automobile from Atlanta to Miami after missing a flight to San Francisco. That's different. And I also recall taking the subway from Central Park to Brooklyn last year, one hour max. That seems reasonable.
Seriously, I could have flown to New York City or driven to St. Augustine in less time than the seven hours I spent commuting between Broward and Miami-Dade yesterday.
Cross-county commuting is definitely a bitch here, which is why I always recommend that you plan your life in South Florida with hyper-local focus, especially if you don't have a car. This is the only way you can lead an environmentally friendly life (minimizing your impact) while still staying relatively sane. Those naive, would-be Miami residents who dream of living here without a car, take heed.
On a positive note, the Tri-Rail is very comfortable. Security guards are friendly and so are other commuters when you ask for directions. Bus drivers are helpful, too.
And if you add it up, it's probably cheaper to use trains and busses rather than owning a car, not to mention savings on carbon points. As well, I was probably safer in trains and busses rather than behind the wheel, although traveling on Metrorail and Metromover late at night can be rather creepy and desolate, especially on weekdays. The Tri-Rail however, was bustling with tourists and locals last night, including pilots commuting from Fort Lauderdale airport to Miami.
But at the end of the day, where do you draw the line between being eco-friendly and losing practicality? Seven hours of a bone-rattling passage just doesn't work for me on a short, everyday kind of trip -- it'd be different if I was on an adventure somewhere. I pity the folks who have full-time jobs and children to take care of while still having to commute long distances in the tri-county region. They probably have little time left for anything.