MIAMI HERALD: “‘I’ve got to walk six miles.’ County resuming transit after stranding riders Sunday”

Aramis Gallardo waited so long for a bus Sunday morning in downtown Miami that he asked a police officer if something had gone wrong. That’s when he got the bad news: Miami-Dade suspended all transit service Saturday night after city protests led to burned squad cars and ransacked stores.

Already late for his construction job on the Miami River, Gallardo couldn’t believe the county left him stranded.

“I’ve got to walk six miles,” said Gallardo, 37, shortly before beginning a walk that would take him three miles before he arrived at work very late, with another three miles awaiting him on the walk home. “The working people need the bus.”

Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration did not respond to questions about the strategy behind extending Saturday night’s suspension of all transit service, including Metrorail and Metromover, into all of Sunday. Statements from Miami-Dade transit cited an “abundance of caution” aimed at protecting passengers and staff.

The county’s transit agency announced shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday that transit service would resume normal operations on Monday. “We will continue to monitor the current situation as events evolve,” the statement said.

The suspension began abruptly Saturday night, stranding retail and restaurant workers stunned to find their regular rides wouldn’t be arriving. People without cars woke up Sunday to find they couldn’t get to work without buying taxi or Uber rides costing an hour’s pay or more.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who Gimenez will likely face in the race for Florida’s 26th Congressional District, criticized the mayor’s decision to shut down public transit on Sunday.

“Shutting all public transit today is another hit to essential & hourly workers from Richmond Heights, Perrine, Goulds, Homestead, Florida City, Naranja,” Mucarsel-Powell tweeted. “This isn’t just an inconvenience, it adds to the struggle of people trying to make ends meet.”

James Willoughby, an owner of the Pinch a Penny pool supply store in South Miami, said two employees called in Sunday and said they would be unable to get to work.

One called him at 9:40 a.m., an hour after arriving at a bus stop in South Dade. Willoughby told him to hail an Uber and then reimbursed him $40 to cover the $17.50 ride there and the one back home, too. For his second employee, with a longer commute involving bus and Metrorail, Willoughby told him to stay home.

The situation baffled Willoughby, since his store is miles away from the police confrontations and vandalism that downtown Miami saw starting Saturday night. “All this is hurting is the working poor,” he said.

Transit has been a worry for city administrators across the country in the face of protests mixed with violence, vandalism and ransacking. In Richmond, Virginia, a bus was set aflame after protests moved through the city. Los Angeles suspended transit service Saturday night and resumed it Sunday, offering rebates for passengers forced to pay for rides in Lyft or Uber and taxicabs. Atlanta suspended nighttime transit service to match a citywide curfew, but daytime buses and trains continued running.

While the county’s decisions received media coverage, Miami-Dade did not use the text alerts that the county employed to announce Saturday night’s curfew or routine “safer-at-home” messages during the start of the coronavirus emergency in March.

“Where was the communication?” asked Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who is running to succeed a term-limited Gimenez in 2020. In a statement posted on Twitter Sunday afternoon, she said the transit restrictions should have been strategic.

“Shutting down transit to reduce risks of disruption from agitators could have been limited to downtown, where protests were concentrated,” she said. “Healthcare workers, other essential workers & so many who rely on transit are now stranded. We need to get Metrorail and bus service back up.”

The Miami Transit Alliance had a similar message, posting a letter to Gimenez calling the shutdown “unproductive” and having an outsized impact on minority residents.

The decision “unreasonably affects transit-dependent Black and Brown communities who are at the heart of our nationwide need to heal, and promote justice and solidarity,” the group wrote, saying no major transit agency ordered the kind of sweeping, extended shutdown that Miami-Dade imposed. “A complete system shutdown deepens the racial and economic inequities that have contributed to the unjust reality that Black and Brown communities face today.”

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