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Miami Transit Has a New Focus for Planning: Telecommuters

The Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization has identified a “telecommuting group” in its planning. The organization wants to better serve and understand the workers who no longer travel to an office each day.

For decades, public transit largely built itself around the commuter experience, a foundational platform that was nearly dismantled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which rearranged how we work and move around in cities.

The Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) is now looking at a “telecommuting group” in its planning, signaling a new era where significant numbers of workers no longer travel to an office every day. These individuals may work from anywhere, which indicates a need for a transportation system that can serve a community that is more untethered and flexible.

“We are formally introducing the telecommute work group as part of our official long-range transportation model,” said Aileen Boucle, executive director for Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, during a transit and transportation panel today at the CoMotion MIAMI conference.

In planning for telecommuting residents, land uses will need to be reimagined. This means nodes and destinations like mobility hubs should be scattered more liberally across the city rather than concentrated in downtown areas, say experts.

“People are using transportation differently,” agreed Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline Trains, a privately owned intercity passenger rail service in Miami. “They’re thinking about transportation differently. And this is going to be a challenge for anybody that’s in the transportation space who wishes to convince people to leave their cars behind.”

Even though traditional commuter travel on Brightline is still below its pre-pandemic level, ridership in general is already up 30 percent above its pre-pandemic level, Goddard said. He attributed the increase to stronger “leisure travel” and individuals being drawn to Brightline’s focus on the rider experience.

“I guess with the hybrid work week where they’re only needing to show up to the office a couple of days a week, and their work hours are a little bit more flexible during the rest of the days of the week, they’re using that time to go to the doctor. They’re using that time to go to get their education, visit friends, do an errand,” Goddard told the panel.

Given Miami’s love for the automobile, conversations at CoMotion MIAMI tend to drift toward ideas about how to get residents and visitors out of single-occupancy vehicles and into anything else. That aim has not changed in a post-COVID world. However, the wrinkle for planners and others is how accomplish this mission when lives are less structured, but no less in need of mobility.

Brightline believes part of the answer lies in weaving together different modes of transportation with a seamless digital infrastructure. In addition, the train system must be a natural extension of the community. It’s why Brightline forms partnerships with local galleries to showcase artwork; teams up with sports franchises like the Miami Heat for cross-branding; or introduces local restaurant workers or musicians to train stations and other facilities.

“All of that is a way to bring the community into the trains, into the stations, and to make the community feel like they own this asset, they own this form of transportation, and it’s theirs,” said Goddard. “Community ownership leads to community participation.”

Goddard added that “the more commodity transportation modes” will have the hardest time recovering in a post-COVID world, noting that transit agencies not focused on the passenger experience will find a “much steeper hill to climb to get back to pre-COVID numbers.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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