Car-less and wondering how to get around Miami-Dade County? It all depends on whom you ask.
The car-less student from the Northeast would probably call it transportation hell. The car-less student from the South or Midwest might tell you this is transportation heaven.
Truth is, South Florida’s mass transit service isn’t all that bad. The key, of course, is location, location, location. And this happens to be an excellent location. Here’s a sampling of some of the places you’ll most likely visit and a brief description on how to get there.
Many may groan and moan about the perils of mass transit, but it is undoubtedly the best way to explore the sites and sounds of the Magic City. Fortunately, the lifeline to all your urban adventures, the Metrorail, stops just a block away from the University of Miami’s main campus and UM is just a train ride away from the major bus routes. While the Metro won’t take you everywhere you want to go, it will help you connect to buses that will.
While your primary destination will probably be the beach, a word of advice: don’t underestimate the grimy streets of downtown Miami, just minutes away on the Metro from here. Downtown Miami is home to some of the city’s most interesting fauna, tasty, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and several art galleries.
It is also in downtown from where you can catch nearly half a dozen buses to Miami Beach-Miami-Dade’s party central-and the beach side communities along A1A. (An alternative to the Beach is the more family-oriented Key Biscayne. To get there, join the dozens of illegal Central American nannies on bus B and ride into the ritzy seaside community and its beachside parks.)
Need new underwear, tacky decorations, new sneakers or a killer Banana Republic dress? Take the train South to Dadeland North, where you’ll find the ever-classy Target, Best Buy and the Sports Authority. A few blocks away is the shopping hub of Miami-Dade’s noveau riche-and most of Latin America -Dadeland Mall.
Want to go to a movie but don’t want to bum a ride off your roommate? Craving a dose of killer sushi or a sinful tiramisu at a chic Italian sidewalk bistro? Take the train (or walk) to South Miami, home to a cluster of sidewalk restaurants, cafEs and Sunset Place, where you’ll find a 24-screen megaplex, a Barnes and Noble, Niketown, a Virgin record megastore, A/X, the Gap, Old Navy, and several boutiques.
Swanky Coral Gables also offers culinary delights and art gallery buffs, and bus 52 is one of several that will take you to downtown Coral Gables, where you’ll find an international collection of chic restaurants and cafes. Brickell’s famed pub Tobacco Road, a Miami staple, and the area’s cozy (but pricey) eateries are but a 10-minute train ride away.
To immerse yourself in the Cuban experience, complete with picadillo, tostones, flan de guayaba or cafE con leche, take bus 8 to Calle Ocho, Miami’s Cuban-and increasingly -Central American stronghold. The bus departs from the Brickell station, and the ride is about 20 minutes from there-without traffic.
For those of you who want to travel north of south of the county line: A recently-added bus route will take you to Marathon in the Florida Keys and some of the Broward County buses venture into some of Miami-Dade’s northern bus stops. The tri-county train system, Tri-Rail, stops at several of the Metro stations. Tri-Rail travels north-south from West Palm Beach to Miami-Dade County.
Miami-Dade’s transit fares are cheap. The initial one way fares on the bus and train are $1.25 or $1, with a token. A roll of 10 tokens costs $10. Bus and Metro transfers are $.25 each.
Bicycle enthusiasts will be happy to know they can take their bikes on the train and on certain buses. A bike pass is required and can be obtained for free at Government Center. Time restrictions apply on the train, however.
On safety: Take precautions, as you would in any big city. The stations beyond Government Center are in rough neighborhoods, but aren’t as dangerous as they appear.
The system does have its shortcomings. The buses and the Metro don’t run late. The Metro runs till midnight. Most of the buses don’t, and if they do, you’d miss the train, which means that if you want to stay out and party hardy on the Beach or in the Grove, or plan a dinner and a late-night movie, you’d have to catch a cab home. A cab ride from here to the Gables is about $6. To get to the Grove, you’ll pay about $10; to the beach you’ll pay about $35.
For more information, call 305-770-3131 or visit the county web site at www.miamidade.gov.