Like most curious south Floridians the Brightline higher-speed intra-city train that runs from downtown Miami to West Palm Beach with a stop in Fort Lauderdale has been on my mind. Like many, I have previously used the service on the weekends or holidays, when time isn’t really that critical.
I own a Honda Accord Hybrid so driving between Coral Springs and my office in the Brickell neighborhood of Central Miami isn’t as cost prohibitive as it would be otherwise. The Hybrid gets good gas mileage and allows me to use the Express Lanes on I-95 between Fort Lauderdale and Miami for a flat fee each year. But driving is still a nightmare when not in those Express Lanes. Traffic in Miami is bad and traffic in Fort Lauderdale is probably even worse. Recently I have chosen to pay higher tolls and avoid Fort Lauderdale completely by taking either the I-75 Express Lanes or the Turnpike to avoid I-595 and I-95 near Fort Lauderdale.
But Tuesday, I opted to try the Brightline as a commuter rail, taking me from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. The train is a fast service with incredible comfort inside. Free WiFi both at the stations and on-board as well USB and power ports at every seat both on the trains and in the waiting areas make it very useful for professionals. Leaving in and out of the stations was efficient like busier train stations in Europe and better than the commuter rail stations I have been through in the northeast US or Tri-Rail.
The cost of a round trip fare without promo codes (or weekly/monthly passes) generally costs about $27-$33 which is prohibitive for commuters. By comparison taking a combination of TriRail and MetroRail from Fort Lauderdale to Miami would cost about $20 round trip (without weekly/monthly passes), giving substantial savings.
But Brightline has become much more aggressive about running promotions and giving special packages since launching with extremely high, non-flexible fares. If you pay full fare for Select (economy) service, you’re not trying hard enough to find a promotion.
Brightline’s mobile app is incredibly useful. Train timings, bookings and tickets are all contained within the app.
The promotions and new passes give an opportunity for Brightline to be competitive among those who live in Broward but work in Miami. I coupled riding Brightline with the Miami Metromover which is free means while still slightly more expensive than a Tri-Rail/Metrorail combination, it’s quicker and arguably more convenient depending on where you live and the proximity to stations.
Arriving at MiamiCentral station after about a 30 minute ride from Fort Lauderdale (which is all it takes to drive between the two cities on weekends, BUT on weekdays it obviously take much, much longer) .
One real negative is that at MiamiCentral there is no signage in the station for Metromover. The closest station is Wilkie D. Ferguson, but I would not know that if I didn’t know Miami as well as I do. Signs are visible for both Metrorail (Historic Overtown/Lyric Theater Station which is next to MiamiCentral)and the forthcoming TriRail Coastal Link. But Metromover, the easiest way to get around Central Miami, which is only a block away has no signage currently. HOWEVER, my assumption is when MiamiCentral is fully built out, this signage will appear.
Getting to my office via a Metromover train was as easy as could be. We don’t get a lot right here in Florida, but Miami’s Metromover is one of the few things we have in a central city area that other major US cities don’t have. It can get you around Downtown as well as the Omni and Brickell areas without much hassle and for free. It’s not talked about often because Miami-Dade Transit has been a mess in so many other regards, but the planning and building of Metromover in the 1980’s and 1990’s is the most functional thing about Miami and arguably something no other American city can boast.
Miami-Dade Transit squandered the opportunity after the 2002 sales tax hike which was supposed to make Metrorail and Metrobus a service to rival any urban mass transit service in the country. Broken promises and failures have followed, but Metromover remains a gem in the system – though it should be noted that system was completed in the 1990’s BEFORE the sales tax hike.
My Brightline train in the morning had lots of tourists, many Europeans traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Miami. For them Metromover is the best way to see Miami once in the city. Signage for the Wilkie Ferguson Station in MiamiCentral would help.
My return trip was easy using again the Metromover from the station closest to my office (Promenade/10th Street on the Brickell Loop) and MiamiCentral. Food and drinks are cheap on the train. I bought a cold Bubly Grapefruit sparkling water for just $2, the same price it would cost at Publix.
In summary, I would use Brightline again to go to my office. However, two caveats : The price even for commuter passes is prohibitive unless you plan use it every day. Driving everyday is difficult, so mixing the two seems reasonable. I do have a Hybrid though which changes my equaltion a bit. All this having been said for me, the worst part of Brightline (which is probably the best part for tourists and high-end customers) is the station location in Broward. As I noted above, for me driving to/from and within Fort Lauderdale is as bad if not worse than within Miami. Fort Lauderdale unlike Miami doesn’t have an efficient mass transit system within the city.
Proponents of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County often take a parochial view of Miami and Miami-Dade clouded by old perceptions/stereotypes, envy and even in some cases racism. I am an advocate for all things Broward, but don’t pull my punches and quite frankly Fort Lauderdale has a problem of being a grown up city with an adolescent attitude.
Driving to Fort Lauderdale from Coral Springs is the single biggest reason I wouldn’t take the Brightline to my office everyday. But if I lived in Fort Lauderdale, I’d strongly consider biting the bullet for a commuter pass. I like Brightline and if it is within your means would recommend using it as often as possible.
But once Brighline goes north to Orlando and is rebranded Virgin Trains, I am certain it will become an even fixture of south Florida’s growing transit culture.