When I first decided to move to Miami without a car, everyone who had ever been to the Magic City told me I was crazy. “How are you going to get around?” they asked. “How can you survive without a car down there? Public transportation is so bad!”
This statement is not entirely untrue. But contrary to popular belief, Miami has a variety of public transportation systems that visitors can utilize to travel around the city. All you need is a flexible mindset, a little time, and a lot of patience.
For first-time travelers to Miami — whether international visitors without a valid U.S. license or a family of six who doesn’t want to rent a car during their vacation — here is a comprehensive list of Miami’s public transportation systems and how you can use them to get wherever you need to go.
Service to: Pretty much anywhere in the metro area. This includes Miami Beach (North and South), Key Biscayne, Miami International Airport, Little Havana, Wynwood, and other spots of interest like Aventura Mall and Dolphin Mall.
Pros: We’re starting with my favorite Miami transportation system, the Metrobus. The Metrobus is a must-use for tourists who plan on exploring beyond South Beach. That’s because it’s the only public transportation system that connects the Beach to Miami proper. The buses are (mostly) reliable and usually come within 10 minutes of their targeted arrival time, which commuters can check online using MDT’s bus tracker.
The Metrobus is also relatively economical. For $2.25, I can travel from the beginning of the line to the end. And if you pay with an EASY Card instead of cash, riders get free bus-to-bus transfers if they do so within three hours from the first time they swiped their card. As you’ll see below, this can come in handy.
Cons: While one bus line might be comprehensive and cover an entire neighborhood, there isn’t much overlap on the overall bus grid. The Metrobus makes it easy for me to travel throughout a neighborhood like Little Havana. But if I suddenly decide I want to go explore Wynwood, I can almost forget it. It takes too long to transfer from one line to another. From what I can tell, this is mostly due to the fact that there are so few shared bus stops.
Service to: Pretty much anywhere downtown, such as the Adrienne Arsht Center, the PAMM, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, the American Airlines Arena , or pretty much anything else that exists between Brickell and the Omni Terminal.
Pros: The Metromover’s greatest pro is that it’s free. It’s a solid, air-conditioned alternative to walking along Biscayne Boulevard if you’re visiting downtown Miami. In addition, the Metromover runs on an elevated track and features lots of windows. This makes it easy see the city below you as you move from station to station. It also runs on a loop, which helps new visitors to avoid getting lost.
Cons: Only operating from the Financial District to Edgewater, the Metromover is not extensive. At all. I hardly ever use it because its scope is so tiny. I think the Metromover could be one of Miami’s greatest assets if it reached other parts of the city. In the meantime, it’s really only useful to businessmen and women who work in Brickell or travelers who want to see downtown.
Pros: The Metrorail is far more extensive than the Metromover, and like the Metrobus, it only costs $2.25 for a ride. Public transportation in Miami still isn’t as popular as it is in other urban spaces like New York or Chicago. As a result, Metrorail riders are also usually guaranteed a seat on the bus because, in my experience, few will be riding. Air-conditioned and quick, the Metrorail is the most efficient way to move from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Cons: While the Metrorail lines service many Miami neighborhoods, they don’t extend to many popular places. South Beach, Little Havana, Little Haiti, and Wynwood are noticeably absent. This forces visitors to strike out on foot or wait for the Metrobus if they hope to visit one of these well-known neighborhoods. I also find the Metrorail’s “north to south” arrangement to be a little frustrating. What if I want to stray from the bay and see some of Miami’s interior? It’s not really an option with the Metrorail until you get into the northernmost parts of the city.
Miami Trolley/Miami Beach Trolley
Service throughout: Pretty much every neighborhood in the Miami/Miami Beach area.
Pros: The Miami Trolley and the Miami Beach Trolley are separate entities because Miami and Miami Beach technically aren’t the same place. The Trolleys, however, function similarly. Like the Metromover, both are free. You can also transfer from one Trolley to another. This makes the Trolleys a (mostly) convenient and cheap transportation option throughout the Miami area. The Trolleys also operate in a loop. This makes it easy to get a taste of an area before you hop off and decide what exactly you want to see in a neighborhood.
Cons: The Trolley systems are making great strides in connecting different neighborhoods, like Miami Beach’s Collins Express. However, there are still only a limited number of ways in which travelers can use the Trolleys to get from one neighborhood to another. For example, it’s impossible to take a Trolley from Miami to South Beach or vice versa.
Service to: Most places outside of Miami-Dade County, including Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Hollywood, and Boca Raton. This rail system also connects to the Miami International Airport and the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.
Pros: It’s great that South Florida has a rail system that seamlessly connects Miami-Dade County with Broward County and Palm Beach County. For travelers, that means you can easily (and cheaply!) see several different Florida cities on one trip. Fares change based on the number of zones you travel through, and a Daily Pass is available for $5.00. The Tri-Rail also allows travelers to have more flexibility when it comes to choosing which airport they’ll use. I always have better luck finding cheaper fares out of the Fort Lauderdale Airport. And with the Tri-Rail, I can easily commute back to Miami.
Cons: Honestly, I don’t really have any. I’ve only ever taken the Tri-Rail to commute from the Fort Lauderdale Airport, and it met my expectations. The railcars were a little old, and I’ve heard some stations can be a little unsafe after dark. However, I think so long as tourists use common sense practices about staying safe in a new environment, they can use the Tri-Rail comfortably.
As you can see, the Miami area has several different public transportation options travelers can use. In my experience, most of them require pre-planning in order to utilize them effectively. I believe Miami public transportation is most useful when I take advantage of a combination of the aforementioned methods. So, hop on that Metrobus before sliding onto the Metromover and enjoy everything South Florida has to offer.
Featured image: A view from TriRail platform, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport Station at Dania Beach.