In light of this year’s exciting NBA Finals match-up between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks, we’ve decided to pit these two cities head to head in another very important area: transportation costs. We’ll look at two neighborhoods in each metropolitan area as usual and see which city has lower transportation costs overall before our run-down of how to cut costs.
Miami is the home of such stars as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as well as an average gas price of $3.803/gallon according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Since our Gas Slider rounds prices to the five- and ten-cent mark, we set the price at $3.80/gallon to retrieve our neighborhood costs. As in last week’s post, we zeroed in on one neighborhood in the city and another out in the suburbs to get a fuller picture of transportation costs in the “Magic City.”
First up is the neighborhood of Downtown Miami, located not too surprisingly in the heart of the city. Downtown Miami is a lively urban center–from museums to restaurants, shops to skyscrapers, there is never a dull moment here.
With all of these experiences to be had, what does it cost residents to get around?
The average family living in Downtown Miami would spend $658 per month on transportation, a rise of 15% from what it would have cost them in 2000. The increased walkability and transit connectivity of Downtown Miami, as opposed to less condensed areas farther from the city, play a large part in insulating residents from the effects of mounting gas prices on their transportation costs. Thus, we see an increase of 15% rather than (spoiler alert!) the additional 20% or more that residents of less walkable, less connected areas face.
Let’s take a look at one of these areas right now. Princeton, FL, is a smaller community about 30 miles south of Miami. Does the name sound familiar? The town’s founder decided to name it after his alma mater, Princeton University.
There are just over 10,000 residents in this Southern Florida town: how much do they have to shell out for transportation?
It would cost the average Princeton family $1013 a month to cover their transportation needs, which is an increase of 24% relative to 2000 costs. That’s a pretty hefty difference! Like we said, this is mainly due to the lack of transit options in the area, as well as its less condensed nature. When everything is spread out, it’s hard to accomplish errands and commutes by walking or bicycling; if there aren’t many transit options, residents are stuck driving.
Now, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say these numbers are low-end and high-end estimates of the range of transportation costs for the Miami metropolitan area; that would give us a range of $658-$1013/month. Shall we see how Dallas compares?
Dallas, home to Dirk “I Never Miss A Free Throw” Nowitzki, has an average gas price of about $3.579/gallon, based on the Energy Information Administration’s numbers for the state of Texas. We rounded to $3.60/gallon to get our neighborhood numbers from the Gas Slider. As with Miami, we checked out one urban and one suburban neighborhood–let’s see what the “Big D” has got in store.
Our first neighborhood is the Dallas Arts District. Planned in the 1970’s, this 68-acre, 19-block collection of fine arts and performing arts venues constitutes the largest arts district in the nation.
So how much does it cost residents to paint the town?
The average family living in the Arts District would pay $625/month for transportation, which is 12% more than they would have paid in 2000. That is the smallest increase yet! As you’ve probably guessed, this is a walkable area with several transit options, which shields residents from the effects of escalating gas prices. How would the same gas prices affect residents of a less condensed, less connected area?
This next neighborhood is a perfect example. Midlothian, TX, is less than 30 miles southwest of Dallas, and is a hub for the Texas cement industry. Its cement operations, distribution centers, steel plant, and power plant make Midlothian an important industrial player in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Let’s see what Midlothian’s residents are paying for transportation:
An average Midlothian family would pay a staggering $1180 per month for transportation, 22% more than it would have cost them in 2000. By now, you probably have an idea of why transportation costs are larger and have increased more in Midlothian than in the Dallas Arts District. Say it with me: It’s all about walkability and transit connectivity!
We now have our transportation cost range for Dallas, $625-$1180 per month, which means we’re all set to compare the two cities. Put on your jerseys, break out the popcorn, and get ready for our very own Miami vs. Dallas showdown!
Round 1: Low-End Costs
We said earlier that the low-end transportation cost for Miami is $658 per month. More recently, we showed you that the corresponding cost for Dallas is $625 per month. That’s $33/month lower! It looks like Dallas wins this round.
Score: Dallas – 1, Miami – 0
Round 2: High-End Costs
We saw that the high-end cost for transportation in Miami is $1013 a month. The same for Dallas is $1180 a month. Miami beats Dallas by $67/month! Miami will take this round.
Score: Dallas – 1, Miami – 1
It seems we need a tie-breaker. Well, Miami beat Dallas by $62/month in the second round, which is $34/month more than Dallas’ edge over Miami in the first round.
The trophy goes to…Miami! Isn’t it nice that our Gas Slider makes a transportation cost competition easier to decide than the NBA Finals? These results might not reflect the outcome of the Finals, but the two cities are very evenly matched in both basketball and transportation costs.
Now, basketball superstars like James, Wade, and Nowitzki have more than enough dough to cover all kinds of transportation, from limos to private planes. Since not all of us are on a basketball star’s salary, however, let’s take a look at how residents of these two cities (even Heat and Mavs players) can drop a dime on transportation costs.
We’ll start with Miami. The following tips should help take some of the heat off of your transportation worries:
- Take transit whenever possible and get discounts! Miamians should take advantage of Miami-Dade Transit in its various forms. These include the Metrorail and Metrobus, which both run throughout Miami-Dade County and allow transfers to the Tri-Rail that goes through neighboring Broward and Palm Beach Counties. In addition, the Metromover, a form of single-car elevated transit, runs a loop through downtown Miami. When traveling by Metrorail, passengers must use a reloadable Easy Card or Easy Ticket to enter and exit the station; however, Metrobus passengers should also pick up an Easy Card or Ticket if they plan on riding multiple buses. With an Easy Card or Ticket, transfers between trains and buses are discounted, and transfers between buses are free! A quick heads up while we’re on the subject of transit: there is a special Metrobus line running on Kendall drive that features diesel/electric hybrid buses with – get this – free Wi-Fi! To learn more about Miami transportation, head over to TransitMiami.
- Make sure your employer is signed up for transit benefits, or find out if benefits are already offered. Like we’ve said before, employers can sign up for a tax deduction under IRS code 132(f) that allows them or their employees to pay up to $230/month for transit with pre-tax dollars. On top of that, Miami-Dade Transit has a Corporate Discount Program through which employers can purchase and distribute monthly Easy Card passes for enrolled employees, with a group discount of 10-15%, depending on size. Employees of Miami-Dade County also get pre-tax savings and a 15% discount on the monthly transit pass.
- Bike, walk, or use a car-sharing service. The city of Miami has several bicycle initiatives as part of their commitment to becoming a bicycle-friendly city by 2012. Make sure to check these out! The city has been sponsoring “Bike Miami” days to encourage residents to trade four wheels for two. The next one is coming up in July, and, as past participants will attest, it’s a great way to explore the city. Miami-Dade Transit also has a Bike & Ride program. Residents who have specific concerns or want to learn more about biking in Miami should check out the Miami Bike Report and the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which advises the Governing Board. Speaking of pedestrians, our walkscore.com friends rate the city as Very Walkable, with a score of 82/100. Going too far for a stroll? See if you can use a car-sharing service like Zipcar. Although Zipcar services have not yet been extended to the full Miami area, cars can be found at University of Miami – Coral Gables and near the Applebaum MRI center.
Let’s switch to Dallas and see how all those mavericks can become independent from their transportation costs. Fair warning–if you thought these cities’ basketball teams and transportation costs were well matched, you might be blown away by how similar the potential methods of lowering those costs are.
- Use transit whenever possible! Dallasites should improve their familiarity with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which consists of a bus system running through the city and suburbs, a rail system with four lines through 55 stations and plans for extension, and a very cool acronym (DART). DART allows transfers to Trinity Railway Express, which runs between Dallas and Fort Worth. You can also use their Commute Calculator, which shows how much money is saved by using DART rather than driving. Those who are looking to explore the city should do so via the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority’s restored trolley line through uptown Dallas. All rides are free, and the trolley passes several significant Dallas attractions. The city of Dallas is also considering a new streetcar line from Union Station to Oak Cliff. For more Dallas transportation news and information, check out the Dallas News transportation blog.
- Make sure your employer is aware of potential transit benefits! As mentioned above, employees whose employers are signed up for the relevant tax deduction can use pre-tax dollars to pay for transit. DART offers a Flex Annual Pass Program and a Preferred Annual Pass Program through which employers can supply groups of 5-24 and 25+ employees respectively with convenient photo ID passes. Employers also get a discount on monthly passes for employees if they purchase more than 11. In addition to rail and bus options, employers can choose to encourage and subsidize employee use of vanpooling or carpooling services; however, there are a limited number of vehicles available and use is first come, first served.
- Bike or walk! Dallas currently contains over 1,000 miles of bike lanes and trails, and they hope to develop more so that almost everyone in Dallas will eventually be within a half-mile of a bike route. The city is seeking public input, so if you’re a Dallas resident with something to say about current biking conditions, make your voice heard here. DART trains and buses allow bicycles on board (well, bike racks are actually on the front of most buses), as does Trinity Rail. To learn more about biking in Dallas, take a look at Biking In Dallas and BikeDFW, which also covers the Fort Worth area. As regards walking, Dallas has a Walk Score of 69/100, meaning it is “Somewhat Walkable.” This Walk Score might change for specific neighborhoods, however, which is something to keep in mind when you check your own Walk Score. Remember, in this case, two – be it wheels or legs – is better than four!
Those of you living in the Miami and Dallas areas can use these tips to cut back on transportation costs. Even those of you who aren’t Miami or Dallas residents should be able to apply these to your own cities (or, if we’ve covered your city already, find the relevant tips on our blog). In any case, we hope they will ease your transportation worries so you can focus on celebrating the Mavericks’ big win or figuring out how the Heat can rise back to the top next season.