A 'Bright' spot for Miami tourism?

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T1108BRIGHTLINE3_C_HR [Credit: Tom Stieghorst]
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. left, appears with Brightline president Patrick Goddard, standing, and Carlos Cruz-Casas, the Miami-Dade County assistant director of Transportation and Public Works, at a press conference at Miami's Brightline station announcing the Brightline+ service. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

On April 15, 1896, the first train on Henry Flagler's newly laid Florida East Railway extension steamed into downtown Miami. Soon tourists would be disembarking for a stay at the Flagler-built Royal Palm Hotel.

Now, with the Nov. 8 resumption of the Brightline high-speed train between Miami and West Palm Beach, those tracks are once again ready to transport passengers.

The Brightline could foster renewed tourism to the City of Miami, which is often overshadowed by Miami Beach in that department. At a recent press conference, Miami mayor Francis Suarez ticked off a number of neighborhoods in the city that are ripe for more visitors.

"Brickell is growing by leaps and bounds," Suarez said at Brightline's Miami terminal on NE Sixth Street. "Just north of here you have the Design District, you have Midtown, you have Wynwood, so it's all within a very short distance.

"And I suspect that as many people as want to go to the beach, [they] will want to go to those areas, as well," Suarez said.

Neighborhoods ripe for tourism

The Brickell area south of the Miami River used to be Miami's financial district. But so many people have moved to new condos there that it has become a nightlife and entertainment center as much as a business hub.

Top hotels in the Brickell area include Miami's Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental hotels, and the East Miami hotel in the Brickell City Center multiuse complex.

The areas north of downtown include Palm Beach-style shopping in the Design District and the hip and trendy Wynwood neighborhood, with its proliferation of street art. New hotels planned for Wynwood include the 217-room Arlo Wynwood, the 120-room Moxy Hotel and the 150-room eco-focused Lucky Shepherd.

T1108BRIGHTLINE1_C_HR [Credit: Tom Stieghorst]
Brightline is contracting with Via to supply part of the fleet of vehicles that will take riders to and from its stations in the newly developed Brightline+ service. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

To date, the Brightline has only connected three South Florida cities. But by the end of next year, Brightline president Patrick Goddard said the line's new station at Orlando Airport will be ready to go. That could make Brightline much more important to tourism in South Florida than it is today.

Skipping the four-hour drive between Orlando and Miami is a no-brainer for tourists, especially Europeans accustomed to rail.

Introducing Brightline+ ride services

Making the Brightline option even more useful for tourists will be the new Brightline+ ride services that Goddard just unveiled.

Now, using the Brightline+ app, customers can package a train ticket and a ride at each end of their train trip in one transaction. Reservations must be made two hours before the trip starts. Pre- and post-rides can extend up to five miles from the stations.

• Related: Food hall opens at Miami Brightline station

After Brightline suspended service in March 2020 due to the pandemic, Goddard said it began to appreciate that it needed to come up with better first- and last-mile options.

"It's not enough to just take care of the train trip. The trip doesn't start at the train station. The trip starts wherever you are - at work, at home, at a restaurant," Goddard said.

"We need to pick up guests from where they are and take them to where they're going," he said.

So Brightline is partnering with three vehicle operators -- Via, Circuit, and Kaptyn -- to coordinate a ride program, which will offer either shared or private cars or a golf cart-style vehicle that can carry a half dozen people.

T1108BRIGHTLINE2_C_HR [Credit: Tom Stieghorst]
Brightline and Circuit will supply these golf-cart style vehicles in the Brightline+ service. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

It is also integrating schedules with the Miami-Dade county transit system. Tourists can tack a fare for Metrorail or Metrobus onto a train ticket and use the QR code on their Brightline ticket to board the subway or bus.

Goddard said all the new add-on services would likely be free in the first few weeks after the Nov. 8 restart. "What we're trying to do is enable adoption," he said. "We're trying to get people to change their habits. Like using their phone to get from point A to point B."

After the free trial, there will be a flat-fee period in which shared rides will be a flat $5 and private rides $10. Transit trips may remain free. Eventually Brightline+ plans to move more towards a per-mile model, Goddard said.

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