The company that builds Miami-Dade County’s bus shelters is warning local officials that if they allow a competitor to build digital kiosks on their perceived turf, passengers may be hailing rides in the wind and rain.
Outfront Media builds the county’s shelters in exchange for selling ad space on the structures, the Miami Herald reports. But CIVIQ Smartscapes, which famously turned NYC’s old phone booths into internet kiosks, won a deal in January to roll out a similar network of WiFi-enabled kiosks throughout the county at no cost to local municipalities. Like Outfront, it’ll make money from advertising — in this case on the surface of the kiosks — and as Next City noted in January, a share of those revenues will go to Miami-Dade County.
“We understand that the objectives of the digital kiosk program are fantastic — to provide free WiFi to transit riders,” an Outfront lobbyist told county commissioners at a recent hearing, according to the Herald. “But I can assure you that if that program is funded by essentially cannibalizing some of our top-producing bus shelters, a lot of those riders are going to be surfing the internet under the sun and the rain. Because the money is simply not going to be there for the bus shelters.”
The Herald is somewhat dismissive of the company’s concerns, noting that “county vendors often warn of financial ruin if the government allows competition, and Outfront has millions invested in its near-monopoly on advertising throughout South Florida’s public transportation system.” The company has also been granted the right to advertise on Miami-Dade Metromover cars, county buses and on placards at Metrorail stations under an exclusive contract penned in 2015.
The county reportedly wants to expand its network of shelters — only about a third of the 3,000 bus stops outside of city limits are protected from the elements. And officials don’t want to dip into taxpayers’ pockets to pay for them, so they’re asking Outfront and its rivals to bid on a new deal that would require the construction of about 1,000 more shelters.
Meanwhile, the county has its share of woes with CIVIQ. Although the company won a contract in January, it hasn’t yet turned in the requested locations for 150 kiosks or installed WiFi infrastructure in 10 county buses. The county recently warned the company that it risks losing its contract, according to the Herald.
Both dustups come amid another — and much larger — controversy. County officials representing a number of local cities want a light-rail line that would cost $1.5 billion to build. South county leaders, in particular, are upset that a Metrorail extension that was promised in 2002 (when voters elected to increase Miami-Dade’s sales tax by half a percent) has yet to be built. The money has, instead, gone toward budget holes in the local bus system.
Despite campaigning on a Metrorail expansion, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez thinks $1.5 billion is too expensive and wants to put $115 million into a bus rapid transit system.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.