County Taxpayers On The Hook For Downtown Transit…Forever



It doesn’t matter that you live in Sunrise and never go to downtown Fort Lauderdale.  Or Parkland. Or Miramar. Or anywhere else.

Broward County commissioners don’t care.

They have committed $50 million to a downtown Fort Lauderdale trolley system.  That’s just the first cost.

That’s a lot of Broward Sheriff’s Office patrol cars, library books, trees in the parks or help for the mentally ill.

Instead of using the money – $2.5 million annually – is being earmarked as a handout to the developer community.

Because the trolley through downtown Fort Lauderdale will only benefit developers for many years to come.

Maybe that’s the reason the trolley is nicknamed The Wave.  As in Wave Goodbye to Your Money.

Here is what we know about the Wave:


  • The county is on the hook for a minimum of $50 million over the next 20 years.  Remember I warned you: This is the minimum.
  •  Fort Lauderdale taxpayers will pay an additional $20-plus million over 20 years, according to the Sun-Sentinel. The city commission approved the project earlier this week.
  •  The commitment to operate the system is open ended.  “Once we receive the — the — the federal dollars for the project, we are responsible for running the system or we would have to repay the federal government those dollars,” County Administrator Bertha Henry told county commissioners in March.
  • This project is a public tax to benefit developers.  Don’t take my word for it. County Administrator Henry explained in March that “this is an economic development generating project, as well as providing some amenities for transit.”
  •  There are no performance standards or ridership level requirements.  Unlike community buses, which could be moved to another street to increase ridership, the transit is a fixed system that can’t be moved. The reason buses are not being used is again a sop to developers:  “Fixed rail streetcar systems promote an economic development benefit that rubber-wheel vehicles do not. By knowing that a route will remain the same forever, it allows investment to occur. Streetcars are more convenient, more reliable, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly than rubber wheel operations,” according to the Wave website.
  •  The trolley will further clog downtown streets.


Next Tuesday, the transit is on the county commission agenda again. This vote is routine since the developer and lobbyist-friendly commissioners already approved it in March. Unanimously. Including members like Lois Wexler and Sue Gunzburger whose constituents live nowhere near downtown Fort Lauderdale

In addition to the city and county taxes, the feds are on the hook for  $18 million, the state for $35 million, the city for another $10.5 million in cash and land and the Metropolitan Planning Counsel is forking over $8 million for the first phase of the project.  That goes from the county bus depot on West Broward Boulevard to just south of the Broward County Courthouse on Southeast Sixth Street.

To build more—to Broward Health’s Broward General or the airport — will require a further commitment from the federal and state government and local taxpayers.

You might believe I’m anti-transit.  I’m not.  I grew up riding the New York City subways and buses.

I just think that taxpayers should know this is a never-ending obligation which will cost money into the future.  The developers who build will be long gone, but Broward residents will continue to pay forever.

And don’t believe anything Fort Lauderdale City Hall or the county staff says about the Wave. Especially facts, figures or projections.

Transit systems never live up to predictions. The best they can do is guess…with our money.

Take Metrorail.

In 2002, Dade County voters passed a half-cent tax for transit.  The promise was that the system would be extended west to Florida International University and north to the boundary with Broward in the vicinity of the Dolphin’s stadium.

The promised routes were never built.

Instead, the Miami Herald found that Dade County Commissioners “frittered away much of the sales tax money on raises for the politically powerful Transit Workers Union” and to hire “aides and relatives of nine elected officials.”

By 2009, a Grand Jury recommended that the transit needed to double the sales tax to one cent to support the system and end deficits.

Do you really believe Broward and Fort Lauderdale commissioners are any better?



21 Responses to “County Taxpayers On The Hook For Downtown Transit…Forever”

  1. Eric Hersh says:

    Buddy, you are right on point. This ONLY benefits the developers and businesses downtown, yet we all are paying millions to subsidize it.

    I am convinced that the Ft. Lauderdale Mayor and Commissioners either didn’t read the ordinance and resolution, didn’t understand them, or are outright deceiving the public.

    This Wave is going to amount to one of the largest tax increases in the history of Ft. Lauderdale, and the promised assessments are only the beginning. The formula is designed to increase the burden on residents over time, and it will. Yet the Commission didn’t discuss the issues raised, and the open end taxing, nor fact that the assessments are just estimates, they just did a football fan Wave, and approved 5-0. Are we really expected to trust the City Commission when they wouldn’t even commit in writing to what they are out selling to the public?

    As for the operating of the Wave, the County Commission will end up having to either increase taxes on every resident in Broward, or cut other essential bus services, in order to operate this fixed rail streetcar.

  2. Wow! says:

    Sounds like another train wreck of a project. I just love the way these politicans spend taxpayer dollars.

    Is this going to be their “Hey, look what we did moment”? We have a trolly car that is going to cost millions but dont worry taxpayers in the future is going to cost you millions more. Enjoy!

    The children of the future will be so overjoyed to be on the hook for years to come for tax dollars and ask, and whose DUMB idea was this ?

    Hell, I am old and I am asking whose DUMB idea was this? Unfortunately I already know your votes say it all !

  3. Not Suprised says:

    I guess Broward has finally reached the boondoogle standards of Miami Dade. Maybe the County Commissioners will let the taxpayers ride the “Wave” to Marlins Stadium.

  4. Seth Platt says:

    Looking forward to catching the WAVE, and for better transportation solutions in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County. I think it will be great when the airport, seaport, downtown Fort Lauderdale and the Tri-Rail are connected. Later phases have it running out to the University center and maybe eventually to Sunrise, so Fort Lauderdale isn’t the only City that will benefit from this project. The whole region benefits when there are less cars on the road and better transportation solutions.
    Having also lived in New York I yearn for the days of not having to rely as much on personal auto transportation. I think the WAVE is a great step in the right direction for our tourism industry, a burgeoning downtown and a younger generation that is not as interested in owning a car.


    Seth, you’ll need The Wave by the time you can ride it to the airport, seaport, University Drive and other places in West Broward. You’ll be too old to drive by that time.

    Don’t equate NYC with Fort Lauderdale or even Miami.

    First of all, NYC’s transit was build by private companies and later taken over by the government.

    Second of all, much of it was in place 100 years ago.

    Third of all, it serves all of NYC, not just the business center.

    But there is one lesson in NYC’s transit — it has over 2 million bus passengers and 5 million subway riders daily ….and still loses millions every year.

  5. Rico Petrocelli says:

    Eric you too, are right on point. open ended documents are what should scare every resident of Ft. Lauderdale. How will the Wave help those off the 2 miles it will run? Show me where one of these turn a profit, or are used as the primary means of Transportation. Be careful of the “Rubber Stamp: from any council or Commission

    Rico Petrocelli
    Former Councilman
    City of Plantation

  6. Dean Ledbetter says:


    This is what I know. If Fort Lauderdale is to establish itself as a pedestrian friendly city it must have high quality mass transit in variety of forms, routes and destinations. To the extent that the county or city commission cannot be trusted with taxpayer dollars is a conundrum that must fall at the feet of voters, themselves. After all, we elect these people year after year. Some are moral, ethical, mature, and politically astute citizencentric representatives of high integrity.
    Unfortunately, some are not.

    Time will separate the wheat from the chaff. Jail will separate the self-indulgent clowns from those who take their oath of office seriously, as more than a self-agrandizing ego-centric get rich quick scheme.

    Regardless of who is running the show, taxpayers will be on the hook for settlement of the debt and expansion of the system. It cannot work any other way.

    It is obvious that we have a problem with integrity in this country. Between the President’s problems in Bengazi, AP reporters, and targeting of political opponents using the IRS, and now data mining of every phone call in America: the performance just does not live up to the promise.

    If that is happening at the highest political levels in this, the world’s greatest democracy, what can we expect from city and county commissioners whose personal and political arrogance aligns with this administration? We should expect that human nature prevails.
    Some will be good, some will not.
    The quality of ones character is obviously not a measure which determines success in a political party. Whereas the ability to win does and will accrue accolades galore.

    I think you are right Buddy. If we want a high quality mass transit system, first we have to throw the bastards out who will abuse us, and use us taxpayers and the dwindling number of law abiding citizens as piggy banks for themselves, the king makers as well as the chorus of sycophants who support them.

    I do not expect a response from Sam Fields, Although I’ll probably get one.


    The day I see the lobbyists developers and politicians get out of their cars and walk is the day I believe Fort Lauderdale is pedestrian friendly.

    Get real folks. Nobody is walking anywhere, unless they have to, in 90 degree heat and daily rain, which is South Florida seven to eight months of the year.

  7. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Buddy, you are right on target. This is the mother of all turkeys and the Broward boondoggle of the century.

    […] If the other phases aren’t built, then forget comparisons to Portland’s trendy light-rail system and Miami’s Metromover. If the other phases aren’t built, the best comparison might be to Tampa’s sad streetcar, a 2.7-mile bayfront route that averages 900 riders a day after 11 years.

    […] $83 million to build the first phase, $59 million for a second 1.3-mile leg that will go to the Broward Health hospital complex, plus a $50 million pledge from Broward County to subsidize operations for the first 20 years. That’s $192 million, with money coming from the feds, state and regional sources. And downtown Fort Lauderdale residents and businesses, who’ll pay a special tax for 25 years. […]


    I believe Mike is being optimistic. He says we’re committed for 25 years. I believe it is forever…or until Fort Lauderdale sinks into the Atlantic because of global warming.

  8. Ha Ha Ha says:

    $83 million at 4% interest = $3.32 million in interest per year. $50 million over 20 years is $2.5 million in operating subsidies per year. That’s $5.82 million per year in interest costs and operating subsidies.

    If ridership matches Tampa’s figure of 900 per day, and with a generous assumption of 365-day-per-year operation, that’s 328,500 rides per year.

    That’s a total cost of $17.72 per ride in interest and operating subsidies, under the assumption that Broward can get an interest-only loan for the $83 million in capital. Capital investment is $252.66 per ride.

    WAVE goodbye to the taxpayer’s money…

  9. Charlie says:

    The problem with this project is that its one bait and switch after another. It was sold as sistrunk to the hospital, a worthy route because those that do not need the ER can be put on the wave to the NBHD walk in clinic up north of Broward blvd.
    What we are getting is a route that can and is already walked by those who would take it.
    Seth: its great you will have a tram to ride to the County Government Center, but do you walk that route already?

  10. Ha Ha Ha says:

    I omitted the $20 million over 20 years ($1 million per year) from Fort Lauderdale taxpayers. Adding that, we now have:

    Capital investment: $252.66 per ride

    $6.82 million per year in costs

    Taxpayer pays $20.76 per ride

  11. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Cost to ride Bus Route 1 from downtown to the airport or vice versa, with air conditioning and Wi-Fi internet access included: $1.75 per passenger, or only 8.43% of the $20.76 per ride the taxpayer has to pay to subsidize every trolley rider.

  12. Nick Sakhnovsky says:

    There are many valid points being raised on this thread, and in the past on this blog. I would like to point out, however, that not a single one of the critics attended or spoke at the public hearing this week which established the taxing district. When former public officials don’t show up to publicly say their peace or influence a commission’s decision, it belies a widespread perception that what goes on at public hearings is a sham and that the real decisions are made well before public meetings are held.

  13. Richard J Kaplan says:

    I am reluctant in commenting on this project, and my comments are not to be construed as supporting or opposing this transportation system.

    My sole reason is to point out a fallacy among the public, that with the exception of the Turnpike, NO TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM MAKES A PROFIT.

    This includes the roads we drive on, for which the gas tax is insufficient and as of 2010 was in a deficit to maintain of over $74 Billion state-wide.

    However, the measurement of a transportation system is not in terms of profitability of the system, but in the economic benefits of the system.

    Studies show that for every $1 spent on transportation it returns almost $6 in economic gain. That gain is in terms of jobs, business profits and personal wealth. Without a good transportation system (even if it loses money) people can’t work, make a living, pay bills, travel, and get goods and services delivered.

    The most notable example is the Interstate Highway system, which is mostly free and caused the largest spurt of economic growth this country has ever seen. As a transportation system by itself, it loses money since it virtually has no revenue sources.

    So if your sole measurement is whether the transportation system pays for itself, then you might as well close Tri-Rail, the airports,, sea ports, all state, county and city roads (except the turnpike), BCT and the other transportation system. But then you might as well give up your jobs and businesses since you will not be able to work or travel.

    On this system, whether it is built or not, history will determine if it was right or wrong. I can only say that those trying to make this decision have numerous examples they can draw on around the world as to whether it has worked elsewhere.


    You are right about making systems not making a profit.

    The real question is whether this system is needed or wanted.

  14. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Buddy, please delete my prior post & replace it with the post below – thanks!

    Broward County Transit Bus Passengers: 124,477 daily – 37.9 million trips annually

    [Revenues from bus fares, etc. are 28.7% of the total revenue needed to run the bus system]
    Since the bus fare is $1.75, that’s a $4.34 per passenger subsidy. Contrast that with the $20.76 per ride the WAVE will need.

    Yes, transportation provides economic benefits and that is why we subsidize it. But smart choices have to be made! A Broward County Transit bus, providing air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, and needing only $4.34 subsidy per ride, versus a trolley needing $20.76 per ride – that is the question. The bus will provide better transportation benefits, at 1/5th the cost.

  15. Mark says:

    Buddy, if not transit, then what? Would you prefer to spend millions just widening roads that will only induce more traffic, require more valuable land to be wasted for parking, more pollution, etc? Nearly every large and medium-large city in the county is currently planning, building, or recently completed a streetcar or light rail system, including sprawling and hot sunbelt cities like Phoenix, Dallas, Charlotte, etc.

  16. Mike Moskos says:

    A few weeks ago, I had occasion to use the Broward bus system (I live in Miami) and when I got to the main bus terminal, went to use the men’s room. They are pretty disgusting:

    Let’s hope they maintain The Wave better.

    (Yes, I sent the photos to all the Broward Commissioners; no response). I suspect the bathrooms have not been properly cleaned since I complained about their condition 3 years ago.

  17. frank says:

    Like it or not, buses have stigma. Even in NYC the bus isn’t as “glamorous” as the subway or the el

  18. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    With all this money being thrown @ this project I still do not understand why they have to tax the residents on the route. Oh you should have seen all the heavy hitters speaking on behalf of this “Wave”. Funny I did not see many residents @ the meeting- just the same “who’s who of whoville”. And these non profits you bet your ass your paying. Imagine First Bapist Church balkin that they can’t pay the assessment. W/ the money that Congregation has. Even though I like Comm.Rogers a lot, he went on and on for over an hour to spare them this cost. They don’t care. Just because his son is in the Clergy, to Comm.Rogers worshiping there they thought that they would be exempt from paying. Sorry guys your paying. If they don’t pay-yes that is the advice they are getting. Don’t pay and the City will put a lein on their property. This congregation has boo-koo money. And for them to have attempted to use Comm.Rogers as a pawn was a shame. All in the name of Jesus huh…..

  19. Aldrich J Lukes says:

    To comments: I don’t know how old you guys are or in which period you grew up (Manhattan?), but if you see replacing your two legs with automobiles is necessary or fashionable, I feel sorry for you. And another surprise for you, South Florida’s climate is not unique, unless your view of THE world only consisted of US of A. Indeed, get real. People do walk; and it’s about time US residents learn how.

    Now to articles: in fact, I agree about taxpaying parts. BUT. It is false to think that if this project is not getting the green light, the money would be spent on “Sheriff’s Office patrol cars, library books, trees in the parks or help for the mentally ill.” So, get real. The money will be spent inside the FDOT and if not on transits, then road widening will be the default. (Note: there is something else within FDOT, called improving public safety for thoroughfares, and they could spend on that. But as I said, road widening is the default; just because you can see the result – like it or not).

    So my point is: please do not mislead by comparing transits to something else outside transportation.

    But your points that the bill was drafted with opportunities for corruptions, open-ended, and so on, are all true. And I think your argument on raising tax is valid; also, about the corruption of Fort Lauderdale government representatives. That said, Metrorail? You said it, DADE county. Logic?

    TL;DR. Other readers please take all the facts on those 6 bullets points and keep your focus on the Wave. Disregard all other fillers in the articles; they are irrelevant, or misleading, or false, or a mix of those. And do read comment #6 by Dean Ledbetter.


  20. tell the truth says:

    @Nick Sak –
    thats because those with any sense and opposing this for all the right reasons are going to quietly sell and move out of Broward County.
    suckers from others areas will move in just as long as its not me
    the charade played out Tuesday night was a done deal whether 5 spoke for or against, or 500 for or against.
    only the vote to exempt non-profits was undecided
    Just bizness as usual by your electeds

  21. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Quick update, that $74 Billion that I wrote about as a deficit in statewide funding shortfall for 2010 is now $126.4 Billion for 2012 and still growing.