Passenger assaults on Miami-Dade’s Metromover system have the county’s transit agency promising more security and county leaders demanding bigger changes.
Miami-Dade pays private armed security guards to patrol its bus depots, Metrorail stations and Metromover platforms, with the transit agency setting the schedule and determining which areas need the most protection.
Alice Bravo, director of the county’s Transportation Department, which includes the transit system, said Tuesday that Miami-Dade is ready to spend more to reassure passengers that Metromover will offer a safe ride.
“If we have to do something to balance our budget elsewhere, we will,” Bravo said. “We increased our security presence significantly. Basically, we want to increase the security presence to a level where basically nobody ever even thinks of doing something like that” again.
Police reported four attacks on the automated Metromover system this month, with two people charged with the assaults. One victim was a 73-year-old man, beaten over the weekend on Metromover. On Tuesday, county police announced an arrest of the alleged assailant, Robert Lee Ribbs.
Another attack was captured on video on Sept. 4 when a woman seated on a Metromover vehicle was attacked by a man. Police say the man, Joshua James King, attacked two other people that day at a Metromover station.
The county’s fare-free Metromover system is the only transit mode in Miami-Dade where a passenger can be totally alone in a vehicle. Like buses, Metrorail trains have operators. Metromover cars run automatically on an elevated track between stations in downtown Miami and the Brickell area. Private security guards rotate along platforms and the vehicles themselves, but there aren’t enough on duty to ride each car.
And while there can be safety in numbers, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has left Metromover cars emptier than ever. The most recent transit report shows June saw a 71% yearly ridership drop for Metromover, compared to a 55% drop for Metrorail and a 42% drop for Metrobus.
Allied Universal patrols Miami-Dade’s transit system under an eight-year contract approved in 2014, which was estimated to cost about $13 million a year. Actual costs can go higher if Transit requests more coverage.
After the weekend attack, Miami and Miami-Dade promised more police patrols to bolster the Allied Universal staffing.
A county commissioner issued a statement calling for a broader change to how much money Miami-Dade spends on transit security. Commissioner Joe Martinez, a retired county police officer once assigned to transit patrols, said he wanted county police at Metrorail and Metromover stations.
“There are not enough security guards, and the videos distinctly showed that there is vulnerability... especially at night,” Martinez said in a statement. His office said Martinez, a potential candidate for Miami-Dade sheriff in 2024, was not available for an interview. “If government wants people to ride public transit, it is imperative they feel safe,” his statement said.
On Wednesday, a lawyer for Eduardo Fernandez, the 73-year-old man attacked Sunday morning, said Miami-Dade should have rolled out the new security measures after the first Metromover incidents on Sept. 4. “They had 16 days of notice,” Alan Goldfarb said during an online press conference at his Miami law office. He said Fernandez remains in the hosptial with multiple fractures, including to his skull.
Regarding beefed up private security patrols and police deployment to Metromover, Goldfarb said: “The ideas they’ve come up with were too late for Eduardo.”
Jeffery Mitchell, head of the county’s transportation union, said he wants Miami-Dade to pay to have security riding on the trains more often.
“To have people feel confident, you need to have regular patrols going through those trains,” he said. “You don’t see that as much as you used to. You also need to have Miami-Dade police doing the same thing.”
Miami-Dade uses private guards to save money. The county’s contract requires Allied Universal to pay its security guards at least the county’s living wage of $14.10 an hour, while a county police officer’s starting pay of roughly $54,000 amounts to about $26 an hour.
Eileen Higgins, a county commissioner whose district includes a portion of the Metromover route, said she wants Miami-Dade police to take over management of the Allied Universal contract. “We should have public-safety professionals monitor it,” she said.
Higgins, who is up for reelection in November against challenger Renier Diaz de la Portilla, is holding an online meeting at 4 p.m. Friday on Metromover safety.
She said her scariest Metromover memory was when a knife fight nearly broke out on a Metromover car in the middle of the day as Higgins was heading from Government Center to a county event at the Frost Science museum. The two yelling, knife-wielding men took their confrontation from the train to a platform, and Higgins said she called 911.
“It’s not uncommon [to see] incidents on the Metromover,” she said. “Every once in a while your you-know-what gets grabbed.”