If you ride the Brightline train to work often, brace yourself for a big change in cost

If you regularly ride Brightline to work in South Florida, the cost of your commute is about to soar.

The private company that runs the fast yellow trains announced it would no longer sell a package of 40 one-way rides starting at $399.

Instead, Brightline will offer 10 one-way rides between Miami and Fort Lauderdale starting at $250. To travel to or from West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, 10 one-way rides would cost at least $350. That means commuters face a steep increase in transportation costs.

Brightline, which notes on its website that it is making the changes to accommodate riders during peak travel times, typically focuses on day-trippers who want to explore Miami or West Palm Beach, tourists visiting Orlando and locals heading to special events.

Where does that leave commuters? Worried.

Jacqueline De Berry moved from New York City to Miami when she started a new job in October. The 35-year-old marketing executive said Brightline seemed affordable, with stations walking distance from her downtown Miami apartment and workplace in Boca Raton.

“I don’t even know what I’m going to do,” De Berry said.

Tri-Rail, South Florida’s cheaper-to-ride public commuter train that runs from the Miami airport to Palm Beach County, could be an option. But the tracks run along the I-95 corridor and the train stops at 19 stations. Tri-Rail is considering an express service with fewer stops. Brightline currently has stations in downtown Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

While Brightline is privately owned, it has taken federal subsidies, including five federal Transportation Department government grants since 2017. Among the largest is $15.8 million for planning an extension between Orlando and Tampa, according to WLRN.

Brightline will be offering two new fixed-rate packages for South Florida commuters starting June 1, 2024.
Brightline will be offering two new fixed-rate packages for South Florida commuters starting June 1, 2024.

When will Brightline’s changes start?

The 40 one-way train rides package will be discontinued June 1, but riders can continue using their passes until they expire. The new package will be available starting June 1.

De Berry said one of her options is to break her apartment lease and move to Boca. Another option is to buy a car, but she hasn’t owned one in 15 years during her time in New York and isn’t thrilled with spending hours in traffic. She said Tri-Rail’s Boca station is farther from her workplace, so she would have to spend money on rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

If De Berry keeps riding the train eight times a week, her monthly fare could balloon to at least $1,190 — nearly an $800 more, according to the Miami Herald’s calculations.

“They are not here for the public; they are here to make money,” she said.

Joel Zusman, 42, said he accepted a job offer in September because he can walk from Brightline’s West Palm Beach station to his new workplace. If he keeps riding six times a week, his monthly fare could increase to at least $820 — over a $400 difference.

“Who can afford that?“ Zusman said.

The Coral Gables resident, who drives 15 minutes to Brightline’s downtown Miami station, said it seems like Brightline prefers to make more money by catering to tourists rather than commuters. In September, the company inaugurated a route from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport, a 30-minute drive from Universal Studios and Disney’s parks.

“I understand them raising prices ... but to a level that is so absurd that most people are going to stop using the train, I don’t see how is that a benefit for the community,” Zusman said.

Brightline did not respond to the Miami Herald’s request for comment on the price increases.

Miami, Fla., March 13, 2019 - Miami Central Station, 600 NW 1st Ave. Entrance to the Brightline trains.
Miami, Fla., March 13, 2019 - Miami Central Station, 600 NW 1st Ave. Entrance to the Brightline trains.

Details on new Brightline packages

Here’s what to know about Brightline’s new fixed-rate packages:

Miami-West Palm Beach: Ride 10 times anywhere between downtown Miami and West Palm Beach starting at $350. If you want complimentary snacks and beverages and access to the premium lounge, you must pay $550.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale: If you only need transportation between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, including Aventura, ride 10 times for $250. If you want the extra amenities, that would be $350.

These packages are valid for 30 days from purchase.

A Tri-Rail train.
A Tri-Rail train.

Would Tri-Rail express route be Brightline alternative?

Tri-Rail has proposed running an express route between West Palm Beach and downtown Miami, with stops in Boca Raton, Dania Beach (Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport) and the Metrorail Transfer Station in Hialeah.

But there’s a catch: only one express trip in the morning from West Palm Beach to Miami and another one in the afternoon in the opposite direction.

Besides having fewer stops, another big difference from Tri-Rail’s regular service is that riders would not have to change trains at the Metrorail Transfer Station, said Dave Dech, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

Tri-Rail’s express route would cost the same as its regular fare. A trip between West Palm Beach and Miami costs $8.75. If the express route, included in the company’s proposed budget, is approved by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s board on May 31, the new service would start mid-summer, Dech said.

Tri-Rail could soon offer a South Florida express route for the same price as its regular trips.
Tri-Rail could soon offer a South Florida express route for the same price as its regular trips.

What are other transportation options?

Until Tri-Rail’s proposed express route is approved, riders have a couple of other options:

Miami-Aventura: If you ride frequently between downtown Miami and Aventura, Brightline’s Miami-Aventura monthly commuter pass will remain at $299 because of a prior agreement between the company and Miami-Dade County. If you choose to auto-renew this pass, you’ll get a 5% discount. A limited number of these passes will be sold every month.

Single rides: If you don’t ride Brightline as much, you can still purchase a one-way ticket starting at around $29 and a round-trip starting at about $58.

Tri-Rail: If you don’t mind waiting longer to get to your destination., Tri-Rail’s regular service might be the best option for you. A one-way ride starts at $2.50 and a trip between West Palm Beach and Miami, including stops in downtown and the Miami International Airport, would cost $8.75. Tri-Rail also sells a $110 monthly pass.