Brightline begins service from South Florida to Orlando, but is it worth it?

by | Sep 22, 2023

  • Brightline has launched a high-speed rail service connecting South Florida to Orlando, linking two major urban regions after a decade-long effort.
  • The service offers tickets starting at $79 for adults and $39 for children for a one-way trip from Miami to Orlando, with a round-trip ticket costing at least $158, raising concerns about affordability.
  • Additionally, the lack of widespread transit systems in both Miami and Orlando could drive up the cost for travelers who must rely on ride-sharing apps or car rentals, and the long-term financial sustainability of the service has been questioned, potentially burdening Florida taxpayers.

Private high-speed rail network Brightline launched its South Florida to Orlando service on Friday morning, capping a decade-long foray linking two of the state’s largest urban regions. Delivered at a high price point, however, it must be questioned whether the service is actually of benefit to those who frequent the three-hour route.

According to Brightline’s website, the cheapest single round-trip ticket from the company’s Miami station to its Orlando facility can be found at $158, a seemingly steep price for a three-hour train ride. Given Orlando’s prominence as a tourism hotspot, a family of four from Miami would need to spend more than $400 dollars to be dropped off in the same city as The Magic Kingdom, with one-way fares for adults starting at $79 and $39 for children.

Using the federal government’s fuel cost trip calculator, to drive from Brightline’s Miami station to its Orlando station using a Toyota Corolla — the most popular car in Florida, according to Florida Farm Bureau Insurance — would cost $25.07, meaning the round trip expenditure sits at $50.14, nearly thirty dollars cheaper than a single one-way adult ticket on the service.

Moreover, a significant concern for traveling families is the inability to navigate Miami or Orlando once the Brightline train arrives at the station. With neither city possessing a widespread transit system, riders will be left to use a ride-sharing app or rent a car, further driving up the cost of usage. Using Uber’s fare estimating tool, a ride from the Orlando Brightline station to Disney’s All-Star Sports resort would set visitors back $37.91, with potential fluctuations in price contingent on traffic and the time of the day.

More robust transit infrastructure is unlikely to be considered, either. Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the idea of using the state’s infrastructure funding reserves to establish subway systems in its major urban areas during a press conference. The governor expressed doubts about the feasibility and prudence of implementing such systems and using taxpayer funds to sustain them.

“I think putting a subway system in cities in Florida is unlikely to happen. That would not necessarily be a prudent use of tax funds, and I think the feasibility of that would be in question as well,” said DeSantis. “But, on infrastructure, we had the highest amount of money we’ve ever had for the [Florida Department of Transportation] work plan in the history of the state. We’ve always funded it and we’ve always done a good job.”

Instead, DeSantis said that he intended to assess the state’s infrastructure needs in order to accommodate a growing number of tourists, but planned to do so using state-funded projects to lessen the burden of vehicle traffic.

“There are some areas where you can get stuck in traffic at any time of the day, so what can we do to alleviate some of the most pressing problems? It’s not a good use of commuter time, but it also does impact the economy … it affects the way to move goods,” the governor said. “I think it’s really, really important, but ultimately those infrastructure projects would be of higher value than trying to create a subway system.”

It has also been called into question whether Brightline is entirely privately funded — one of the main allures of utilizing the company’s service — after lawmakers contended otherwise in 2018.

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield expressed concerns that Brightline could impose costs on Florida taxpayers, emphasizing that increased train traffic would lead to higher maintenance expenses, particularly at rail crossings. The senator stated five years ago that when maintenance is required at public crossings, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) passes those costs onto local municipalities, counties, and the state.

Mayfield filed legislation in 2018 that would have allocated responsibility for specific types of maintenance, repair, improvement, and upgrade costs to the railroad companies, but the measure was killed in the legislative process.

While Brightline’s cross-state rail network can ostensibly serve as a blueprint for future, higher-efficiency and cost-effective means of transit, its launch raises questions about its affordability and long-term financial sustainability, potentially serving as a burden on Florida taxpayers.


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