Florida Commuter Rail Service Tries Again for New Rental-Car Fee

Tri-Rail, South Florida’s commuter rail service, wants state lawmakers this year to approve a new $2 rental-car surcharge to keep the train system from having to cut service, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Tri-Rail, which is currently experiencing record-breaking ridership, now relies on the state to match year-to-year contributions from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to supplement fares and keep up its 50-train schedule. But the three counties face steep budget cuts amid plunging property tax collections in the real estate downturn. The counties have increasingly threatened to trim or eliminate those contributions.

Jack Stevens, deputy executive director of Tri-Rail’s parent agency, told Palm Beach County transportation leaders on Jan. 15 that the commuter rail system is in “dire straits” because of county financial troubles. But opponents of the surcharge say the $2 fee would further depress tourism across the state.

Ever since gas hit $4 a gallon, Tri-Rail ridership figures risen. Ridership has more than doubled since 2005.

Last year, state House members supported a bill to return 80 percent of an existing $2 rental car surcharge, which now goes to the state's road-building program, to the collecting counties that maintain a regional transit authority. The bill never made it to the Senate.

Transit officials say no support exists for a new $2 car-rental surcharge, although similar authorities around the state together are pressuring Tallahassee to pass the new fee. The $2 surcharge would generate about $45 million annually for Tri-Rail.

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