Maybe you’re thinking about escaping the harsh winter by taking a trip to the tropical paradise of Miami. And you know what? That’s a fantastic idea. If your driveway has a foot of snow on it, you will probably think the ocean is warm enough to swim, and you’ll enjoy the sunny days that never go below 60°F. But how will you get around? Should you rent a car in Miami? In case you’re pressed for time, the answer is no. But allow me to elaborate.
Let me tell you a little bit about driving in Miami
You know how you might think twice about driving in South America for safety reasons? Well, Miami is a lot more South America than it is the United States. Hispanics make up 70% of Miami’s population, many of them first generation immigrants. This beautiful melting pot of cultures that makes for great cuisine also creates dangerous and stressful driving conditions. That’s because many of these foreign drivers were trained and drove much of their lives in countries where the rules of the road are more like suggestions and where everyone drives aggressively.
So when they bring their highway maneuvering talents to Miami, they drive like shit. People don’t use turn signals or follow signs, so you have to be alert for literally anything. They pull dangerous stunts like making a right turn from the left lane in front of incoming cars. Mostly because they come from a world where everyone does that kind of thing so everyone is used to it. And they’ve re-created that world in South Florida where everyone copies that kind of behavior because they also see it done all the time.
Before you go accusing me of being racist, think about everything that’s going on in the world around you. And then think about whether getting heated over a travel blog is really the hill you want to die on today. Besides, I was born in Cuba so I’m speaking very intimately from experience, because I, too, drive like an asshole.
But Hispanics are not the only reason why driving in Miami is so dangerous (only like 70% of it). The other reason is the douchebag culture of this city. Miami kids are basically raised to want flashy, fast cars the second they turn 16. Even if you live in a room at your mom’s house, you probably pay $800 a month to lease a Benz, just so you can feel important when you valet at Dadeland Mall. These people are a hazard and they’re everywhere. They drive like they think a talent scout will cast them for a role in Fast and the Furious while they’re driving 80 mph to the beach.
Why it’s better to avoid the stress
Unless you’re from a city where the driving is somehow more reckless, you’re probably not used to this kind of driving. And if you’re not used to this kind of driving, you’ll spend your entire vacation trying not to die on I95. What a super stressful way to ruin a beautiful vacation!
You have to constantly check your rearview to make sure that the person behind you isn’t about to rear end you as they pull to a screeching halt going 45 when the light is red. You have to keep your eyes peeled for the person that might be gunning it to take the red and is about to T-bone your car into two. And while you’re at it, keep a look out for the person that was too busy texting and thinks they have the green light when you’re lawfully trying to turn left at the intersection. Make sure to slow down when you’re pulling into a parking garage so you don’t have a head-on collision with someone driving the other way in the middle of both lanes at 30 mph. And when you’re getting off at any exit with a little bit of traffic, prepare to tailgate the fuck out of the car in front of you so that you don’t get cut off by 15 people who rather skip your slow ass than wait in line.
But wait… there’s more. You might actually prefer a head-on collision when you’ve been sitting in rush hour traffic for one hour and only traveled three-quarters of a mile. You might as well walk at that point. FYI Rush hour starts at 6:30 am and doesn’t end until 10:30 am. Then you have a lunch rush for about two hours until 1 pm. And by 2-3 pm, you’ll start seeing afterschool traffic. And from 5 to 8 pm, everything is slammed cause everyone is dying to get home from work. If it’s Friday, make that 4 pm. On top of that gnarly mess, you also have to account for events, like basketball games or concerts, art shows, conventions, or anything else that might draw large crowds all at once. If that sounds like an enjoyable way to vacation then have at it! But I hope you packed your blood pressure medication.
Why it’s better to avoid the cost
Aside from being really stress-inducing and more dangerous than it needs to be, driving in Miami is also really expensive. Here I will speak from my brief but valuable experience as a car rental agent. Like anywhere, when you rent a car in Miami, they’ll offer you all sorts of things, many that are frivolous and unnecessary and some that are essential. In either case, most of these add-ons come with a hefty daily price tag. So your $20 a day Kia quickly turns into $80 a day if you pay for insurance, tolls, gas, or a GPS.
Even if you’re insured in your home state or country, getting collision and injury coverage in Miami is probably a good idea. That’s because Miami is notorious for insurance scams. If you get into the smallest of fender benders, there’s a good likelihood that you’ll be sued by someone who is faking injuries. Yes, doctors do have to vouch for this. And health insurance scams are even more common in Miami than car insurance scams. Even if you’re the world’s best driver, if you get into an accident in Miami, you should pray to your favorite God that the other driver is insured. Because otherwise, you’re gonna take the hit anyway, blame or not.
One other major cost of driving is tolls. Local drivers have something called a SunPass, which is registered to a car and allows drivers to pre-pay tolls so they’re debited automatically when they drive through. There is no way to pay for tolls with cash in Miami. If you’re renting a car, you either pay for tolls in advance via a flat daily rate, or you pay the toll-by-plate, which bills you later and is far more expensive when you account for administrative charges. As an added bonus, weeks after you’ve returned home from your trip and forgotten about the tolls, you’ll get the hefty bills sent to your house. And you better hope they make it, ’cause those get sent to a collection agency after 60 days. For how much the state charges in tolls, you’d think we’d have better roadways.
Finally, you have the cost of parking. You’ll have to pay for parking almost anywhere you actually want to visit. And depending on the day, this could be an expensive nightmare. If there happens to be an event wherever you’re going, prepare to pay at least $20 to park in some gravel pit in a super shady area that’s run by people that you’re pretty sure just put up a handwritten sign and claimed it. That’s exactly what happened. The larger the event and the closer you are to it could bring that cost up to $40 or $50. And yep, you have to pay that homeless looking dude.
If you think you’re safer parking in a city garage, you probably are. But read the per-hour breakdown real carefully. Cause that $1 an hour lot might turn into $10 an hour if you’re parked for more than 6 hours. The devil’s in the details. And Miami is nothing if not hell.
So how should you get around in Miami?
Hopefully I’ve dissuaded you from getting behind the wheel of a car in Miami. If so, there are a lot of other options. The Miami-Dade public transit system is garbage, but if you’re in the right place it can be really useful. The metro runs up and down popular areas like Downtown, Brickell, and Coconut Grove. So if you’re close enough to a station, you may be able to access some of the city’s best museums, restaurants, and event spaces without having to worry about traffic at all. But do keep your wits about you. Between some of our most popular hot spots are some of our most dangerous parts of town. The Metro also won’t take you to the beach or to Midtown.
Of course, you can also Uber around. The downside of Uber, as far as cost goes, is that when something big is going on, surge pricing will kill you. You don’t want to be caught trying to Uber home from Ultra or New Years Eve at Bayfront Park. But on an average day, it might still be cheaper than renting a car, and it will give you a lot more peace of mind. If you really want to do it on the cheap, you can also Uber Pool, which is a great way to get to know the locals (Pro tip: Don’t do that).
Maybe the best way to get around Miami is to not have to. If you plan ahead and mentally prepare to pay a little more on the hotel, you can stay somewhere like the beach where you can easily get around on foot or bike. It might seem overwhelming to pay $200-250 a night to stay in a better area, but if you cut corners on the hotel, you might get unexpectedly slammed by the transportation costs.
If after reading this, you still want to rent a car in Miami, my best advice is:
- Use Google Maps and drive against traffic. (The worst traffic generally goes east/north in the morning and west/south in the afternoon.)
- Lead by example. Use your turn signal.
- Show no fear.
- Use your horn. That may be the only way to warn someone that they’re about to drift into your passenger side door.
- Don’t ever leave valuables in the car.
- Make better choices.