Friday, September 13, 2019

Riders vote for Saturday SunRail, but that's only half the answer

If SunRail could only run on one weekend day, SunRailRiders unanimously voted for Saturday.

That was the response to a recent poll we conducted on Facebook.

Nearly 400 riders responded to the question: “If SunRail could only run either Saturday or Sunday, which would you prefer?”

Of those respondents, 93 percent voted for Saturday.

Comments left by respondents included:
Dale: “Saturday would make the most sense. More businesses and events are on Saturday than Sunday.”
However, most of the comments were like this:
Lisa: “For the love of God, please do both.”
Ilene: “Here’s a thought – the WHOLE WEEKEND.”
Diane: “Why is both not an option?”

Support for weekend service is especially strong among people who work at Orlando International Airport; the service industry and hospital caregivers. (There are a half dozen hospitals that are either at SunRail stations, or very close the SunRail stops.)

In less than 2 years, the Florida Department of Transportation will transfer the financial and operational responsibility to local governments. That creates a huge opportunity to improve SunRail service.

We want to ensure that local elected leaders clearly understand the level of SunRail service this community expects and needs.

SunRail service that is available only on weekdays, with a schedule focused on bankers’ hours, has been a major disappointment to everyone. Thousands of people who want to use the train have never been able to ride because the service is not available on the weekends.

The people have spoken.

Are local-elected officials listening?

See you on The Rail.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

SunRail security totally misses the problem

We want to thank SunRail for trying to solve the perpetual, overwhelming trash problem at SunRail’s Lynx Central Station. Unfortunately, that effort was a swing and a miss.

The northbound platform at Lynx Central Station is covered in trash. One of the major factors contributing to that problem is that homeless people camp overnight on the northbound platform, leaving behind empty food and beer containers, flattened cardboard boxes that are used as sleeping pads and biological substances (yes, just what you think).

Every morning before the first northbound train arrives, the SunRail ambassador wakes up the homeless campers and asks them to leave the platform.

After we published numerous posts haranguing about this issue, SunRail hired a security guard to patrol the northbound platform.

Here is what SunRail told us: “Private security has been on duty since August 8. The hours are Monday-Friday, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. They are paid $20/hour, roughly.

“They are there to assist the ambassadors. They are former law enforcement, familiar with community policing and working with the public.

“LYNX Central is the only station to have this. The increased visibility is meant to cut down on loitering, littering, as well as to increase safety. The LYNX Central Station is a key intermodal facility. We anticipate it will see much use by students and faculty attending the new UCF/Valencia campus, who choose to ride SunRail to and from school.

“The security measures will be monitored and adjusted, as needed.”

But wait a minute, the guard is working from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.?

The actual problem is at 5 a.m., not 3 p.m.

SunRail’s solution solves nothing.

Ideally, a security guard would be assigned to the station 24/7. That’s the approach Orange County took when there were some problems at the Sand Lake Road SunRail station. The problems evaporated.

The problems at Lynx Central Station are largely confined to the northbound platform. Issues are few on the southbound platform that is closest to the Lynx bus boarding bays that are patrolled by uniformed, armed security 24/7. Lynx also has at least one person dedicated to cleaning the bus-boarding area.

If SunRail can’t afford around-the-clock security, then at least assign the guard to work from 5 a.m. to 9 or 10 a.m.

Homelessness is a complex social and economic problem that is beyond the responsibility of SunRail. Letting the northbound platform at Lynx Central Station lapse into an unofficial homeless shelter is not a solution. It’s a failure of community and government leadership.

More services for the homeless are badly needed throughout the Central Florida region. Real solutions include livable wages; more mental health services; free access to public restrooms and laundry; transitional and affordable housing options and a drop-in center where homeless people can go during the daytime.

See you on The Rail.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

SunRail was AWOL at the big transportation meeting

During Orange County’s standing-room-only transportation public meeting on Wednesday night, SunRail was AWOL.

Think about that for a moment.

There are only 2 public transportation providers in Central Florida – Lynx and SunRail.

But what’s up with Mike Shannon, the Florida Department of Transportation District Secretary who declared he would assume the role of running SunRail?

In addition to SunRail, Mr. Shannon is responsible for overseeing ongoing FDOT projects and planning in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Volusia, Flagler, Brevard, Sumter and Marion counties.

If Mr. Shannon is running SunRail, then how come he didn’t participate in the largest transportation meeting held in many years.

The public attending Wednesday’s meeting deserved a deeper understanding of the role SunRail plays in the region’s transportation future.

The SunRail participation was especially required for the public to understand that the responsibility for running SunRail will be transferred from the state to local governments in less than 2 years.

If Ms. Liquori was still running SunRail, we have no doubt she would have participated in the meeting.

Mr. Shannon has too much on his plate to be the hands-on leader of SunRail.

Mr. Shannon’s miss on Wednesday proved our point.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Why SunRail needs a full-time CEO

Railroad locomotives have a “dead man’s switch” that automatically shuts down the train if the engineer becomes incapacitated or leaves the driver’s seat.

So, who is in the driver’s seat at SunRail now that Nicola Liquori, the commuter train system’s CEO, has moved to her new assignment heading the Florida Turnpike Enterprise?

We’re told that Mike Shannon, the Florida Department of Transportation Secretary for District 5, will be running SunRail.

We don’t know Mr. Shannon, but we’ll assume he is top-notch manager. His present scope of responsibilities is humongous overseeing FDOT projects and planning in Brevard, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.

Now Mr. Shannon is going to oversee day-to-day operations at SunRail?

The SunRail operations center is in Sanford.

Mr. Shannon’s district office is in DeLand. The SunRail train doesn’t even go to DeLand -- much to the disappointment of many Volusia County leaders and prospective riders.

Admittedly we were a bit suspicious when Ms. Liquori was appointed SunRail’s CEO three summers ago.

Ms. Liquori was a CPA -- a numbers cruncher with no railroading background when she arrived at SunRail. She proved to be a quick study and an effective, decisive leader.

Ms. Liquori was the right executive at the right time.

Until Ms. Liquori’s arrival other SunRail and FDOT officials dismissed rider complaints about SunRail’s anemic schedule, especially the lack of weekend trains.

Though limited by a lack of resources and legal authority to add weekend service, Ms. Liquori worked around the edges to make incremental adjustments in weekday service – including trains to support some nighttime events in downtown Orlando.

Anyone who attended a SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting knows Ms. Liquori was laser-focused on improving the passenger experience.

Nothing beats having an executive whose sole focus is SunRail.

Considering all the FDOT projects underway in Central Florida, does Mr. Shannon have the bandwidth to give SunRail and its riders the attention they deserve?

This is no time for caretaker leadership.

SunRail deserves and needs a full-time CEO.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Orange County has a serious talk about funding SunRail

If you have difficulty getting from Point A to Point B in Central Florida, then you should attend a very important meeting scheduled for this Wednesday (Aug. 21).

The meeting was called by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings to discuss transportation -- everything from roads to SunRail and the Lynx bus system.

During his first State of the County address Demings floated the idea of seeking voter approval for a 1-cent sales tax increase in Orange County to help pay for needed improvements to public transportation.

In that speech, Demings said, “I am convinced that now is the time for us to seek multi-modal transportation options that will increase frequency of public transit so more people will use it,” Mayor Demings said.

“Now is the time to collectively arrive at a comprehensive solution that will foster an environment where a transportation network is fully funded. I invite our community to consider support of a sales tax referendum to prepare for the future today. I look forward to leading efforts to pass a one-cent sales tax increase that will allow us to fully fund a transportation system that can better serve us well into the future.”

He promised to call meetings to discuss transportation needs.

Wednesday's event, which will be held in a second-floor conference room at Lynx Central Station in downtown Orlando.

The timing for this meeting is critical because in 2021 the state will hand financial responsibility for SunRail to local governments and those governments will need to come up with more than $30 million to keep the train running.

Meanwhile, Lynx struggles to serve three counties with a fleet of barely more than 300 buses. By comparison, the Orange County School District has a fleet of 900 buses to serve one county. Many passengers must wait an hour for buses because the fleet is too small, and the system is poorly funded.

Improving public transit gives residents an alternative to driving their cars everywhere – especially when heading to downtown Orlando, where congestion is the worst and parking is expensive.

“Now is the time to move forward and not go back, now is the time to build a better quality of life not only for us but for generations to come,” Demings said during the State of the County speech.

County officials said they're seeking the public's thoughts on:
·        Public transportation
·        Congested roads
·        Pedestrian crossings
·        Traffic signals and technology

Wednesday’s meeting will start at 6 p.m.

Lynx Central Station is a perfect location because it is easy to reach by folks who ride SunRail and Lynx.

For motorists, parking is available at the Amelia Street Parking Garage (Centroplex), 355 Alexander Place.

Park your car at the Centroplex and bring your parking ticket with you. It will be validated at the meeting so you can park for free.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Changing of the guard at SunRail

SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori was just appointed the new executive director of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.

That’s a big win for the Florida Turnpike, but a major loss for SunRail.

Ms. Liquori took the helm at SunRail three summers ago. Before becoming the SunRail CEO, Ms. Liquori was the Chief Financial Officer for the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.

You probably read elsewhere that the Florida Turnpike Enterprise has been a disaster zone since last year when the state was supposed to be updating the high-tech SunPass toll system. That changeover collapsed into a financial and accounting calamity that still has not been resolved.

Though we hate to see Ms. Liquori leave, she’s an excellent choice to sort out the mess at the Florida Turnpike.

At SunRail Ms. Liquori – a certified public accountant -- was a decisive problem-solver.

A few of her SunRail accomplishments include:
·        Managing SunRail’s southern expansion into Osceola County, which doubled SunRail’s daily ridership.
·        Launching the text-messaging system to alert riders when there are service interruptions. Before Ms. Liquori came aboard the text-alert system was debated for nearly a year. Riders wanted the system, while some consultants said it wasn’t needed.
·        Introduction of the SunRail app. This is another amenity requested by riders.
·        Despite budget limitations, she found ways to occasionally offer trains to support some events in downtown Orlando. The SunRail schedule – especially the lack of weekend service -- remains a major disappointment for many people. Despite that, Ms. Liquori always demonstrated a willingness to look for ways to improve the schedule.
·        Managed the installation of the federally mandated Positive Train Control safety system. The system, which is designed to help prevent trains from running into each other, or de-railing due to high speeds, is expected to be fully operational on the SunRail tracks that run from DeLand to Poinciana. This system also helps protect the Amtrak and freight trains that use the SunRail tracks.

Since its launch in 2014, SunRail has operated under the leadership of FDOT, with Bombardier Transportation, running the trains. The state has been paying most of the operating costs. But in the summer of 2021, the financial responsibility for SunRail will be passed to the local funding partners that include: Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Volusia counties.

Consultants are working on plans for that management transition.

Now that Ms. Liquori has left SunRail, the operation will be led by the Florida Department of Transportation District 5 Secretary Mike Shannon.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Please clean up Lynx Central station platform

Can’t believe we’re writing about this again, but: How many bureaucrats does it take to clean the northbound SunRail platform at Lynx Central Station?

The answer: Too many.

During the past several months we’ve written about the horrific trash and sanitation problem at that station numerous times.

Most mornings riders getting off at that station must walk through a smelly trash pile on their way to work at the Orange County Courthouse and other destinations. (The accompanying photo was sent to us by a rider.)

In addition to sheer neglect, the problem is compounded because there is a major problem with homelessness in downtown. Many homeless people camp out at the station overnight and on the weekends.

Addressing homelessness is a complex social issue that we’re not going to be able to solve in this article but cleaning up the trash should be easy.

A couple of months ago a woman and her boyfriend voluntarily picked up all the trash one day. That was awfully nice of them to voluntarily do that, but it’s not their responsibility.

The responsibility belongs to SunRail and the City of Orlando. That’s why people pay train fares and taxes – to take care of public spaces.

We keep asking Orlando City Hall and SunRail about the problem, and we keep getting the runaround.

Last week we reached out to City Hall. Here is the answer we received from Mayor Buddy Dyer’s spokeswoman:
"As previously discussed, the city is aware of the issue however, the area to the east of the station is owned and maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

"Both parties have agreed that the investment in a more permanent solution would be justified as a result of the ongoing maintenance required and both agencies are exploring options to address the issue."

What does that mean?

Beats us…