Wednesday, April 18, 2018

FDOT is working on bus service to Poinciana SunRail

Here’s the latest from the Florida Department of Transportation regarding bus service to support the future Poinciana SunRail station.

FDOT works with Lynx to provide bus service to SunRail stations. FDOT is subsidizing SunRail through 2021.

SunRail train service to Poinciana is expected to begin this summer.

Here is what FDOT said:

“Our goal is to look at the service area from a systems standpoint. With this in mind, it is important to note that the existing LYNX Link 26 serves the Poinciana area. When we evaluated the travel time for the existing Link 26 from the Poinciana Walmart to the Kissimmee Station and compared it to the County’s proposed route from the Poinciana Walmart to the Poinciana Station, we noted that there was a slight benefit in travel time with the existing Link 26.

In addition, when LYNX modeled Osceola County’s proposed route, the projected ridership was low and the cost for the service was high. This resulted in a projected cost per passenger trip of $23.98 compared to a LYNX system average of $4.15. We are proposing to modify the Link 26 to include additional service hours in the morning peak to match the SunRail schedule.

There is an existing route (Link 306 Disney Direct) that provides service between the Poinciana Wal Mart and the Disney Springs Transfer Center. 

Currently only one morning trip operates to Disney Springs and one late afternoon trip operates to Poinciana. This route is proposed to deviate from Poinciana Boulevard to serve the Poinciana SunRail Station.

With regard to US 192, there are several existing routes that serve the Kissimmee SunRail Station including Routes 55 and 56 to the west which run 30-minute headways all day and have significant overlap (almost like having 15-minute headways along those segments).  

Route 18 serves US 192 to the east for a short segment from US 441 to Denn John Lane with 60-minute headways, and Route 10 serves US 192 from the Kissimmee SunRail Station to St Cloud with 30-minute headways.

Finally, NeighborLink is a dial-a-ride flex-service that is designed to make it easier for individuals living in less populated areas to use public transportation. 

The Neighborlink 604 provides service to Intercession City and Campbell City.

The existing base location is proposed to be moved to the Poinciana SunRail Station, and service hours would be expanded to match the SunRail train schedule, with service beginning approximately 45 minutes earlier and operating approximately 2 hours later in the evening. This service provides smaller buses that can access neighborhoods and is more cost efficient. As the ridership in that area grows, we will work with LYNX to evaluate the need for a different type of service.

As reported, Commissioner Janer requested that FDOT and LYNX review the analysis for the proposed route. This effort is underway, and we will report the results when available.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Make Poinciana SunRail a winner

Will the Poinciana SunRail station be a winner or a loser?

Making it easy for people to get to the train station is key, and Lynx plays a big role in that equation.

Poinciana SunRail station
The experience of the last four years has shown that the end of the line stations – DeBary and Sand Lake Road – have been two of the busiest in the SunRail system. DeBary – the only SunRail station in Volusia County gets passengers from the Votran bus system. The Sand Lake Station in south Orlando is supported by 6 Lynx bus routes.

At this writing, the bus situation is not nearly so bright for the nearly completed Poinciana station. That station at the intersection of Old Tampa Highway and Poinciana Blvd. is in Osceola County, relatively close to Polk County.

In case you’ve never been there, the Poinciana station that will become the southern end of the line for SunRail is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. (OK there is a Home Depot, a soft-drink bottling plant, a Wawa and an ice-cream-stand nearby.)

What concerns us is that currently the Poinciana station will be served only by Neighborhood Link 604. That bus circulates mainly in the Intercession City and Campbell City area near the station. As it is a Neighborhood Link you must call 2 hours in advance to arrange for pick up.

Under a contract with Polk County, Lynx will provide the only bus (Link 416) for Polk County residents to reach SunRail. That bus (Link 416) will carry people from Haines City to the Lynx Super Stop at the Poinciana Walmart. At the Super Stop, riders would transfer to Link 26 to take them to the intermodal station in downtown Kissimmee where people can catch SunRail, Lynx, Greyhound, and Amtrak.

The problem is that neither SunRail or Lynx offers service that is convenient to use.

Blame the local, state and federal elected officials because there is no dedicated source of funding to subsidize our local public transit – Lynx and SunRail.

All public transit throughout the world relies on government subsidies. Passenger fares only pay about 30 percent of the operating costs. Roads, highways and even airlines rely on government subsidies.

Until politicians find the courage to provide adequate funding a reliable people who rely on public transit will continue to receive janky service.

There is some good news. Currently, Osceola County, Lynx and the state Department of Transportation are discussing the possibility of offering additional Lynx bus service to connect more people to the Poinciana SunRail station.

Hope to see you on The Rail this summer at the Poinciana SunRail station.

For a free subscription to get the latest report from SunRailRiders click here.

Osceola now leads the SunRail Commission

Osceola Commissioner Viviana Janer on Thursday (March 29) was selected as chairwoman of the SunRail Commission.

Osceola Commissioner Janer

She took over that post from Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari.
Janer is a great choice because she is from New York City and grew up taking the subway and bus to school and to work.

In addition to the SunRail Commission, she also serves as the chairwoman of Lynx, the public bus system that serves Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties.

This timing is perfect because this summer SunRail will be extending rail service to Osceola with stations at Osceola Parkway, downtown Kissimmee, and Poinciana.

For a free subscription to get the latest SunRail news, click here.

Sparks flew during the March SunRail meeting

It got real on Thursday at the SunRail Commission meeting with Volusia County Council Member Pat Patterson sticking it to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

For the past several meetings there have been testy exchanges between Dyer and Patterson over Patterson’s request to make changes to the funding agreement between the counties on how they’ll pay for SunRail in 2021 after the Florida Department of Transportation turns the rail system over to the local governments to pay for and operate.

Patterson bickers from the right as Dyer looks on from the far left

The original SunRail plans call for a second SunRail station to DeLand. Volusia County only station is in DeBary. For several reasons, money for the second station was not provided by the federal government and or other sources. Volusia residents feel shortchanged and they fear the original contract will have them paying for service they are not receiving.

Dyer has repeatedly assured Patterson that Volusia won’t pay for a station that was never built, but Patterson wants that understanding in writing. Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari, who had been chairing the rail commission until Thursday wants to wait until all the funding partners – including Volusia -- can submit their amendments at one time.

There have been several testy exchanges between Dyer and Patterson. On Thursday when the commissioners were voting on new officers, Dyer was nominated to serve as the vice chair.

Normally that’s a routine vote with all members supporting the nominee. On Thursday, however, Patterson voted “No” – a biting public rebuke of Dyer.

So just in case, you’re wondering Volusia residents – Pat Patterson is fighting for your best interests.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

SunRail needs YOUR political support

Recently we heard howls of unhappiness when residents learned that SunRail will not be running during the popular Winter Park Art Festival.

We share your frustration. SunRail service leaves much to be desired.

The problem, however, is bigger than the Winter Park Art Festival; weekend train service, or even SunRail.

SunRail during 2017 art festival

Don’t blame the people who operate the trains.

Blame the politicians who haven’t allocated the money necessary to provide the public transit service we need.

SunRail, like the Lynx bus system, is tragically underfunded. There is no dedicated funding source – such as a tax or a fee -- to support SunRail or Lynx. Every year Lynx begs Orlando and local counties for the money needed to keep the buses rolling.

The state is providing the money to keep SunRail running until 2021. Then SunRail becomes OUR (Orlando, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties) financial responsibility.

That bill will be more than $30 million annually. Where will that money come from? No one knows.

Anyone who tells you that SunRail and Lynx should be self sufficient -- without a taxpayer subsidy -- doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

There is no public transit system anywhere in the world that supports itself solely from the fare box. All transit systems, including airlines and the paved street outside your house, are subsidized by taxpayers.

Just because you have a car doesn’t mean you’re immune from the money crisis facing SunRail and Lynx.

There’s a good chance that the people who scrub the toilet at your job, or stack the shelves at your local supermarket, may not be able to afford cars because they aren’t paid a living wage. They rely on public transit – some riding two hours or more to and from work.

For those – like us – fortunate enough to own a car you probably noticed that traffic throughout Central Florida gets worse every day. Public transit offers people a cost-effective and stress-free alternative to driving.

The ongoing I-4 Ultimate Project, is not a solution to the road congestion. Additional lanes being added to I-4 will quickly reach capacity and compound Central Florida’s hopeless traffic jams.

Our awful traffic is very expensive.

A recent study showed that an average Orlando-area motorist wastes 32 hours a year stuck in congestion at a cost of $1,100 per driver. Our janky public transit system contributed to the Orlando-area’s low ranking in the competition to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

But there’s more. A recent investigative report in the Huffington Post showed how the poisonous exhaust fumes from the vehicles using Interstate 4 and the 408 are suffocating people living in downtown Orlando’s Parramore community. Today, it’s Parramore. Tomorrow it will be your neighborhood.

You may think greenhouses gases and global warming are a joke. We don’t.

Our community needs and deserves effective and convenient public transportation – both SunRail and Lynx.

If you’re pissed that you can’t ride SunRail to the Winter Park Art Festival, or on any weekend or late at night, then tell your city, county, state and federal elected officials that you demand more service.

Pols are paying attention. This is an election year.

Time is running out for SunRail.

See you on The Rail, but not at the art festival.

For a free subscription to get the latest report from SunRailRiders click here.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Guess who's coming to SunRail

We have it on good authority that in late July when SunRail officially launches service on its southern leg to Poinciana an unlikely guest of honor will be on hand to officiate.

Drumroll, please: Florida Gov. Rick Scott!
SunRail launch in 2014

Given that the Florida Department of Transportation is providing a lion share of the funds to operate SunRail, the governor’s presence seems appropriate. But Scott doesn’t exactly have a reputation for supporting passenger-rail alternatives to traffic-clogged highways.

Many remember that in 2011, one of Scott’s first actions as governor was to kill a planned high-speed rail system linking Tampa and Orlando. He turned down $2.4 billion from the federal government for the project. That money went to other states.

Thankfully, though, at the last minute – after much handwringing and begging by Central Florida leaders – Scott approved SunRail and its bare-bones budget that doesn’t include enough money for weekend and late-night service.

Those who attended the SunRail ribbon-cutting in April 2014 might recall that Scott did not attend that event.

Wonder if the fact that Scott is on the verge of announcing his candidacy to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson at the polls in November has anything to do with his desire to put in some face time at the upcoming SunRail event?

Who knows, maybe we’ll even see Scott on The Rail.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Are you ready for SunRail 2.0?

SunRail 2.0 will arrive in the summer of 2018 and we’re looking forward to it.
This new chapter of SunRail opens with the 17-mile extension of the commuter rail service into Osceola County.

Extending the service south will add four new SunRail train stations:

  • Meadow Woods in south Orange County, serving the sprawling Meadow Woods and Hunters Creek residential communities
  • Tupperware in Osceola County, serving the corporate headquarters of Tupperware and Osceola Parkway – a major crossroad in Osceola that stretches down into the Disney resort area.
  • Historic downtown Kissimmee. This station is certain to become a major destination for SunRail day trippers. Downtown Kissimmee is filled with restaurants and shops – half a block from the train station and adjacent to a Lynx bus Super Stop, an Amtrak station, a Greyhound bus station and the Kissimmee Civic Center. The train station is a 5-minute walk from Lake Toho’s waterfront park. For more, click here for a video sneak peek at some of the things downtown Kissimmee has to offer.
  • Poinciana, SunRail’s last station which is closest to Disney resort; a 5-minute bus ride to the popular Green Meadows Petting Farm and relatively close to the Polk County line. SunRail will also store a couple of trains in Poinciana and perform light maintenance on trains at this station.

This expanded service provides a great transportation option for many people who endure the aggravating traffic congestion on Interstate 4, Orange Avenue, the Orange Blossom Trail, John Young Parkway and US 192.

From our perspective, the best thing about extending SunRail into Osceola is that the commuter train will attract more riders.

Regular readers of this blog know that we’ve been disappointed in SunRail’s current ridership that is roughly 3,200 daily boardings. For the actual number of riders, you divide the boardings in half because the people who board the train to ride to work in the morning are pretty much the same people who board the train in the evening to ride home.

Some SunRail/FDOT officials predict SunRail 2.0 could add as many as 2,000 new riders to SunRail. We think that’s a credible estimate because many Orlando International Airport workers live in Osceola County. Even though there’s currently no direct rail link to OIA, the airport is a less than 10-minute bus ride from SunRail’s existing Sand Lake Road station. You can get a free transfer from SunRail to the Lynx bus at Sand Lake Road. There’s also talk of public or private express bus service between the Meadow Woods station and the airport. (An airport rail link will cost at least $200 million.)

The Poinciana station can draw more riders from nearby Polk County. There are already Polk County riders who drive up to the Sand Lake Road station to take SunRail to jobs in downtown Orlando, Winter Park and Seminole County.

Improving ridership is crucial to the long-term survival of SunRail, and key to expanding the service to weekends and late night.

SunRail 2.0 can’t arrive fast enough!

Click here for more SunRail news.