Friday, September 26, 2014

What grade does SunRail deserve?

How would you grade Central Florida’s SunRail commuter train system?

It’s hard to believe that SunRail will soon be 6 months old. It began service on May 1.
So how would you grade SunRail?

We think overall SunRail deserves high praise for the launch of commuter train service in our community, but there’s lots of room for improvement.

Now let’s get to specifics:

The stations are generally well designed. We particularly like aesthetic touches at stations, such as the metal sculpture wading birds at Sand Lake Road and the orange-crate art at DeBary.

Spaces are free and plentiful at most of the stations where parking is provided. However, the automatic ticket vending machines are slow and sometimes unreliable. There continue to be problems with a few crossing gates. But the worst problem is the poorly designed platform canopies that provide scant protection from the sun and rain. Whoever designed those canopies deserves a kick in the pants.

Grade: B minus

The SunRail trains are great. They’re comfortable and well designed. The train crews, especially the conductors, are fabulous.

Grade: A

The fare is an outstanding bargain. Try driving round trip from South Orange County to DeBary in Volusia County for $7.50. Can’t be done.

However, many riders are rightly pissed off with the labeling of tickets in the vending machines. One ticket selection is for a 7-day ticket, even though SunRail only runs Monday through Friday. Many riders feel they’re getting ripped off because you only get 5 days of rides on a 7-day ticket, and you must use the ticket on 5 consecutive days.  This untruthful labeling highlights just reminds people that SunRail doesn’t run on weekends. Labeling is equally deceptive for 30-day tickets.

Grade: C

 SunRail has an excellent on-time record. But when things go wrong, it’s time for Katie to bar the door. Most of SunRail problems are caused by people and vehicles trespassing on the tracks, despite a robust public-education program.

SunRail’s responses to these problems have been uneven. SunRail needs to be much better prepared for the unexpected because things are bound to go wrong. Riders depend on SunRail to get them to their destinations, regardless problems.

The biggest service deficiency is that SunRail does not provide service on the weekends or during late-night hours. SunRail remains stubbornly reluctant to expand service despite a petition signed by more than 2,000 people. Weekend service would mean a tremendous boost to businesses and cultural venues throughout Central Florida.

Grade: C minus

Customer service
We live in the hospitality capital of the world, yet SunRail doesn’t seem to have much aptitude for customer service. They're not rude, they're neglectful.

Getting rid of the SunRail Ambassadors who worked on the station platforms was a terrible idea. Even though they were hired as temps, they proved to be invaluable in answering questions, helping with balky ticket vending machines and reinforcing operating and safety rules. Riders really appreciated the assistance provided by the Ambassadors.

SunRail does a poor job of communicating with riders waiting on platforms when there are service interruptions. We’re happy SunRail is now working on a text messaging system to contact riders, but why wasn’t that done before SunRail started operations?

Based on what we’ve seen SunRail needs lessons in disaster planning and customer recovery. To improve they should reach out to the airlines and Disney -- businesses that have extensive experience and knowledge in those subjects.

Grade: D

SunRail’s overall grade: B minus

Lynx and Votran also deserve a B grade for providing the essential public bus service that connects many neighborhoods to SunRail stations.

So what’s your grade for SunRail?

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