Friday, October 31, 2014

Bet they were disappointed

One of our favorite SunRail riders told us a surprising story.

A few of her friends rode SunRail to the Amway Center to attend an Orlando Magic pre-season game. After the game they returned to the station and it was only then that they realized that SunRail stops running before the end of the game.

They were both surprised and disappointed. Of course they really should have checked the schedule and they would have known that the last northbound SunRail train departs Church Street -- the stop closest to Amway -- at 9:25 pm.

But we do sympathize with them because most reasonable people can't be blamed for assuming that our $1 billion train would run late and on weekends to help residents enjoy the Magic and all the great entertainment, shopping and cultural venues in Central Florida. Ya think!

Welcome to SunRail's nastiest platform

It would be nice if this was a Halloween story but it’s way too scary.

The southbound platform at SunRail’s Lynx Central station is N-A-S-T-Y. The northbound platform appeared to be much cleaner.

We’re not sure what transpires overnight on the southbound platform, but it’s pretty bad, as you can see in the accompanying photo.

At 6 o’clock this morning that platform was covered with everything from cigarette butts to what we think was human waste (we’re talking No. 2).

At almost all the other SunRail stations the platforms are close to pristine – a testament to diligent work by janitorial workers who clean stations during the day.

We don’t know whether the filth we found this morning on the southbound platform at Lynx Central station occurred overnight, or if the janitorial worker has been on vacation, but that platform needs a deep clean. We’re talking high-pressure washer, boiling hot water, bleach and other disinfectants. There was also questionable brown substance smeared on a couple of benches.

Clearly smoking – which is banned on the platforms -- is another big problem at this station. We started counting cigarette butts on the southbound platform and we quit when we reached 50. We saw riders waiting for trains smoking. There was a technician at the station trying to fix the 3 broken ticket vending machines, and even he was smoking!

SunRail’s Lynx Central station needs lots of attention, please.

Monday, October 27, 2014

SunRail needs to sound off quicker when there are delays

SunRail’s success and ridership depend on one word – reliability.

We’re the first to say that SunRail can’t be held responsible when somebody carelessly, or intentionally, blocks the tracks.

But SunRail can mitigate the situation by promptly communicating with riders when delays occur.

That was not the case early Monday morning with a southbound train was delayed by a vehicle blocking the tracks.

One of our favorite riders tweeted the delay news at 7:06 a.m. SunRail didn’t send their first tweet until 7:24 a.m. By then our favorite rider sent a second tweet at 7:14 a.m.  During that time two other riders also tweeted delay information – before SunRail.

Some may say, “Oh come on, it’s only a ‘few’ minutes.” But minutes count, especially when people are heading to work in the morning. Folks have deadlines and early-morning meetings. Hourly workers get penalized for clocking in late.

At least if people know there’s a delay they can call and email their places of work to let team members and bosses know they’re stuck on the train. Beyond riders on the train, let’s not forget people stranded on platforms waiting for the delayed train.

Keep in mind that if the southbound SunRail train is delayed, there’s a good chance the delay will cascade and affect northbound trips because the southbound train becomes the northbound train when it reaches the end of the line at Sand Lake Road. (SunRail deserves credit for quickly getting things back on schedule this morning.)

We have no idea how the SunRail operations center in Sanford is set up, but there should be one person in the operations center at all times whose only job is to communicate with riders when there are service delays. Rider communications are a big part of reliability. Remember, SunRail is hauling people, not sacks of cement.

Once a train experiences a delay of more than 5 or 6 minutes that person should be tweeting.  We would rather have SunRail over communicate than leave riders uninformed.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Is Barney Fife running SunRail?

Ever been to an Orlando Magic basketball game at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando?

It’s great fun, especially if Orlando wins. (Here’s hoping for a championship season.)

What’s not so much fun is getting to and from the Amway Center for the game.
Fortunately, relief is at hand. The SunRail train station at Church Street is about a five-minute walk from the Amway Center. The accompanying photo was taken from the northbound platform of the Church Street SunRail station.

Unfortunately, the SunRail train schedule is out of sync with game time at Amway Center. Sure you can catch SunRail to arrive at the game, but considering that the last SunRail trains leave Church Street before the game is over, how would you get home? Or do you just leave Amway Center before the game is over?

SunRail said the Magic could pay thousands to charter a train to bring fans to and from the games. But why should the Magic have to do that?

SunRail is a public resource for everyone -- including Magic fans.

This is not an Orlando Magic issue, and we’re not season ticket holders.

There is much more going on at night than Orlando Magic games. Up and down the SunRail’s 31-mile corridor there are dozens of diverse activities and venues open at night to enrich the lives of residents. SunRail can make it much easier to experience everything this community has to offer.

However, SunRail stops running earlier than Andy Griffith’s Mayberry rolled up the sidewalk at night (Millennials, please check the TV reruns).

Failure to provide service on the weekends and during late-night hours makes SunRail look as useful as a deep freezer at the Arctic Circle.

Enormous investments have been made to turn Central Florida into a world-class community with the airport, convention center, public university, sports/events arena and performing arts center. We deserve much more than a part-time train system.

Click here for important video.

SunRail's ticket vending machine mess

If we were in charge of SunRail and we cared about rider convenience, one of the changes we would make is to add a second cash ticket vending machine to the SunRail station at Church Street in downtown Orlando.

Every SunRail station has four ticket-vending machines – two on the northbound platform and two on the southbound platform. Of those four vending machines, only one accepts cash. The other three vending machines (when they’re working) only accept credit or debit cards. SunRail’s rationale for only providing one cash machine per station on either the northbound or south platform is kind of wonky, and doesn’t make much sense to us.

With the exception of one station, the northbound and southbound platforms are directly across from each other. So if you show up on the wrong platform with cash you have to run to the other side to buy your ticket.

And now for the exception – the SunRail station at Church Street, which you can see in the accompanying aerial photo. The northbound and southbound platforms are more than a block away from each other and separated by busy two-way traffic on South Street. The cash machine is on the northbound platform.

On two occasions we have seen people rush up to the southbound platform and try to buy a ticket with cash. One of the people missed the train because he couldn’t buy a ticket. The other ended up boarding the train without a ticket. It wasn’t her fault. She wanted to buy a ticket, but couldn’t. (It’s stuff like this that adversely affects SunRail passenger counts.)

Common sense dictates that Church Street needs cash machines on the northbound and southbound platforms. Ideally, there should be cash machines on both platforms at all SunRail stations.

While SunRail bosses are scratching their heads about Church Street, they need to move the cash machine at the Sand Lake Road Station. At that station (SunRail’s end of the line), the cash machine is on the northbound platform. But SunRail isn’t even using the northbound platform at Sand Lake Road. All passenger loading and unloading is done on the southbound platform and that’s where the cash machine needs to be.

For heaven’s sake SunRail, get with the program.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Late-night SunRail run

Know how everyone -- including us -- laments that SunRail doesn't run on weekends and late-night hours.

Well we just heard from a faithful rider that SunRail made a late-night weekend run just a few days ago -- though it wasn't planned.

On this past Friday night a northbound Amtrak train hit and destroyed a car that got stuck on the tracks in Seminole County at General Hutchinson parkway and Ronald Reagan Blvd. Thank goodness no one was hurt, but the driver got a ticket.

The crash caused major delays along those tracks that are used by SunRail. The SunRail train that departs Sand Lake Road at 9:15 p.m. didn't make it to DeBary until 12:18 a.m. on SATURDAY MORNING.

But hey, SunRail got through. SunRail and the riders deserve a gold star for perseverance.

Going to the performing arts center? Don't count on SunRail

Have you checked out the new Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts in downtown Orlando?

You can get a sneak peek at the performing art center’s spectacular design in the accompanying photo that was shot during the early-morning hours from the northbound platform of the SunRail station at Church Street.

We regret that you can only see a small corner of the performing arts center in this photograph, but our point is to show you how close the SunRail station is to the performing arts center. An out-of-shape 5-7 guy can walk from the train station to the performing arts center in about 5 minutes.

But walking from the train station to the performing arts center is futile because SunRail doesn’t run during late-night hours or on the weekends. Under the existing SunRail schedule, on weekdays the last northbound train leaves the Church Street SunRail station at 9:25 p.m., and the last southbound train leaves Church Street at 8:51 p.m.

Now think about this. On Saturday, Nov. 8 Grammy Award winner Sheryl Crow will perform during a free concert to celebrate the grand opening of our new performing arts center. The street in front of the performing arts center is congested during the best of times. Imagine what it’s going to be like for a free performance in Central Florida’s newest public venue.

The traffic congestion could be greatly alleviated if there was a transportation alternative, such as SunRail, available to bring Central Florida residents to downtown Orlando. But, oops, SunRail doesn’t run on weekends. That reality isn’t just sad, it’s stupid.

Central Florida is a world-class community, and it needs to start acting like one. We deserve much better than a part-time train system. Our new performing arts center deserves more than a part-time train system.

Failure to provide 7-day-a-week and expanded evening service plays right into the hands of the SunRail haters who are overjoyed to cluck about recent declines in train ridership. The naysayers get great pleasure by calling SunRail a white elephant. We know that’s not true. Full-time rail service will make mass transportation a part of this community’s DNA and add tremendous value to the new performing arts center and many other cultural, recreation and entertainment venues in this region.

SunRail officials say they’re studying the idea of expanding hours and they’ll make a report at the end of this year. We’re not optimistic.

Don’t just read this post, help make Central Florida a world-class community by clicking this link and signing the petition to get SunRail service hours expanded.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Support expanded SunRail service by riding on the Columbus Day Holiday

This Monday, Columbus Day, presents a unique opportunity to show how much we want to see SunRail run on weekends and late-night hours.

Usually SunRail does not run on federal holiday, but it will be running on Columbus Day (Oct. 13, 2014) when many people have the day off from work. This is a great opportunity to get out there and ride and check out some of the places you can visit on The Rail – from bicycle trails near the DeBary station to shopping and dining on Fourth Street in Lake Mary, going to some of our great museums in Loch Haven Park at the Florida Hospital stop. Honestly, every stop on SunRail is unique and worth exploring.

This is an opportunity that may not come around for a long time. It’s time for us – the SunRail riders – to put up or shut up.

Lately some people have been clucking over some declines in SunRail ridership. Those of us who ride The Rail on a regular basis understand how important SunRail is to the future and prosperity of our community.

We need to demonstrate our support by getting out there and riding. And get our friends and neighbors to ride, too. We want to see SunRail reach its full potential – with weekend and late-night service. Ride on Monday to show what SunRail means to this community.
Please click here to watch an important video, and share this link with your friends.

We’ll be riding Monday, and if you see founder David Porter, please be sure to say hello and he’ll have a special gift for you.

See you on The Rail.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Please eliminate traffic death trap for SunRail riders

Check out the accompanying photo at the Church Street SunRail station in downtown Orlando.

This is what a death trap looks like.

Every morning hundreds of SunRail riders who get off the train at Church Street – one of SunRail’s busiest stations – play dodge cars while crossing South Street because there is no crosswalk or traffic signal to help them.

Granted, the pedestrians in this photo are jaywalking. But they really don’t have any other way to get across the very heavy two-way traffic on South Street. Conditions will only get worse as the sun rises later and riders are left to cross South Street in the darkness.

This is not a new problem. Riders tweeted about this crossing back in May, shortly after SunRail began operations. Yet this dangerous situation continues. Every one of those riders is in danger when they cross this street.  We're not traffic engineers, but this location cries out for a clearly marked crosswalk, zebra strips on the pavement and maybe even some warning lights.

Even though this problem is at the SunRail station, the responsibility rests with the city of Orlando. You would think Orlando would have jumped on this situation months ago, especially considering this crossing is around the corner from Orlando City Hall. Mayor Buddy Dyer has spoken eloquently in the past about having a pedestrian friendly, walkable downtown. So what's up Mr. Mayor?  It's time to walk the talk (bad pun intended).

Hope it doesn’t take someone getting killed before something is done to make it safer for SunRail riders to cross the street in the morning on the way to work.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Not perfect, but not bad

When you ride The Rail early in the morning the last thing you want to hear is that your train got canceled. But that's what happened this morning when SunRail's first southbound run was canceled for "mechanical" issues.

That's really frustrating, but when you're dealing with machines, sometimes things are going to break and sometimes those problems are unavoidable. Considering that people count on the train to get to work SunRail deserves the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn't cancel a train for trivial reasons.

But here's the good news. As soon as SunRail realized the problem this morning, they tweeted the information, and we even saw the early morning news shows reporting the cancellation. This was a fantastically better showing than the nightmare SunFail a month ago.

And here's the second good piece of news, SunRail did not allow one problem to ruin the entire morning. We were on hand at the Sand Lake Road station to see the second train of the morning arrive on time. Everything was back on schedule.

Way to go SunRail!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Who you gonna call?

Frequently we get calls and emails for riders who have experienced trouble with the SunRail trains, stations, or (heaven forbid) ticket vending machines.

We're always happy to look into those concerns, but we're not affiliated with SunRail or the Florida Department of Transportation. We're riders, just like you.

If you have a concern, the best course of action is to call SunRail customer service at 1-855-724-5411. SunRail promises that phone will be staffed by a living and breathing human being starting very early in the morning to very late at night on weekdays.

If you're dissatisfied with the response, let us know and we'll look into the situation. 

What would really be cool is if SunRail's response exceeds your expectations. We would love to hear and share the news with fellow riders. Also please let us know about good deeds by the train crews and like you, we're eagerly awaiting the return of the SunRail station Ambassadors.

See you on The Rail!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Want to run SunRail?

How would you like to run a railroad?

Well, we exaggerate a bit, but SunRail is looking for riders to serve on a rider advisory board (officially called the “Customer Service Advisory Committee”).

We’re really happy that this committee is being established because SunRail is lacking when it comes to customer service, as we pointed out in last week’s SunRailRiders blog.

The main requirement is that committee members must ride SunRail at least three times every week.

Each of SunRail’s funding partners gets two appointments to the advisory committee. Those partners are: Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties and the city of Orlando. Volusia has already picked two representatives for the committee. As of last Wednesday the others partners had not named their representatives.

Typically pals of politicians get picked to serve on committees like this one. But we don’t need a bunch of “yes” people and cronies on this committee. We need representatives who can be counted on to truthfully share and discuss concerns of fellow riders and to tirelessly push to make SunRail the best commuter train system in this U.S.

Are you willing to serve?

If so, we suggest that you send an email to local elected officials who serve on the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission – the group that oversees SunRail.

·        Those officials include:
·         Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs
·         Seminole County Commissioner Carlton Henley
·         Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
·         Osceola County Commissioner Frank Attkisson
·         Volusia County Commissioner Jason Davis

Remember Volusia has already appointed its commissioners, but riders willing to serve should send an emails to the other officials to volunteer. We suggest that you type SunRail Customer Service Advisory Committee in the subject space of the email. Provide the officials with your name, address, phone number. Tell them where you get on and off SunRail, as well as what days you ride. Include a sentence of two explaining why you want to serve.

We hope SunRail will make it easy to serve. With advisory committee members spread from DeBary to Pine Castle, where and what time would the committee meet? Our suggestion would be hold virtual meetings via computer, with services such as Google HangOuts. Those computer tools make it easy for the general public to “attend” and participate.

Enough talk. Let’s get busy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Where's the 3rd car?

Earlier Thursday we heard from a rider that the 3rd passenger coach wasn't on the first train during the evening rush hour on Wednesday.

We put that question to a SunRail spokesman.
His response:

"A third car is put on a train when the train is at 85 percent or greater capacity the previous day. Today, for example, the third car will be added for that afternoon turn. This is something that on-board personnel continuously monitor, as we do with special events. For example, the Maitland Arts Festival starts Friday, so we will proactively add a third car in anticipation of additional riders. Something you may have experienced on board, some of our passengers prefer to stand rather than take an empty seat next to a stranger. The conductors do let standing passengers know of seat availability in other cars or levels of the trains when available."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hooray for SunRail Ambassadors, they're coming back!

We’re so excited! The SunRail Station Ambassadors are coming back.

When SunRail launched in May Ambassadors were assigned to each of the 12 commuter-train stations to help riders understand the schedule, wrestle with the ticket vending machines and address other issues.

The Ambassadors were hired as temps, and in August – much to the dismay of many riders – they were let go. Their departure has been the source of complaints by many riders, especially new riders who arrived at stations and didn’t have a clue on how to use the ticket-vending machines or even which platform they should wait on. New riders tried to help the newbies, but that’s a heck of a way to run a railroad.

Wednesday afternoon during the Technical Advisory Committee of the Central Florida Rail Commission, a SunRail official announced that the Ambassadors would be brought back.

Officials acknowledged that their decision was driven partly because of continuing problems with the ticket-vending machines. In addition, the officials noted that new people are trying SunRail every day and they many have questions about the train, schedule and other details. The Ambassadors also played a very important safety role in making sure riders waited behind the warning line on platforms and stayed off the tracks. (Without Ambassadors present we’ve actually seen riders jump down on tracks to pose for pictures – what are they thinking?)

Bringing back the Ambassadors was very good public relations decision by SunRail because many regular riders really bonded with the Ambassadors. The SunRail commuter train system needs a friendly face at every station – especially when the unavoidable happens and things go wrong. With the massive construction project starting on Interstate 4 early next year there are bound to be hundreds -- probably thousands -- of new riders between now and next spring. The Ambassadors will have their work cut out.

We probably won’t see the Ambassadors in their familiar black golf shirts back for another four to six weeks. There’s paperwork and training that needs to be completed before they on-duty again. It will be good to have them back.