Saturday, November 1, 2014

Don't get tricked by SunRail naysayers

During the last few weeks some naysayers have been invoking the name of SunRail to derail the Greenlight Pinellas voter referendum in Pinellas County (St. Petersburg, Fla.) that would create a regional transportation system, complete with a new light rail train.

The naysayers are clucking: “SunRail is failing because the ridership has declined.”
Hopefully Pinellas County voters won’t fall for the hype and they will approve Greenlight Pinellas on Tuesday -- Election Day.

SunRail hasn’t failed – far from it. Thousands of Central Floridians use SunRail Monday to Friday every week …and they love it.

Are there things that the SunRail leaders can do better? Sure, and we write about those issues all the time. We’re like sports fans who yell at our hometown team’s coach and players – not because we hate them. We just want them to do better.

We also don’t believe the SunRail official ridership decline is serious, or permanent. Based on what we and other riders we know have seen – SunRail ridership remains very strong, despite the official numbers.

Everybody with any common sense knew SunRail would experience a ridership dip in August when the kids went back to school and the “Harry Potter effect” – newest ride in town – wore off.

But we also think a number of other factors that have skewed SunRail’s official ridership count.

For one thing, SunRail’s has been dogged by problems with the ticket-vending machines in the stations. We’ve been in stations early in the morning when none of the vending machines were working. We still boarded the train. We wanted to buy a ticket, but the machines weren’t working.

Sometimes the conductors are so busy with train operations and safety concerns that they don’t have a chance to count heads or inspect tickets.

And then there are dishonest riders who have figured out how to game the system – ride the train without buying a ticket.

It’s noteworthy that the ridership decline began during the same month that SunRail laid off the station Ambassadors who worked on the platform to answer questions and assist riders. The Ambassadors did a great job of gently reminding riders to tap-on and tap off the trains. Everybody knew the Ambassadors were watching and we bet that helped discourage cheaters from trying to board a train without a valid ticket Fortunately, SunRail bosses recently decided to bring back the Ambassadors.

Granted the reasons we cited here are speculation on our part. But we’re absolutely certain that SunRail is not a failure. 

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, Greenlight Pinellas failed at the ballot box thanks to a group in Pinellas County called "No Tax For Tracks". Apparently those No Tax For Tracks naysayers do not understand is that Greenlight Pinellas would have introduced better transit operations not only in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County but would have provided a light rail or commuter rail connection to Tampa and Hillsborough County via a dedicated Howard Frankland Bridge (Interstate 275) center span.

    SunRail is not a failure at all! I recently rode SunRail towards the afternoon when the afternoon commute started and I have seen plenty of ridership. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of anti-SunRail sentiment from the Orlando area news media, particularly WFTV Channel 9 Eyewitness News.

    In fact, SunRail needs to expand service into the weekends and holidays. This holds true especially when the mega-reconstruction work on Interstate 4 begins in the Orlando area soon from what I understand.

    With Greenlight Pinellas defeated, something needs to be done to bring expanded mass transit including rail based mass transit such as SunRail into the Tampa Bay region. It is a matter of time because high profile companies do not want to relocate their operations to the Tampa Bay region due to the mass transit options we have now and the employers in the Tampa Bay region are losing plenty of valuable talent because of long commutes to and from work.

    Granted, a commuter rail system in the Tampa Bay region similar to Orlando's SunRail is needed - not 10 years, not 5 years, not even 2 years but now.