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.