Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Orlando City Soccer and Winter Park Art Festival rock!

Orlando City Soccer President Phil Rawlins is a gentleman and a scholar.

About two weeks ago on this blog we posted an open letter to Mr. Rawlins suggesting that Orlando City Soccer make Orlando history by paying to run SunRail on a weekend for the first time on Sunday, March 8th – when the team will play its opening day match.

While we never heard directly from Mr. Rawlins, he did respond.

It was announced today that the team worked out a deal to provide SunRail service on March 8 to help fans get to the match at the Citrus Bowl.

It’s also noteworthy that on that same day the Orlando Magic will be playing the Boston Celtics at the Amway Arena. Parking and traffic in downtown Orlando are sure to be a nightmare, so SunRail service will be a huge help.

This is historic because up to now SunRail only runs Monday to Friday – though everyone has been pleading for weekend service since the train launched May 1, 2014. March 8 will be the first time SunRail provided passenger service on a weekend.

The Orlando City Soccer news broke on the same day the organizers of the Winter Park Art Festival announced they will provide SunRail weekend service during that annual event on Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22.

These are phenomenal developments and they provide a great opportunity for all Central Floridians to show how they would use the train if was available every weekend.

Past demonstrations, such as our #RideBlkFri campaign, overwhelmed SunRail with enthusiastic riders who took the train to go shopping, going to parks and visiting friends.

These large rider turnouts are essential to help persuade local officials to find local dollars to keep SunRail rolling every weekend for leisure riders and for those who need to train to get to work on the weekend.

We can’t tell you how grateful we are to everyone who is making it possible to operate SunRail for the Orlando City Soccer opening day and during the Winter Park Art Festival.

Let’s ride!

SunRail rolls for Winter Park Art Festival

Weekend SunRail for the Winter Park Art Festival is the best news we’ve heard in 6 months.

First we must salute the city of Winter Park, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, the Winter Park Art Festival and Florida Hospital for bankrolling the train operations on Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22. That’s what we call making a serious investment in the future of our community.

Winter Park Art Festival

Providing SunRail service for the art festival is such a smart move because the festival is excellent, but driving there and finding a place to park is a nightmare. It’s a shame that until now we have not been able to get SunRail to budge beyond Monday to Friday service.

By sponsoring the train for the festival weekend our Winter Park friends will show Central Florida what a joy it could be every weekend to get from Point A to Point B if we had full-time SunRail service -- something this community badly needs to reduce the horrendous traffic congestion that plagues almost every major and secondary thoroughfare in Central Florida.

SunRail officials said it will cost $5.5 million annually to provide weekend service. State officials declared they won’t allocate money for weekend service. 

Despite those roadblocks, the city of Winter Park, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, the Winter Park Art Festival and Florida Hospital put some serious skin in the game to show what’s possible. We’re deeply grateful for their leadership and checkbook on this important issue.

But remember, the funding is just for the festival weekend. We all need to be ask: Where do we go from there?

Unfortunately we’re not going to come up with a permanent formula for weekend SunRail service today. Meanwhile, let’s all plan to ride SunRail to the art festival next month.

See you on The Rail.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Let's get local politicians to support weekend SunRail service

Contact these local elected officials and ask them to support a local plan to raise money for weekend SunRail service.

Seminole County Commissioners
Commissioner Bob Dallari  -
Commissioner John Horan –
Commissioner Lee Constantine –
Commissioner Carlton Henley –
Commissioner Brenda Carey –

Winter Park City Council
Mayor Kenneth Bradley –
City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper –
City Commissioner Steven Leary –
City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel –
City Commissioner Tom McMacken  -

Orlando City Council
Mayor Buddy Dyer –
City Commissioner Jim Gray –
City Commissioner Tony Ortiz –
City Commissioner Robert Stuart –
City Commissioner Patty Sheehan –
City Commissioner Regina Hill –
City Commissioner Samuel Ings –

Orange County Commission
Mayor Teresa Jacobs –
Commissioner S. Scott Boyd –
Commissioner Bryan Nelson –
Commissioner Pete Clark –
Commissioner Jennifer Thompson –
Commissioner Ted Edwards –
Commissioner Victoria Siplin –

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mayor Buddy working to solve mess at SunRail's Church Street station

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Regular users know that after disembarking SunRail in the morning, riders have to survive a dangerous traffic obstacle course to get to work.

 In addition, those boarding the southbound train at Church Street often to walk nearly 4 blocks to reach a ticket machine that accepts cash. The southbound platform doesn’t have a ticket machine that accepts cash, nor is there a sign telling riders where to find a cash machine. Click here to check it out.

Mayor Buddy at SunRail meeting
SunRail’s official response has been either silence, or to blow smoke up our you-know-what.
This morning, however, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer Tweeted this response: “We’re working to have a cash machine added and better ped access for that station. It’s definitely an issue.” Or click here.

The mayor’s response is what SunRail should have said months ago.
Granted there are issues where we may not see eye to eye with the mayor, but this is certainly a case where he walked the talk (No pun intended.)

In the mayor’s 2013 state of downtown speech Dyer said the city’s strategic transportation plan included “making Downtown a more pedestrian friendly destination and expanding public transportation options.

Dyer’s following through, and he’s got the power to make things happen because he was just selected to chair the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, which oversees SunRail.

We’re certainly grateful that Mayor Dyer has become directly and publicly involved in this matter, and look forward to a resolution.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How much does SunRail care about rider convenience?

Open letter to SunRail Project Manager Tawny Olore

Dear Ms. Olore,

Were SunRail stations designed for the comfort of real people, or for the convenience of engineers? Certainly rider convenience and safety were not the paramount concerns.

Tawny Olore

One of the worst examples of the passenger-UNfriendly design can be found in the SunRail station at Church Street in downtown Orlando -- ironically the busiest station during the morning and evening commuter rush hours.

Let’s not even talk about the station’s confusing configuration where the northbound platform is at Church Street and the southbound platform is a block away at South Street. Let’s instead focus our attention today on the fact that riders can’t use cash to buy a ticket on the southbound platform.

Show up on the southbound platform hoping to catch a train to Orlando Health or Orlando International Airport and all you have is cash in your pocket and you’re out of luck because both ticket vending machines only accept credit or debit cards. There isn’t even a sign telling you that you can buy a ticket with cash on the northbound platform.

Maybe there’s no sign because getting to the northbound platform poses a huge problem. Following the pedestrian crossing signs you have to walk the equivalent of four (4) city blocks, cross busy South Street and active railroad tracks to use the cash machine.

Southbound machines

As a SunRail official you don’t have to buy a ticket, but for your convenience you can click here to see a video of the path riders with cash have to follow. (By the way, it’s nearly a 10-minute walk to and from the cash machine.)

You’re an experienced engineer, we’re not. But common sense says the easiest solution is to add a cash ticket machine to the southbound platform. We’ve raised this issue before with your public relations staff, and they give us fluff instead of real concern about the safety and convenience of southbound riders who need to buy tickets with cash.

Please don’t study this to death. We showed you the problem, we’re counting on you to act with all deliberate speed and address this situation by installing a cash machine on the southbound platform at Church Street.

SunRail riders

Monday, February 16, 2015

Riders open letter to Orlando City Soccer President Phil Rawlins

Greetings Phil,

We want to congratulate your success in selling so many season tickets for your team’s inaugural year as a Major League Soccer club and to tell you about a message we just received from one of your team’s fans.

Phil Rawlins

The fan wants to know if he can take SunRail train to the team’s #FilltheBowl event on Sunday, March 8.

As we’re sure you know, SunRail doesn’t run on weekends. But what if it did?

Imagine how cool that would be to have thousands of people getting off SunRail in downtown Orlando for the pre-game festivities and then to head over to the newly renovated Citrus Bowl stadium for the team’s much anticipated match against the New York City Football Club. What a first-class way to begin this new venture, and to show the New York City team that Orlando has got it going on.

You’ve got the power to make this scene a reality by sponsoring SunRail operations for that one day – Sunday, March 8.

There is precedent sponsoring SunRail operations. The organizers and sponsors of the Jan. 1st Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl paid to run SunRail that day, and it was much 
appreciated by the college football fans. 

The train ran before and after the game – but not during the game.

Citrus Bowl fans

We’re suggesting that you one-up the Buffalo Wild Wings team by sponsoring SunRail for the entire day – maybe 8 round trips.

Why? Because SunRail riders – many of them are fans and season-ticket holders for your games – want to see SunRail run on weekends. Running the train on Sunday, March 8 – would provide an opportunity to show how many people would ride SunRail on weekends, if it was available.

Many people work weekends and need the train to get to jobs. Others want to ride the train to easily reach a variety of destinations, including, church, shopping, dining, museums, parks and to cheer for your team.

Sponsoring SunRail operations for a day certainly would cost more than $100, but it strikes us that you’re a guy who knows the value of a great investment – considering that you’re spending nearly $7 million on Kaka’s contract.

Fans going to the Citrus Bowl got to ride for free. But maybe you can recoup some of your investment by requiring people who ride on March 8 to pay the regular fare. We bet SunRail fans would be more than happy to pay.

So what’s in it for you and Orlando City Soccer?

Great publicity and amazing goodwill in the community. We’re sure your marketing team will tell you that you can’t buy that kind of goodwill for $100 million. You’ll be making a crucial investment to improve our community, and we’ll never forget that gesture.

March 8th is only a few weeks away. So how about Phil? We’d love to see you on The Rail on March 8th.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weekend SunRail means more than joyriding

When most of us vent our frustration about SunRail’s weekday-only schedule, we talk about all the cool places we could visit on weekends if the train ran Saturdays and Sundays.

But for numerous riders weekend SunRail service isn’t about “leisure riding”. They need weekend SunRail service to get to work because they don’t have traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 jobs. Many can’t afford cars.

Empty SunRail station on the weekend

Recently we heard from an Orlando mother whose adult daughter rides SunRail to her waitress job in Altamonte Springs.

When SunRail is running the daughter can get to work in about 40 minutes. But on the weekends when she has to rely on several Lynx buses to reach her job it takes nearly 3 hours to travel to work.

That’s ridiculous.

Some will say, will say: “Well before SunRail she was taking the bus. What’s the big deal if she has to take the bus two days a week?”

Well, before indoor plumbing everybody had to go outside and use the outhouse. Today how many of us would want to go outside to use an outhouse a couple of days every week?

The young woman with the waitress job certainly is not alone.

There are many riders who work non-traditional schedules including people employed in the hospitality/tourism industry, hospitals, public safety and airport, to name a few. Their need for 7-day SunRail service is at least as important, if not more important, than our desire to ride the train to the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturday morning.

Weekend service is much more than a joyride, it's a necessity for many workers.

How should we pay for weekend SunRail service?

Click here to see a video shot at a SunRail meeting showing an official explaining that it will cost $5.5 million to run the train on weekends.

Keep in mind that almost no public transit system anywhere in the world pays all of its operating expenses through rider fares. Some subsidy is almost always needed to pay for buses and trains.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already refused to pick up the extra expenses for weekend operations. Lobbying Scott is a waste of time. If we’re going to get SunRail running on weekends we have to come up with the money locally. How would you raise the money needed to run SunRail on Saturdays and Sundays?

Monday, February 9, 2015

SunRail needs to add a cash machine at Church Street station

Customer convenience is a concept that seems to be foreign to some SunRail bosses.
If they knew, or cared about customer convenience, it sure doesn’t show in the design of the SunRail station at Church Street – the busiest rush-hour destination for riders.

Church Street has the worst designed station in the SunRail system. At 11 of the 12 stations the northbound and southbound train platforms are directly opposite each other. But as the accompanying aerial photo shows, Church Street has a split station. The northbound platform is at Church Street, and the southbound platform is at South Street.

Reasons for this weird configuration are complex, and should have been avoided because it creates lots of confusion for riders. On numerous occasions we’ve met SunRail newbies on the northbound platform who really wanted to go southbound. They didn’t realize they needed to walk another block and cross busy South Street to reach the right platform.

Adding to this confusion is the sad reality that SunRail only provides 1 ticket-vending machine per station that accepts cash. The other 3 ticket machines only take cash or debit cards.

All the ticket-vending machines in all the stations should take cash and plastic. It’s downright elitist to assume that everyone has plastic. And anyone who doesn’t have plastic has to walk further to buy a ticket.

We pity the poor soul who runs up to the Church Street southbound platform and all that person has is cash. Hopefully that person can run two blocks and vault over South Street to buy a ticket before the train arrives.

Since the Church Street station already has an inconvenient design you would think SunRail would install a second cash machine on Church Street’s southbound platform. But as seasoned riders know, convenience and common sense are in short supply at SunRail.

SunRail’s official response on the need to add a cash machine on the southbound platform: “As always, FDOT continues to monitor station activities…”

Gee thanks, that really helps. Now, please put a cash machine on Church Street’s southbound platform.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What would you do during a SunRail crash?

Have you ever paused for a moment when boarding a SunRail train to look at the posted diagram showing the emergency escape exits?

Most people never pay attention to those diagrams on the train, or on an airliner.

Folks figure, “Hey, it will never happen to me.”

Hopefully it won’t, but just last week six people were killed and several others were badly injured when a commuter train collided with a car on the tracks in suburban New York.

Five of the deceased were passengers on the train. We don’t know if the lack of knowledge of the exits played any role in the New York deaths, but common sense says it’s better to know in advance how to get out than trying to figure it out during an emergency.

Please take a look at the emergency exit diagram today. Let’s hope none of us ever has an emergency aboard SunRail.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Orlando gives SunRail riders "the finger"

This morning we finally got a response from Orlando traffic engineers about the lack of adequate pedestrian crossings for riders who get off at SunRail’s Church Street southbound platform. They basically gave riders the finger (and you know what finger we mean).
This response comes from Traffic Operations Engineer Frank Consoli:  We quote:

1.  I have contacted SunRail about the issues on the kiosk at the south station not accepting cash.  Their operations people are looking at it.

2.  To enhance pedestrian safety we have requested OPD to provide enforcement in this area.

3.  Staff is reviewing the current signage at this location.  Currently we have signs directing pedestrians to travel to the signalized crosswalks as the safest method to cross South Street.


We consider item #2 to be mean spirited.

Instead of coming up with a reasonable way for riders to cross the street, they’re going to send cops out to give riders jaywalking tickets.

Nice going, Orlando.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Scoop on SunRail crossing gates

Recently we published a post about our concerns that some SunRail railroad crossing gates seemed to be malfunctioning.

We reached out to SunRail with questions, and for their explanation on what we see happening sometimes at crossings.

Here’s are SunRail’s responses and explanations:

“We know that the operation of these signals is quite complex.

“For instance, it is important to note that the safest mode for the gates to be in -- is in the down position-- in fact they are designed to go into a fail-safe mode in the down position. This would not necessarily mean that there is a malfunction, because this is how the gates were designed to operate.

“For the last month there were a total of 21 reported crossing malfunctions, for the week in question of January 25th through January 31st there were a total of 5 reported crossing malfunctions...”

“Regarding Holden Avenue, we have had recurring issues at this crossing which have been identified and should be repaired in total this week (planned for today). In the interim, train crews have been directed to verify the crossing is operating correctly and proceed across the intersection at 15 MPH. This does not cause delays to SunRail trains.

“Regarding Michigan Street, a mechanical failure was reported on Friday that required a single train crew to stop and flag for protection pending repairs. The crossing gate was placed back in service at 1500 hours. No delays were reported to SunRail trains.

“Regarding the Central Boulevard crossing, this gate was working as intended. When a train is stopped NB at Church Street Station, the crossing control equipment sees the train on approach to the crossing, predicts the train’s speed and distance, and then activates the crossing. 

“When a train stops at the station, after a predetermined time, the gates will go up to allow for the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Once the train starts to leave the station, the crossing gates will be re-activated and the engineer is not allowed per CFRC operating rules to cross through the intersection until the gates are fully deployed in a horizontal position.”

We also asked SunRail to review a video we shot showing the crossing gate at South Street in downtown Orlando remaining down in a horizontal position after the train left the station.

SunRail wrote:

“This does not appear to be a malfunction. The gates are working as intended. The gates likely stayed down on South Street due to where the locomotive engineer spotted the train in the block at the station. (In other words, where the train was parked at the station in relation to a sensor)”

So what did we learn from this?

The crossing-gates system is very complicated. The gates can and do fail, but SunRail seems to be diligent about making timely repairs.

That said, we’re going to tell our loved ones to be very careful when they pass through a SunRail railroad crossing. Even though the gate just went up, a train could be on its way to the crossing.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

SunRail works great until your kid gets sick at school

One big problem with SunRail is that it’s got weird gaps in the schedule when trains aren’t running during off peak periods.

Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but what happens when you get a dreaded call from your child’s school? Little Sally or Little Johnny is running 101-degree fever and into serious projectile vomiting.

The principal wants you to take your child home from school. Your spouse is in Chicago for business. You’re working in downtown Orlando. Your car is parked at the Longwood SunRail station and the next SunRail train won’t be running until 4 p.m.

That’s what stranded looks like.

Yet there is a pain-free solution. It’s the Emergency Ride Home program, sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation.

This free program is part of the reThink Your Commute initiative to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and help consumers save money by encouraging carpooling, walking, riding bicycles, buses and SunRail to work.

Commuters who have registered in the Emergency Ride Home program are eligible for reimbursement of up to $150 per trip when the situation arises. Commuters can file for up to four reimbursement claims per year.

The reimbursement can be used to pay for cab fare, a rental car or mileage.

Situations that qualify for reimbursement include the unexpected sickness of you, or a dependent – such as a child; unexpected need to stay at work after the train or bus stops running or your carpool’s departure time, or your carpool driver has to stay late or leave early.

We know what you’re thinking and the answer is: No. You CANNOT use this program if you stay downtown until midnight drinking. This program is strictly for getting from work to home during an illness, or last-minute need to stay late at work.

You can’t use it to get from home to work if your car breaks down. And you can’t use it for doctor’s appointments, to run personal errands, or because SunRail or Lynx has a service interruption.

What’s most important to know is you can’t use this service unless you’re registered. And you can’t wait until you have an emergency and then register. You have to be registered in advance. You also have to update your commuter status every three months.
Click here for registration information, or call 1-866-610-7433.

Remember, if an emergency occurs you have to pay out of your pocket and then seek reimbursement by filing a claim form. Then if the emergency qualifies, you’ll receive reimbursement.

So far 3,000 Central Floridians – 500 SunRail riders – have registered for this program. Claims totaling $5,300 have been paid out to 101 people since 2010.

If you have questions about this program, please call 1-866-610-7433.