Saturday, July 25, 2015

It should be easy to take SunRail to the airports

It’s actually pretty easy to take SunRail to Orlando International Airport.

You just ride SunRail to its last stop at Sand Lake Road and use your SunRail ticket for a free transfer to Lynx Route 11 for the short trip to MCO.

But what about riding SunRail to the area’s other international airport?

What other airport?

Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), of course.

Sanford airport
Seems as though you should be able to ride SunRail to the Sanford station and transfer to a Lynx bus to cruise over to the airport. That makes too much sense.

The sad reality is there is no Lynx bus that would take you from the SunRail station to the airport. As a matter of fact, there’s no Lynx bus from anywhere that will take you to Sanford’s airport. That’s awful for both travelers and airport employees.

Mind you, Orlando Sanford International Airport isn’t exactly a tumbledown shack next to a dirt landing strip. Far from it.

Last year more than 2 million passengers flew in and out of SFB. It serves as a major hub for Allegiant Air, which offers non-stop flights from Sanford to more than 50 destinations ranging from Fargo, N.D. to New Orleans.
Sanford airport terminal

There are also 4,000 people who work at the airport and its nearby air commerce park.
About 10 years there was public bus service to the airport, but it was discontinued due to lack of ridership.

Ten years ago, SunRail did not exist. Back in 2005 Allegiant Air just began serving SFB with flights to 4 destinations. Times have changed and our transportation providers need to be nimble to take advantage of new opportunities.

SunRail offers a reliable conduit to the Sanford area. It’s up to Lynx and others, such as the airport and the Central Florida Zoo to figure out how capitalize on that service to boost their bottom line.

Not having public transit available to an airport serving one of the world’s top vacation destinations is ridiculous and sad.

Why can't Sunrail run a train after downtown bars close?

Lots of people want SunRail to run a train after last call when downtown Orlando bars close at 2 a.m.
#LastCallTrain is highly unlikely, but it’s not entirely impossible.
Recently we kicked around the notion of a #LastCallTrain with an FDOT representative.
One of the biggest deal-breaker points he raised is that in order to launch SunRail, the state had to push freight train traffic off the tracks for most of the daytime and evening hours when SunRail is operating. To achieve that goal required a formal agreement giving freight trains exclusive use of the tracks between midnight and 5 a.m.
Freight trains might not be a big concern for the party crowd, but they are a big deal to businesses throughout Central Florida that depend on trains to bring in supplies and ship products. Our local and state economy depend on those trains.
Can that freight train agreement be modified? Perhaps, but it would not be easy.
Next hurdle, who pays for the #LastCallTrain?
Like almost every public transit system in the world, the passenger fare box only pays for a portion of the operating cost – typically 20 to 30 percent. The rest of the money comes from the public treasury. Making taxpayers foot the bill for a party train is – pure and simple – bad public policy and political suicide. The word boondoggle comes to mind. Central Florida is not New York City where the subway runs 24/7.
Maybe the downtown Orlando clubs would pick up the operating costs that aren’t covered by the fare box. Don’t bet on it.
The #LastCallTrain would probably be more expensive to run than your typical SunRail train considering that many 2 a.m. riders would be in a “festive” mood.
SunRail trains are crewed by two people – an engineer and one conductor. The conductor is responsible for passenger safety and checking tickets. Common sense and liability concerns would likely require an additional conductor and serious security – off-duty police officers. Anybody who has ever been in downtown Orlando after the bars close know outrageous antics are common — everything from fist fights to “adult activity” best kept behind closed doors.
Late-night merrymakers sometimes suffer “protein spills” – Disneyspeak for vomiting and accidental urination and defecation. Ugh. Who is supposed to clean up that mess?
Once the train arrives at stations in Lake Mary and elsewhere, will there be police on the scene to make sure that intoxicated people who get off the train don’t get into their cars and wind up killing themselves, or innocent people?
Do we really want SunRail bosses to waste time creating a #LastCallTrain, or working on expanding service to weekends, Osceola County and DeLand?
The logical answer is obvious.
See you on The Rail.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

SunRail #NightTrain is headed to a bad end

The SunRail #NightTrain is nearing the end of the line.

It pains us to write that, but it’s true. Last December, in response to requests from riders the SunRail bosses introduced the late night service that begins its last southbound run at 9:05 p.m. in DeBary and its last northbound run at 10:20 p.m. at Sand Lake Road.

#NightTrain disappears into darkness
With the exception of a few nights when there are major events in downtown Orlando -- concerts or sporting events -- the ridership has been disappointingly weak. Some nights the southbound #NightTrain only carries about 2 dozen riders, and the northbound #NightTrain is only slightly better with 3 dozen riders.

Last week during the SunRail Citizen Advisory Council meeting Tawny Olore, the SunRail project manager, said she and her staff were carefully monitoring ridership on NightTrain. When the #NightTrain was introduced she said SunRail would offer late-night service as a test for a year.

Many riders have complained that the existing late-night service isn’t late enough. They want a train they could use after the bars close at 2 a.m. in downtown Orlando. Under the existing arrangements a 2 a.m. train isn’t possible because SunRail needs to leave the tracks by midnight to make way for the freight trains that service businesses along the railroad corridor. Providing a window for freight-train service was critical to make SunRail possible.

The existing #NightTrain service isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty good deal and it opens the door the use Sunrail for a wide range of after-work recreation from dining throughout Central Florida, to the theater at Loch Haven Park, sports and movies in downtown Orlando. Making the #NightTrain work makes it much easier to argue for weekend service.

The #NightTrain isn’t dead yet, but we better start riding if we want to keep it running.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are we doing enough to help SunRail?

SunRail’s average ridership stubbornly hovers around 3,700.

Wasn’t average ridership supposed to be more than 4,000 by now?

It’s frustrating to see the ridership stalled like rush-hour traffic on I-4.

Chances are that if you’re reading this article you ride SunRail on a regular basis and you know it’s the most comfortable, efficient and friendly mode of transportation in Central Florida.

We’re the first ones to insist that many more people would ride SunRail if there was a shorter headway between trains. It would be great if trains ran every 15 minutes during the morning and evening rush hours.

It’s particularly annoying that during off-peak hours you might have to wait more than two hours for a SunRail train.

And don’t even get us started about the lack of weekend train service.

Those are serious deficiencies in SunRail service, but we’re not going to begin to resolve any of them until we get more people using the existing SunRail service. It’s far from perfect, but 3 years ago we didn’t have anything like SunRail.

SunRail is doing its parts with billboards along I-4 and other public-information campaigns.
But what are we – the loyal riders – doing to nurture and grow SunRail?

Keep in mind that the SunRail haters love to nitpick SunRail’s weaknesses. It’s our duty to stand up for The Rail.

The other day we were in the supermarket and the subject of SunRail came up. The cashier told us that she was afraid to ride SunRail.


“People are always getting killed on SunRail,” she said.


There has only been one person killed by a SunRail train -- a guy who laid down on the tracks late at night and got run over by a train. There have been a handful of train vs. vehicle accidents. In almost every case the crash could have been avoided if the driver paid attention to warning gates and other signals.

SunRail’s fault?


We’re the ones who ride SunRail. Who is in a better position to share the SunRail experience?

What have you done to tell other people what it’s like to ride SunRail?
  • How much money and time you save by riding SunRail.
  • How relaxed you feel when you arrive at work, compared to when you fought traffic on I-4.
  • How crowded SunRail is during rush hours.
  • How many new friends you made on the train.
  • How many books you had time to read while commuting by train.
  • How easy it is to use SunRail to go to the movies, the theater or athletic events downtown by taking the train.
  • How you and your significant other went on a date night on the train.
  • How SunRail’s on-time record is close to 100 percent.
These are the things we need to share with friends, neighbors and coworkers.

If you love SunRail and you want to see service expanded, here are a couple of things you can do:
  • Refute the preposterous misinformation floating around out there about SunRail.
  • Every week, make it a personal goal to encourage one friend, neighbor or coworker to try SunRail.
  • Take selfies enjoying yourself on SunRail and post them on your personal social-media channels.
  • Encourage your boss to hold an offsite team builder on SunRail. (We’ve even heard of team meetings being held on SunRail.)
Let’s get busy.

See you on The Rail.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Orlando Lions fans have big impact on ridership

Remember during the Orlando City Lions weekday home game on June 24 we asked riders to #PacktheTrainPurple to show their support for SunRail and the team?

It looks as though a few people may have actually jumped on board the campaign because SunRail ridership on that day really spiked – which is very good.

On June 24, there were 4,412 riders.

SunRail’s average daily ridership has been around 3,600 for the past few months. It’s gratifying to see how many people used SunRail to attend a special event and we encourage more people to make it part of their daily routine because the massive I-4 construction project really has kicked into high gear and the congestion is maddening.

By the way, the Orlando City Lions will play its next weekday home game this coming Wednesday starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Orlando Citrus Bowl. Just ride SunRail to the Church Street station and catch a shuttle bus to the stadium.

Go Lions!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

SunRail - bicycle connection

Bikes and SunRail really do go together like a foot in a flip flop. Today (7/7) that partnership took another step forward with the grand opening of the 21st bike-share outpost at the Florida Hospital SunRail station in Orlando.
Mayor Buddy speaks at bike-share event

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart and a board room full of Florida Hospital executives were on hand Tuesday morning for the first ceremonial ride of the Juice Bike Share bicycles in the rack at the northern end of the Florida Hospital SunRail station.

This really is a perfect location that will serve Florida Hospital team members, hospital visitors and regular folks who are out exploring the nearly Ivanhoe Village residential and commercial areas, Mills-50, and the Loch Haven park cultural venues, which are just around the corner from the station. It’s also a great launching pad for people headed out on bicycle expeditions to the Harry P. Leu Gardens on Corrine Drive or the Orlando Urban Trail that connects to downtown Orlando.

It’s noteworthy there are already hundreds of SunRail riders who bring their own bicycles with them on the train. Bike share is a great option for those who don’t have a bicycle with them, or who don’t own a bike.

We were on hand late last year for the opening of the first bike share station next to downtown’s OUC building, so it’s impressive to see how quickly the program has grown. Hopefully we’ll see bike share continue to spread up the SunRail corridor.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What you should know about us

Recently a fan complained about some of the content on our Facebook feed and website.  So we thought there are a few things fans should know:

1.    We are not affiliated with SunRail and receive no compensation from SunRail or FDOT.
2.    This site is a product of David Porter Communications Inc., a for-profit company. Selling advertising to businesses and institutions that want to reach SunRail riders is one of the ways we pay our bills. Please support our sponsors because we really depend on them. If you own a business, or know a business that could benefit from some advertising, please get in touch with us. Our digital media channels -- including our website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest -- get roughly 6,000 visitors weekly.
3.    We create content to suggest ways to improve SunRail service, and also to show riders all the places they can use SunRail to visit. Up and down the SunRail corridor there are lots of great places -- from museums to communities -- that are fun to explore and experience.
4.    Central Florida is a dynamic community and is followed by thousands of individuals, groups and businesses that tell us about all the exciting things they’re doing. We share some of that news through our channels because the information is interesting to many SunRail riders.
5.    We think it’s critical for riders to understand the mass transportation “big picture,” and to keep up to date on transportation policy on the state, national and international levels.  Policy and money drive decisions on critical SunRail issues, such as weekend service. SunRail’s success depends on linking to other modes of transport including other rail systems, buses, bicycles and even airports. That’s why you see items about All About Florida, Lynx and other topics, such as urban cycling.

We’re extremely grateful that you take the time to visit us, and we’re always striving to improve. We’ll see you on The Rail.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Tampa wishes it had SunRail train

By Walter Slupecki
SunRailRiders Special Correspondent

TAMPA -- Orlando is very fortunate to have increasing transportation options - like SunRail - available to everyone. SunRail provides, and will continue to provide, an affordable and convenient alternative to congested highways like Interstate 4.
Tampa's TECO Streetcar
Eventually, SunRail will be able to get you to and from Orlando International Airport, where you can board your flight without having to worry about paying for parking or getting stuck on the toll roads, or connect to the All Aboard Florida regional train to Miami, Jacksonville, or Tampa.
Without SunRail, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to travel in Metro Orlando right now.
Here in Tampa Bay, where I've lived for the past 24 years, residents have been fighting for better transportation alternatives for decades. While we have been able to restore a small sliver of heritage streetcar service (known as the TECO Line Streetcar and seen in the accompanying photo), our area remains one of the last mid-sized metropolitan regions in the United States that has no meaningful passenger rail network.
Every effort that has been made to improve our public transportation system has been met with funding issues, government inaction, and fierce resistance by those who don't want to pay for something they will likely never use.
Funding alone has been a huge problem for the streetcar; as the original endowment fund has been depleted, and no further funding is presently available. This has caused cuts in service, which in-turn has caused an immense drop in ridership. Currently the streetcar serves a 2.7 mile route that connects downtown Tampa, Channelside and historic Ybor City district.
The city of Tampa and various private interests want the streetcar to be expanded and modernized, and FDOT has agreed to help fund a feasibility study. The rail haters made it clear however, that Hillsborough County should not spend its resources on passenger rail, and some have even called for the streetcar to be privatized.
While the battle between transit advocates and supporters, and the rail haters have been going on for decades now, the transportation network in Tampa Bay has reached a critical point. One of our key interstate highways, I-275, has long exceeded its capacity throughout Hillsborough County, and reconstruction efforts have not helped. In fact, traffic jams along the thoroughfare materialize even on the weekends - forcing drivers to add extra commute time just to get to theme parks, the Gulf Coast beaches, or family outings.
In the midst of funding constraints for transportation, some of the rail haters don't seem to mind costly and wasteful "Lexus Lanes" that are currently being proposed. FDOT is planning what is called the Tampa Bay Express, which would be larger in scale to Ultimate I-4.
Building a modernized and expanded public transit system that includes better bus services, as well as a passenger rail network, would immensely help the Tampa Bay area -- as well as Metro Orlando - deal with increasing traffic congestion, and offer residents additional transportation choices.

Many in Tampa Bay look to SunRail as a model of what can be done in neighboring regions. I strongly believe that expanding SunRail to both Poinciana and DeLand, as well as Orlando International Airport, will help Tampa Bay get the passenger rail network that it desperately needs. I truly hope that SunRail can get the added services that it needs to thrive for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Zoo totally misses the SunRail train

This is the time of the year when parents send their kids to visit the grandparents in Florida.
After a week of theme parks the grandparents come up with a new idea. Enjoy a ride on SunRail and spend the day at Sanford’s Central Florida Zoo.

There’s only one problem. There’s no easy way to get from the Sanford SunRail station to the Central Florida Zoo.

Central Florida Zoo entrance
As the crow flies the zoo is only about 2 miles from the SunRail station. There’s even a sign posted at the SunRail station that lists the zoo as a place of interest near the train station.
Let’s make one thing clear: This is not SunRail’s fault. The train is a wonderful resource. Even though SunRail has been running for a year we’re disappointed that a number of Central Florida institutions don’t seem to realize that the train can benefit their mission and bottom line.

Capitalizing on SunRail requires creative thinking by leaders and transportation partners. For example, even though a fleet of LYNX buses serve the Sanford SunRail station, there is no bus stop near the zoo.

We don’t understand why LYNX doesn’t serve the zoo because LYNX currently stops at Central Florida Regional Hospital -- just down the road from the zoo. LYNX says the zoo doesn’t generate enough ridership to justify service.

When you call the zoo and ask them how to get there from the Sanford SunRail station staffers chuckle and tell you to catch a cab. For the record, it’s about a 3-mile walk from the train station. It would be dangerous to walk there because there are no sidewalks on the busy road leading to the zoo. So if you can’t afford a car or a cab ride you’re not going to the zoo.


We would love to see the zoo launch an on-demand shuttle service from the SunRail station. SunRail riders could call the zoo in advance to tell them what time they will arrive at the Sanford station and a van would be waiting to pick them up.

Or, heck why isn’t the zoo partnering with the city of Sanford that currently runs free shuttle van service between the train station and historic downtown Sanford.

Now that sounds like a zoo that’s eager to host lots of visitors.

Responding to our questions, zoo spokeswoman Shonna Green wrote: “Of course we would love to have a shuttle from the SunRail station. However as a small 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit we do not have the funds available to support such an endeavor.  And, SunRail does not operate on the weekends when most families are looking for outdoor family entertainment. 
“We have indeed spoken to the team at the city of Sanford and we are working closely with them as opportunities arise and ridership increases,” she wrote.    

“Our administration recently changed and we are in the process of introducing our new CEO to the Central Florida area.  I am sure as he settles into his new role he will work closely with SunRail, the city (Sanford) and the entire Central Florida region. …
“On a side note,” Green wrote, “we’d love if SunRail ran on the weekends!!!”

Seriously? What difference would it make if SunRail ran on weekends, people still can’t get from the SunRail station to the zoo.

See you on The Rail, as long as you’re not trying to visit the Central Florida Zoo.