Saturday, November 28, 2015

FDOT needs SunRail gut check

Tawny Olore
Time for SunRail Project Manager Tawny Olore, other FDOT managers and consultants behind SunRail to do a serious gut check.

Are they building SunRail as some type of an expensive engineering school project? Or are they building SunRail to serve the community?

This past spring when Ms. Olore welcomed members to the first SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting, she said “we built it for you all…” (Click here to see her exact words.)

Unless Ms. Olore’s words were just fluffy happy talk, why have she and her colleagues ignored repeated train schedule recommendations from the Customer Advisory Committee to increase ridership? (Click here for the committee’s recommendation.)

Instead, Ms. Olore and her FDOT team are pushing ahead with a train schedule change that will do nothing to attract hundreds of caregivers at Florida Hospital and ORMC and other early-morning workers.

Rafael Amaya, one of our Facebook fans wrote: “It’s as if they have a vested interest in seeing this fail.”

Sort of makes you wonder…

Ms. Olore and her team say they don’t have the money to adopt the schedule recommended by the Customer Advisory Committee. Funny, that’s the same reason they give for not providing weekend SunRail service even though that service is widely requested by the Central Florida community, and ending 2 hour service gaps during the weekday.

Nobody wants excuses from FDOT. Figure it out. Get it done. That’s your job.

Friday, November 27, 2015

SunRail's new schedule is a train wreck

By Jeffery Morris
Chairman, Customer Advisory Committee

As we are all now aware, SunRail (aka the leaders at FDOT) has proposed a schedule change cancelling the #NightTrain, and substituting a southbound 1:00 p.m. train from DeBary.  With this change, they also intend to adjust the morning schedule forward by 15 minutes. This proposed change only offers a diversion from the problem of the gaps in service, as opposed to offering real solutions, and ignores recommendations of the Customer Advisory Committee (CAC).

When we learned about this schedule change at our last meeting, the CAC unanimously disapproved and renewed our prior recommendation to add a train an hour later at 2:00 p.m. train from Debary, which would serve northbound afternoon commuters during the 3:00 hour.  To date, SunRail management has ignored our recommendation and signaled that they intend to push forward with a new schedule in late December.  This would be a mistake.   
It is not difficult to see why it is necessary to add the train we have recommended and to close the afternoon service gaps. 

The 7:00 a.m. train from DeBary and the 4:15 p.m. train from Sand Lake are the busiest trains. This is because these two trains comport best with the normal 8-hour shifts worked by commuters. 

The 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. southbound trains do not have return trips any earlier than the 4:00 hour, which creates significant gaps between the end of a normal commuter’s shift and the first return trip home.  These gaps are clearly the biggest obstacle to increasing ridership in the service.  Commuters want to be able to leave work and go home when they done working, not one to two hours later!

Hopefully, SunRail will see that this as a problem worth fixing, even if it takes a very modest investment to do so.  Perhaps SunRail managers should ride a train and talk to commuters, including caregivers from Florida Hospital and Orlando Health.  The only consistent suggested improvement by anyone who rides these trains (or who would ride) as a commuter is that the SunRail needs to:
1)    Offer a southbound morning train between 8:00 and 9:00;
2)     Offer a northbound afternoon train during the 3:00 hour
3)    Close the two-hour daytime schedule gaps. 

One thing that has never been suggested: add an afternoon southbound train from DeBary at 1:00.

Out of 80,000 prospective riders in downtown, it appears that SunRail’s marketing efforts combined have only yielded a 7 percent (less than approximately 250 people per day) increase in ridership over last year. This isn’t because the marketing efforts are ineffective. It’s because the schedule of the service being marketed is poor.
The only way to improve the product is to improve the schedule.  SunRail managers explain that adding a train would require the hiring of an additional crew to run it, and that this would make any of the proposed changes that the CAC has proposed impractical. 

However, one thing is certain:  SunRail owns enough equipment to give us the service we want.  SunRail wouldn’t need to spend millions on more equipment.  SunRail would only have to hire a crew.  The riders and potential riders are worth the investment. 

Fix the schedule so that the marketing experts and media companies to whom SunRail is paying significant sums have something worth selling.  Otherwise, suffer the lackluster ridership increases, and the cost overruns that will come with it.

Please help deliver the message to SunRail management that we don’t want the new schedule with the 1 p.m. train.  Contact FDOT and your respective elected-official representative on the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission:
FDOT District 5: Noranne Downs –
Orlando: Buddy Dyer –
Orange County: Teresa Jacobs –
Seminole County: Carlton Henley –
Volusia County: Jason Davis –
Osceola County: Viviana Janer –

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

SunRail friend in high places

Congresswoman Corrine Brown told us that Florida is due to get a 40 percent increase in federal transportation dollars. This could be – or should be – great news for SunRail.
Congresswoman Corrine Brown
Congresswoman Brown, whose district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, has always been a great friend of SunRail. She has the distinction of being the only Floridian in the House of Representatives serving on the Capitol Hill Conference Committee that fine tuning the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act is intended to fund federal transportation projects with up to $325 billion through 2021.
Ms. Brown has been forcefully making the point that considering Florida’s size and the amount of money taxpayers send to Washington the feds have been shortchanging the Sunshine state for years.

Assuming that everything goes OK, Florida can be in for a windfall and that has the potential for being good news for SunRail if Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature treats us fairly. After all, we have major unfinished business, especially the SunRail expansions to DeLand (possibly Orange City), Orlando International Airport, and hopefully dollars to provide weekend service.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving's biggest turkey is...

The biggest turkey on Thanksgiving Day will be SunRail, because as riders know, SunRail will be closed on Thursday. Yes, another missed opportunity to show residents their tax dollars at work, and also make it easier for people to visit relatives in other parts of Central Florida.

Even though SunRail is shut down for Thanksgiving, the LYNX bus system will be running – on a holiday schedule – but it will be running. Public transportation isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity! Everybody doesn’t have Thanksgiving off. Sadly SunRail’s schedule has little regard for people who work in hospitality, hospitals, the airport and other essential services.

This Friday presents a unique opportunity to ride SunRail because many people have the day off from work and school, and SunRail will be running.  While many people will be riding the train to get to malls and shop in the big box stores, we also want to encourage riders to make a special effort to visit small businesses along the SunRail corridor because Saturday, Nov. 28th, is Small Business Saturday. And SunRail doesn’t run on the weekends.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and all the businesses that advertise on our website and Facebook pages are small businesses. Those owners and employees are grateful for your support on Friday, Saturday and every day.

See you on The Rail!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

SunRail ticketing is SNAFU

Today we were digging the cute covers SunRail now has to put on its malfunctioning ticket validators. Guess the rationale must be if it’s broke, at least make it look good.

The non-functioning ticket validator in the accompanying photo is mid-platform on the “infamous” southbound side at downtown Orlando’s Church Street. Since it’s in the middle of the platform, at the busiest morning station at SunRail you have tons of folks waiting at the last validator before South Street to “tap off.”

There are at least two other non-functioning validators with the cute covers at Winter Park and Lake Mary. Not that we’re keeping score or anything,(maybe a little bit)  but the SunRail ticketing system has sucked from the first day of revenue service in May 2014. Yet it’s still limping along.

The ticketing system was installed by a division of tech giant Xerox. Hopefully some heads have rolled by now at Xerox or SunRail for this lousy system. It’s the SunRail riders who ultimately pay for this failure with inconvenience and frustration.

And yet the SunRail managers wonder why more people aren’t riding the train. Maybe if SunRail gets its act together with the ticketing system and a user-friendly schedule more people will start riding.

Who knows, maybe SunRail will actually get the ticketing system fully operational by the time we get weekend service. Don’t hold your breath….

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Better call Buddy for a better SunRail schedule

Close but no cigar.
That’s the best description we’ve heard for SunRail’s new schedule that is set to begin in late December.
As you’ve probably know, SunRail will introduce a new train in its schedule departing southbound from DeBary at 1 p.m. (Remember, SunRail only runs weekdays) SunRail is doing away with our beloved #NightTrain and moving those resources – staffing, etc. to the 1 p.m. run.
This change is SunRail’s attempt to address the lengthy gaps in service riders and would-be riders have complained about. Right now you can waste 2 ½ hours in the afternoon waiting for a train. This situation was the subject of a wonderfully thoughtful article written recently by Jeffery Morris, chairman of the SunRail Customer Advisory Committee (CAC).
Problem is the loyal riders we know, and the SunRail-appointed CAC, say the new schedule is a loser. We agree. Riders want a train that will depart DeBary at 2 p.m. Remember the southbound train becomes a northbound train once it reaches Sand Lake Road.
If there was a 2 p.m. train out of DeBary, it would likely begin its northbound trip about 3:15 p.m. and reach the downtown Orlando stations around 3:30 p.m., which would be perfect for early-morning workers who get off the job at 3 p.m.
The 1 p.m. train out of DeBary is no help for those early-morning workers. The current late-afternoon schedule, which isn’t changing, puts the first northbound train in downtown at 4:25 p.m. This means early-morning workers are cooling or roasting (depending on the weather) on the train platform for at least an hour. Worse yet, this means riders won’t be arriving at stations, such as Altamonte Springs until it’s almost 5 p.m. – after 5 p.m. in Sanford and DeBary.
Anyone with a child in day-care, or after-school sessions, face steep financial penalties for late pickups. The CAC believes the less-than-user friendly SunRail schedule is a barrier to increased ridership.
SunRail has stops at both of the region’s major hospitals (Florida Hospital and Orlando Regional Medical Center) where thousands work, yet the ridership at those stations has been disappointing. A more reasonable schedule could work wonders, but the SunRail managers say they don’t have the money to hire additional crew (engineers and conductors) needed to staff a 2 p.m. train. Federal rules limit how many hours crew members can work.
Now it’s time to get political. So we say: Better call Buddy. Newly re-elected Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, that is.
Buddy is chairman of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission (SunRail’s official name) that oversees SunRail.
During his tenure at Orlando City Hall Buddy has proven himself to be a creative and persuasive leader who is focused on getting things done.
So if you want a better afternoon schedule for SunRail, call Buddy at 407-246-2221, or email him at . Don’t be afraid, he won’t bite. Tell Buddy what changes you want made to the SunRail schedule.
See you on The Rail!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

SunRail grant denial hurt all of us

Still no DeLand SunRail
The announcement that SunRail didn’t get the special grant to extend SunRail to DeLand wasn’t bad news for DeLand.

It was bad news for the Central Florida region, and everyone who understands how much SunRail is a game changer for the Interstate 4 corridor.

Extending SunRail to DeLand would tie together 4 local seats of government. Deland, being the county seat for Volusia County, Sanford, Orlando and Kissimmee, which will be connected by the end of 2017 with work that is now underway.

SunRail service to DeLand opens a world of expanded economic, employment, educational, social and cultural opportunities. Those opportunities go both ways because there’s a lot to see and do in DeLand.

From the outset DeLand was supposed to be part of SunRail. We need our representatives in Washington to make that happen.

Trying to get TIGER VII grant for the DeLand extension was always a risky proposition because there were so many communities all over the nation competing for that same pot of money. This past summer, though, the TIGER VII grant was our opportunity to get the money.

It was impressive to see the solidarity of support for that grant application. Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer set aside her county’s application for TIGER VII money to improve the chances for the DeLand application.

We know Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has been in there working behind the scenes to support the DeLand extension.

Certainly DeLand and West Volusia County government, business and community leaders worked hard on this. Let’s not forget more than 1,500 people who signed our online petition – many of whom don’t live in DeLand or Volusia County – to get SunRail rolling to DeLand.

Just because we didn’t get this TIGER VII grant is no reason to give up. We know that Congressman John Mica and Congresswoman Corrine Brown – both tireless SunRail supporters – are determined to bring the train to DeLand.

We need to make sure Florida’s entire Washington delegation is onboard because SunRail must run to DeLand. The DeLand extension is just as important as getting weekend service and getting the train extended to Orlando International Airport.

See you on The Rail!