Sunday, December 13, 2015

Train schedule change misses the mark

By Jeffery Morris
Chairman, SunRail 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.  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:
  • Offer a southbound morning train between 8:00 and 9:00;
  • Offer a northbound afternoon train during the 3:00 hour
  • 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 prospective 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 –

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