Sunday, December 11, 2016

How come SunRail waits to last minute to announce Saturday service

The accompanying video explains why SunRail waits to the last minute to announce Saturday service.

video


Ever since the occasional #SaturdaySunRail service was launched this fall finding out which Saturdays the train would run has been a hit-and-miss proposition.

Sometime the service has been announced just a few days before Saturday – not enough time for many people to plan to use the train.

The late announcements have contributed to low ridership on a couple of Saturdays.

The good news – if you can call it that – is this past week the announced the train would run on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17, and that the same schedule would be used both weeks.

Hopefully that helps improve the Saturday ridership.

Keep in mind that #SaturdaySunRail is not a regular SunRail/FDOT operation. 
The Saturday train service is being paid for by Team SunRail – a private-public partnership – to support large-scale events in downtown Orlando.



Friday, December 9, 2016

Cost of running #SaturdaySunRail


FDOT/SunRail said it costs $23,000 per week to run the train on selected Saturdays.

Keep in mind, though, #Saturday SunRail is financed by Team SunRail – a public-private partnership.

The main goal of the Saturday operation is to support some large events -- mostly in downtown Orlando. Generally, the schedule is oriented to afternoons and late evenings.

For that price, SunRail typically activates 4 trains and crews (including security officers) to provide up to 10 round trips from Sand Lake Road in south Orlando to DeBary in Volusia County.

Even though the operation is privately financed, riders still pay standard fares.


Ridership on Saturdays has ranged from 3,400 to 1,700 “boardings”. 

“Boardings” represent every time someone steps aboard a train. Since almost everyone rides round trip, the actual number of riders is half the number of “boardings”.

Text alerts come to SunRail

Why doesn’t SunRail send text messages when there’s a service interruption?

Great question.

The SunRail Customer Advisory Committee has been fighting for a text alert service for a year.

Their requests fell on deaf ears of SunRail’s former leadership team, which kept making excuses for why the text alert system was unneeded.

The committee members – regular riders charged with speaking up for the consumers – said putting service interruption alerts on Twitter was not adequate.

SunRail staff said a text messaging service would cost too much and would distract staff.

The SunRail marketing team even presented the results of a rigged survey to try to shut down the discussion.

Enter SunRail’s new CEO Nicola Liquori. After hearing the request, she decided that SunRail will offer text message alerts when a train is delayed or canceled. The details are still being worked out.

Ms. Liquori has certainly set a new standard for service at SunRail.



SunRail's last best hope - Nicola Liquori

Nicola Liquori.

Remember that name.

Ms. Liquori is SunRail’s new CEO.

She is the last, best hope for saving SunRail.

Given adequate political support and money Ms. Liquori can transform SunRail from a train wreck to a winner.

Make no mistake. SunRail is a train wreck.

Except for a few of momentary spikes, SunRail ridership has been sinking for almost 2 years.

Currently SunRail has about 3,300 daily “boardings” on its usual Monday to Friday schedule. The “boardings” account for every time someone got on a train. Most people ride the train roundtrip, so the actual number of daily riders is roughly 1,600 for a $1 billion passenger rail system.

Thousands more want to use the train for work and other activities. They can’t because the schedule is awful.

There are 2 ½ hour gaps between trains in the off-peak hours. Other than occasional Saturday service, the train mainly serves those working Monday to Friday bankers’ hours in downtown Orlando.

On the SunRailRiders Facebook page we’ve heard from lots of people who formerly rode SunRail. They stopped because the schedule is too inconvenient.

The SunRail staff and the SunRail Commission – local elected officials who oversee SunRail – know all about the deficiencies. Rather than work with vigor on solutions, they try to explain away the problems.

Enter Ms. Liquori. She joined SunRail as CEO this past June.

At first, we were very skeptical of her because she formerly served as chief financial officer of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise. She’s a number cruncher with no railroad experience.

What she did have though, was the gift of listening, understanding and caring about rider feedback.

During a recent SunRail Technical Advisory Committee meeting Ms. Liquori said:

“The most frequent question, and I would say complaint, is related to the schedule.”

Asked by a committee member to explain, Ms. Liquori elaborated:

The schedule problem “is referring to the infrequency of trains. The time windows. It really runs the gamut.

“You have folks that want to have more midday service.

“We’ve gotten some feedback from folks at Florida Hospital and Orlando Health saying the schedule really doesn’t align with their shifts.

“I had one lady I was talking to who said we really don’t seem to accommodate hourly workers.”

We have attended almost every public SunRail meeting over the last 2 years and that’s the most honest observation we heard from any SunRail/FDOT official.

However, Ms. Liquori can’t personally write a check for the money it will take to improve SunRail’s schedule.

We – the riders and others who wish they could use SunRail – need to stand with Ms. Liquori.

One of the things you can do right now to support Ms. Liquori  is click here to add your name to the petition requesting money from the state for a full-service SunRail.

We need to demand that our local elected officials on the SunRail Commission stand with Ms. Liquori and fight to get the money she needs to improve SunRail service.

If people can’t ride SunRail, the train’s ridership will continue to tumble.
The clock is ticking.

FDOT is subsidizing SunRail until 2021. Then the funding becomes the responsibility of local governments.

Based on SunRail’s poor ridership, there’s no way local governments will continue funding SunRail.

Central Florida needs SunRail. Anyone who drives knows traffic is a nightmare. SunRail provides an alternative to driving. It helps take some traffic off our clogged roads.

We want SunRail to survive and thrive. That is why we stand with Ms. Liquori.


We hope you do, too.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#SaturdaySunRail is a train wreck

#SaturdaySunRail crashed and burned.

Last Saturday’s (Dec. 3) #SaturdaySunRail ridership was the worst ever. There were only 1,768 boardings.

Realistically that means roughly 880 people rode SunRail because “boardings” represent every time someone gets on the train. Almost everyone takes the train going AND coming back.

Considering that it cost about $20,000 to run SunRail on a Saturday, it might have been more cost effective to order an Uber for each of last Saturday’s riders.

For the record, here’s the #SaturdaySunRail ridership history:

Don’t fall for the talking points from the consultants and spin doctors at SunRail/FDOT. The ridership collapse does NOT prove that the public won’t support weekend SunRail service.

The poor ridership proves that big brains behind #SaturdaySunRail don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

The truth is #SaturdaySunRail was the worst planned, worst executed and worst promoted program we’ve ever seen.

From the beginning, SunRail/FDOT and Team SunRail – the public private partnership funding #SaturdaySunRail – could not provide an advance calendar of the Saturdays SunRail would be running. They’ve skipped up to 3 Saturdays in a row.

When they did announce #SaturdaySunRail would run, you found out only a few days before Saturday. Worst yet, almost every Saturday SunRail DID run, it had a different schedule.

Sometimes the schedule wasn’t customer friendly.

Last Saturday (Dec. 3) for example, SunRail service was offered to benefit fans going to the ACC Championship football game at downtown Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. However, the published schedule showed there was a good chance that the SunRail service in downtown would end before the game was over.

Who does that?

Why would any sensible fans use SunRail if they weren’t sure they could ride the train home?

Transit success depends on consistency and reliability.

We hate to report this ridership calamity. We’re passionate supporters of SunRail and we’re very disappointed that #SaturdaySunRail was run into the ground.

Other passionate SunRail riders who follow this blog have written: “It’s as though they want SunRail to fail.” We think those riders are on to something.

With thoughtful planning and a consistent schedule – including an early train for people headed to work at Florida Hospital, Orlando Health, Orlando International Airport and other service-industry jobs -- #SaturdaySunRail could be a smashing success.

Instead we have a train wreck.

By the way, they plan to run #SaturdaySunRail this Saturday (Dec. 10) and on Saturday (Dec. 17). Tuesday morning an FDOT spokesman sent us a note explaining that for the next 2 Saturdays #SaturdaySunRail will be using last week's Saturday schedule. Click here to see that schedule

Good luck with that.







Friday, December 2, 2016

Mayor misled public on #SaturdaySunRail service


Turns out that’s NOT true.

This week a SunRailRiders fan pointed out that this Saturday (Dec. 3) the last northbound train of the evening will depart from downtown Orlando before the ACC Football Championship football game at Camping World Stadium (Citrus Bowl) is likely to be over.

The game starts at 8 p.m. Fans have to catch a shuttle bus to and from the stadium, which is a couple of miles from SunRail. The last northbound SunRail train leaves downtown at 10:58 p.m. Saturday.

When the SunRail rider contacted SunRail, here’s the response he got:
"Thank you for contacting SunRail Customer Service and sharing your concerns. We regret to hear that the December 3, 2016 schedule does not meet your travel needs. SunRail on Saturdays is sponsored by our local government funding partners, business leaders and other community stakeholders which is a privately funded initiative. As such, the schedule for December 3, 2016, is centered around the specific sponsored events. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Then we contacted SunRail/FDOT to ask about Dyer’s promise the train would be delayed to accommodate riders.

Here’s FDOT’s response:

“One of the goals of this pilot program is to provide Saturday service to-and-from as many major events as possible. SunRail leadership and the program sponsors have worked to map out a service schedule that achieves that goal.

“That said, SunRail has a limited window in which trains can run, as well has how many days in a row crews can work. Generally speaking, the corridor window is approximately 5 a.m. until midnight. As far as crews and staffing go, extra Saturdays have them working six days in a row. If they work into Sunday, it would affect their availability for regular Monday service. 

“While college football games are date certain, times for major games are often set later based on TV coverage.

“In this instance, the conclusion of the ACC championship game will occur past SunRail’s available operating window for the corridor and staffing. We regret that the game and the train schedule are not able to line up exactly. It should be noted that fans still have the option of taking SunRail to the game via one of the downtown stations, if they wish…. We cannot speak for what the Mayor might have, or might not have, said.”

WTF!

Don’t these people talk to each other?

The mayor is the chairman of the SunRail Commission. Now it turns out he doesn’t know what he’s talking about…

Making promises you can’t keep, and a complete disregard for customer service (possibly leaving hundreds of riders stranded downtown), is a great way to lose the public’s confidence and support.

If you’re taking SunRail to the ACC football game on Saturday, our advice is: Make sure your Uber or Lyft account is set up, because there’s a good chance you’ll need the ride-share services to get home.

This is another reason why we need funding for full-time SunRail service.

If you want SunRail service 7-days-a-week, hourly service during off-peak hours and late-night trains, please click here.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

SunRail should be supporting Small Business Saturday

It’s a shame SunRail will not be running this Saturday (Nov. 26) because this Saturday is Small Business Saturday.

This Saturday SunRail service would have provided a great opportunity for people to explore Central Florida to visit hundreds of small businesses along the SunRail track corridor and near almost every SunRail station – not just Park Avenue in Winter Park.

The Small Business Saturday observance was created by American Express to encourage people to patronize locally owned businesses that are the backbone of our economy.

Despite the popularity of malls and online shopping, there are about 28 million small businesses in the United States. The sales taxes those small businesses collect help fund local government and pay for police, fire, parks and other essential services.

Small businesses provide after-school jobs for our children.

Small businesses are also the most likely to contribute cash, goods and services to our churches, schools and groups like little leagues and scouts.
In many communities, small businesses are the only businesses.

Since SunRail will not be running this Saturday, we suggest riders patronize small businesses on their way home Friday night. We also recommend that you make some purchases at small businesses near your home SunRail station on Saturday.

SunRail is not only a transportation provider, it can be a business generator if it provided better service with a convenient schedule that offered 7-day service and late-night trains.

Help get full-time SunRail service by clicking here and adding your name to our petition.



This morning's "railroad congestion"

Wednesday morning FDOT tweeted that 2 SunRail trains were canceled due to “railroad congestion.

We asked FDOT -- the agency that runs SunRail -- what “railroad congestion” meant.

FDOT’s response:

“This morning a freight train had an equipment malfunction that blocked the entrance of our yard. The freight train was at least a mile long and impacted entrances for both the NB and SB track. We were not able to get our trains out of the yard until that cleared.”


Monday, November 21, 2016

You'll never believe what happened to #SaturdaySunRail ridership

#SaturdaySunrail was going reasonably well until this past Saturday.
On the first Saturday (Nov. 5th) the ridership was 3,225.
On the second Saturday (Nov. 12th) the ridership was 3,452.
It was reasonable to expect that the ridership trend would continue to climb. 

That’s reasonable, but this is SunRail.

This past Saturday (Nov. 19th) the ridership was 2,100.

What the heck happened?

The #SaturdaySunRail ridership collapse is the result of a communications and operations failure by SunRail and Team SunRail – the public-private partnership bankrolling the occasional Saturday train.

We think most of the blame belongs on the shoulders of Team SunRail because it’s their party.

Ever since #SaturdaySunRail was postponed in October we learned they have difficulty telling the public in advance about which Saturdays the train service would be offered.

People keep asking us why SunRail/Team SunRail can’t post an advance schedule so people can plan ahead. Seems like a reasonable question and expectation.

The FDOT officials who run SunRail said that part of the challenge is that there is certain track maintenance work they must do on the weekends. Then the other complication is that the train is only provided on weekends when Team SunRail wants to provide service.

Still it is possible to coordinate this.

We’ve been finding out only a few days before the train service will be offered on a particular Saturday. That make it difficult to share timely information with prospective riders.

Clearly this is no way to run a railroad.


This past week proved to be a cluster. 

Last Wednesday FDOT officially announced SunRail would be offering train service on Nov. 19 – three days later – to support the Florida Classic collegiate football game at Camping World Stadium.

Communicators at Florida Citrus Sports and the two universities playing in the game didn’t seem to know anything about the train service until SunRailRiders contacted them. We provided them with #SaturdaySunRail information. (We don’t work for FDOT, SunRail or Team SunRail.)

Communicators professionals (which we are when we’re not blogging about SunRail) will tell you there should have been a coordinated communications plan so that all the stakeholders knew what was happening and could share pertinent details with their audiences.

With proper communication the #SaturdaySunRail ridership could have been doubled. Instead last Saturday’s ridership looks like a failure. It’s not. People can’t ride if they don’t what’s going on.

One piece of good news -- if you can call it that -- is that SunRail already announced that it won’t be running this coming Saturday – Nov. 26. That’s a start because people need to know in advance what’s happening.

Hopefully SunRail and Team SunRail will use this time to get their act together.






Friday, November 18, 2016

What's ahead for #SaturdaySunRail

Before you even ask. There will be NO #SaturdaySunRail service, a week from today on Nov. 26.

That’s disappointing, but at least we know early. Remember #SaturdaySunRail service is a privately funded initiative to support large-scale public events on weekends when SunRail doesn’t usually run.

The good news -- as reported first by us-- SunRail is running this Saturday to support the Florida Classic collegiate football showdown between Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman at the Camping World Stadium. This is the biggest football showdown in the Historically Black College and University universe!

Florida Classic fans staying in International Drive hotels can park for free at the Sand Lake Road SunRail and catch the train down to Lynx Central Station in downtown Otlando. Then they just need to walk one block to Orlando Vo-Tech for a bus ride to the stadium.

Folks driving I-4 from Florida’s east coast or from Daytona Beach can get off the highway to park their cars for free or take the train at the DeBary or Sanford SunRail stations.

Even if you’re not planning to attend the Florida Classic this #SaturdaySunRail service is a great deal because there’s so much going on. For example, in Winter Park the popular Winter in The Park ice skating is underway; Festival of the Trees in Lake Mary; the West End Beer Fest in Sanford; Bach Festival Society on Rollins College and the Magic playing the Dallas Mavericks at Amway Center.

Please ride the heck out of #SaturdaySunRail because it makes the case for regularly scheduled weekend SunRail service.

For more information on this week’s #SaturdaySunRail, please click here. To avoid disappointment, please arrive at the station 30 minutes before the train so you have enough time to buy your tickets at the vending machines.

Hopefully SunRail will double check to make sure all of their ticket-vending machines, especially the ones that take cash, are functioning properly.
See you on The Rail.



Best way to get to the Florida Classic

Orlando is making it very easy for fans to get to the Florida Classic on Saturday.

Fans can ride SunRail, Central Florida’s commuter train and skip traffic jams and expensive parking. 

This is a big deal because SunRail does not usually run on weekends.
Fans staying at International Drive hotels should drive to the Sand Lake Road station. That station is near Florida Mall.

They can park for free at the station and catch SunRail to Lynx Central Station in downtown Orlando.

Then it’s a one block walk to Orlando Vo-Tech where shuttle buses will take them to the stadium.

Folks coming over from Daytona Beach can park their cars for free at the DeBary or Sanford SunRail stations and take the train to town.

For more information on the SunRail station locations and the train schedule, visit www. SunRail.com

Monday, November 14, 2016

#SaturdaySunRail is a real winner

We’ll let the #SaturdaySunRail numbers speak for themselves.

Nov. 12 at Church Street
Nov. 5th – the first time out with #SaturdaySunRail -- there were 3,225 boardings.

On Nov. 12th – this past Saturday – there were 3,452 boardings. (You do the math.)

Both of those totals are on par, or better than, SunRail’s average daily ridership.
And get this, SunRail scored these ridership wins on Saturdays running in a shorter operating window – 10 to 12 hours – with fewer trains than on weekdays.

In addition, many people didn’t know until the last minute the train was running Saturday. This is because no one will commit to a long-term schedule of Saturday operations.

Still we must take a moment to offer special thanks to SunRail’s new CEO Nicola Liquori who personally supervised these Saturday operations. Her leadership is top notch.

Imagine how many more people would ride #SaturdaySunRail if a regular schedule could be agreed on, and if the train ran every Saturday.

Before we start getting too deep into the “what ifs”, please remember that the #SaturdaySunRail operations are being funded through Team SunRail -- a public-private partnership – to support certain large-scale events in downtown Orlando.

There is no guarantee this public-private partnership will last beyond February 2017.

Therefore, we have launched a petition campaign to ask the SunRail Commission to work with the Central Florida Legislative Delegation to get money from Tallahassee.

The funding is needed for a full-time SunRail that would include weekend service, night service, hourly service on weekdays after the morning rush hour and additional Lynx and Votran bus service to support SunRail.

Please click here to add your name to this very important petition.




Friday, November 11, 2016

Tips for riding #SaturdaySunRail

A couple of things you need to know when riding #SaturdaySunRail.

Riding #SaturdaySunRail is an important investment in the future of SunRail. It makes the case that full-service SunRail – trains 7 days a week and late night – is needed and will be used. Please ride.

Because #SaturdaySunRail is paid for by a public-private partnership to support large-scale events in downtown Orlando, the train schedule changes every time it runs on Saturday.

Last Saturday SunRail ran until 1 a.m. Sunday. This week #SaturdaySunRail will shut down before midnight. Don’t get stranded.

For the schedule, click http://tinyurl.com/gmcacsn

Riders who got left while trying to buy tickets
Pay attention to when the train is scheduled to leave your home station. Make note of when you need to be back at the station to catch the train home.

This is a railroad and it runs on a schedule. If they’re late leaving one station, that will make the train late arriving at other stations. Riders depend on timely arrivals and departures.

For the start of your SunRail trip, please get to the station at least 30 minutes before the departure time so you can buy tickets.

There’s a good chance there will be lines of people buying one-day tickets. SunRail ticket vending machines suck. They are slow and clunky.

Last week we watched the #SaturdaySunRail train leave some people on the platform while they were trying to buy tickets from the janky vending machines. We felt bad for those disappointed would-be riders.

At most stations the train stops for less than 3 minutes to pick up passengers, so don’t wait until the last minute to get off. To speed the boarding process, please let people get off the train before you try to get on.

Just between us, the best seats are on the train’s upper deck. On the lower deck there’s plenty of room for you to bring your bicycle.

For safety sake, please stay behind the yellow line while waiting on the platform.

Last Saturday while waiting in Winter Park a newbie rider asked if SunRail had a dining car. (Come on, don’t laugh.) Not only does SunRail NOT have a dining car, you’re not supposed to eat on the train. However, you can bring a beverage if it’s in a cup with a lid and a straw. It’s all about keeping things clean.

See you on The Rail.




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Does SunRail own a weedwhacker?

Did anyone notice that weeds are about to take over SunRail’s southbound platform at downtown Orlando’s Church Street station?

An eagle-eyed rider called this unsightly problem to our attention. How come SunRail/FDOT staff didn’t notice and take action?

As you can see in the accompanying photos, the weeds are about 2 feet tall and look really nasty.

It’s not as though this platform is in the middle of nowhere – someplace between Longwood and Lake Mary. Church Street is one of SunRail’s busiest stations – especially for morning commuters. Talk about making a bad impression!

Still, the major question is: Does SunRail inspect stations on a daily basis?

This problem is an issue of housekeeping and maintenance. What if the issue was safety?

This also makes us wonder how many other problems have been overlooked or ignored at other SunRail stations?

Perhaps SunRail is waiting for a rider to bring a weedwhacker to spiff up Church Street.





Tuesday, November 8, 2016

#SaturdaySunRail ridership numbers are in

The numbers are in for the first #SaturdaySunRail service.

Winter Park SunRail on Saturday
FDOT told us Saturday they ran 10 roundtrips and had 3,225 boardings.
Considering all the confusion following the October cancellation, that’s pretty good for a first time at bat.

To put those numbers into perspective, on a regular weekday SunRail runs 18 roundtrips and has about 3,600 boardings.

Last Saturday the SunRail service didn’t begin until 2 p.m.

That means the overwhelming majority of the people on the train were leisure riders. Very few were people headed to work because most weekend workers – hundreds of caregivers at Florida Hospital and Orlando Regional Medical Center – have to be at work early in the morning.

The sporadic Saturday service being funded by Team SunRail – a public-private enterprise – is a good start, but we need and demand real, regular weekend service.

On Tuesday FDOT told us that #SaturdaySunRail will be running to support Come Out With Pride THIS Saturday (Nov. 12) in downtown Orlando's Lake Eola.

Bravo!



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#SaturdaySunRail - Here we go again

OK, here we go again.

#SaturdaySunRail is almost here.

Originally the Saturday service was supposed to start Oct. 8, but it got blown away by Hurricane Matthew. It's now scheduled to begin this Saturday (Nov. 5).

Regular SunRailRiders fans know that 2 years ago this blog launched the campaign to extend SunRail service beyond weekday bankers hours.

The train service that starts Saturday is good, but it’s not great. 

The #SaturdaySunRail schedule supports large-scale community and leisure events along the SunRail corridor. What about people who work weekends?

Though #SaturdaySunRail is not perfect, we need to use the hell out of it.

We’re hoping that there will be many new first-time riders Saturday. Here are things they need to know:
Special events crowd at Church Street

Schedule: Pay close attention to the Nov. 5th schedule (for arrivals and departures) because the Saturday train does not run like the New York subway, or weekday SunRail. 



Want to ride SunRail to Winter Park’s fantastic farmers’ market? Forget it. On Nov.5th SunRail won’t make its first stop in Winter Park until 2:36 p.m. The farmer’s market closes at 1 p.m.

There is one big plus. The last scheduled northbound SunRail train  departs downtown Orlando after midnight Saturday and completes its run in DeBary at 1:18 a.m. Sunday. Though that late service is not as good as the #LastCallTrain we’ve proposed, it certainly offers some hope for downtown Orlando’s party people.

Tickets: You need a ticket to ride SunRail. There are 4 ticket-vending machines at every station. Only 1 machine accepts cash, so bring your plastic. Get to the station early because the vending transaction can be clunky.
Tap on and Tap Off: Your ticket is not legit until you tap it on one of the yellow ticket validators on the platform before you board the train. The conductor will check. Tap your ticket on the validator when you get off the train. The validators measure ridership. We need those stats to keep SunRail running.
Getting on and off: Don’t wait for the last minute to get off when the train reaches your stop. Please let riders get off the train before you try to board
Schedule: Pay close attention to the schedule for arriving and departing trains. The #SaturdaySunRail schedule may change on a weekly basis.
Safety: Stay behind the yellow line on the platform while waiting for the train. Bicycles and skateboard are welcome on the train, but don’t ride them on the platform.
Bathroom: Go to the bathroom before you leave home because there is NO restroom at the SunRail station. There is one restroom on each train. Public restrooms are expensive to build and maintain.
Train station parking: Free parking is available at most SunRail stations. There is no -- or very limited -- parking at Winter Park, LYNX Central Station, Florida Hospital and Orlando Health.

See you on #SaturdaySunRail.