Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't let Joanne stand alone

Don’t let Joanne Counelis stand alone fighting to expand SunRail service to weekends and late-night hours.

The SunRail Technical Advisory Committee is meeting 1:30 p.m. this Wednesday, at the Florida Highway Patrol station 133 S. Semoran Blvd., in east Orlando.
Joanne on the right

Usually Joanne is the only person who stands up at the meetings to call for more service. Joanne says what so many of us think. We need to get Joanne’s back on this.

Unfortunately, we just got official notification of the meeting on Sunday afternoon. As many of you probably know, Semoran Boulevard is 5 miles across town from the closest SunRail station. Surely FDOT/SunRail isn’t trying to discourage public attendance or comment. Or is it?

Under Florida state law these meetings are open to the public. There is a period at the end of the meeting when each member of the public is allowed to speak. More of us need to stand up with Joanne and fight for the SunRail service that we need and deserve.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

SunFail schedule

Here’s a typical example of why we’ve labeled SunRail “the most inconvenient train in America.”
Today we have an 11 a.m. appointment in downtown Orlando at Church Street. We need to catch a northbound train from Sand Lake Road. Yet to get there in time our only option would have been to catch a train at 9:15. Then we would have wait 1 ½ hours for our appointment. Not a great option on a rainy say.
A 10:15 train would be perfect. But it doesn’t exist. yet it's not unreasonable to expect hourly service during off-peak travel periods. It's not as though Central Florida traffic congestion gets better during the workday.
The next northbound SunRail train leaves Sand Lake Road at 11:15 a.m.
Instead we’re going to drive and add to downtown congestion and pay $7 for parking.
Good job SunRail!

Monday, January 25, 2016

SunRail: America's most inconvenient train

During the public comment period near the end of every SunRail Commission meeting Joanne Counelis dutifully takes the podium and says: “We need SunRail on Saturdays and Sundays.”

The commission members – elected officials who represent Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties and Orlando – politely nod, smile and adjourn the meeting.

One thing that never happens is not one of those officials ever says: “She’s right! We need an action plan to get SunRail running on weekends and we need to do it now.”

Those of us who have met Joanne know she’s a gentle soul who would never be mistaken for a rocket scientist, but she is right. SunRail needs to run on weekends NOW, not in 5 or 6 years.

We attend almost every SunRail meeting and the most hopeful comment we’ve ever heard regarding 7-day operations came from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer who said SunRail needs to run on weekends by the time it connects with Orlando International Airport.

Problem is the year 2020 is the most optimistic timing we’ve heard for SunRail completing an airport connection. The airport connection hasn’t been designed or funded yet. Depending on the political fortunes of local, state and federal elected officials, who knows if the airport link will ever become reality.

What if the airport connection doesn’t get built for another 20 years? It took Tri-Rail commuter train in South Florida 25 years to complete its connection to Miami International Airport.

During an Orlando City Council SunRail briefing on Monday there was a discussion of SunRail’s disappointing ridership.

“Most people aren’t riding it, because they haven’t tried it. When they try it, that should change,” Mayor Dyer offered.

Great point Mr. Mayor, when do you propose they try it?

SunRail doesn’t run on the weekends; it doesn’t run on holidays; it doesn’t run after 10 at night. Even during the workday there are 2 ½-hour gaps between some trains. SunRail is probably the most inconvenient train in the United States.

Failure to offer weekend trains and more frequent service during the day -- including late-night service -- make SunRail seem superfluous. Many frequent visitors to the SunRailRiders Facebook page have wondered if FDOT and local officials are purposefully trying to sabotage SunRail.

Normally we don’t waste time on conspiracy theories, but we wonder how could SunRail managers be so clueless?

The SunRail schedule sucks. There is no polite way to describe it.

Talk to average people, especially millennials, and you will find there is an enormous appetite for frequent SunRail service. There are a remarkable number of young people have made a conscious decision not to own a car. They would rather use mass transit or ride a bicycle. Why do you think Juice Bike Share has been so successful?

Many people in our community can’t afford a car or can’t drive. There’s more: Talk to the caregivers at Florida Hospital and Orlando Regional Medical Center. Many more of them would ride if SunRail had a more convenient schedule at night, and weekend trains. More people flying out of Orlando International Airport from Volusia and Seminole counties would use the train too, if they could count on SunRail. But right now, they can’t count on SunRail.
During the past 30 years this community found money to build two professional basketball arenas; a world-class performing arts center; totally overhaul and expand the Citrus Bowl and build countless new beltways. Surely there’s money to run a commuter train on a reasonable schedule.

Campaigning politicians like to describe themselves as public servants. Prove it. Get the money to run a practical SunRail system.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why no MLK holiday service?

SunRail explains why the trains did not run on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday

Many riders complained that SunRail wasn’t running on MLK Holiday so we asked SunRail 2 questions. Please see the questions and SunRail’s response in italic.

1.    Many Central Floridians had to work Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and most transit systems around the country – including LYNX, Votran and Tri-Rail -- operated on their usual daily schedule, why did SunRail decide not to provide service on Monday?
SunRail is closed on seven federal holidays – which are prominently displayed on the schedule, travel guide and on ticket vending machines, as well as on the website. New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

2.    Does SunRail have plans to re-evaluate its holiday schedule for this year, and for the future?
The Florida Department of Transportation is constantly evaluating all aspects of the schedule.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

SunRail should run on MLK's birthday

Ironic that SunRail is suspending service this coming Monday in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

MLK on left
History shows that Dr. King first became widely known for leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955- 1956 to fight for fair treatment on public transportation.

Monday should be a celebration of public transportation and Dr. King's vision of equality.

Just because MLK’s birthday is a legal holiday doesn’t mean that no one has to go to work. In addition to public safety workers and hospital caregivers, typically the people who have to work on the holiday are those who get paid the least – the very people Dr. King sacrificed his life to help.

Public transportation isn’t a luxury. It’s essential. We need better SunRail service than we’re getting.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A #LastCallTrain would work

We were wrong.

Boy, were we wrong!

We blindly parroted the SunRail bosses who said that a #LastCallTrain wasn’t feasible. We noted that SunRail signed a formal agreement giving freight trains exclusive use of the tracks between midnight and 5 a.m.

Orange Avenue at 1 a.m.
We thought the #NightTrain, which wrapped up service at 11:30 p.m. in DeBary, would be enough to satisfy people who wanted to prowl downtown nightspots. The #NightTrain failed because it never got enough riders. It never got enough riders because it didn’t run late enough.

However, a #LastCallTrain at 3 a.m. Saturday would be a huge success.

Seem farfetched?

That’s what we thought. But check out the accompanying photo. It was shot in downtown Orlando 1 o’clock on a Saturday morning in December. Bet there are at least 10,000 people in downtown on Friday and Saturday nights. What percentage of them do you think get in their cars and drive home drunk?

How many of them didn’t make it, ending up instead in jail or a hospital?

SunRail has the potential to be a real lifesaver by providing an alternative to driving drunk. 

The second most important reason for providing a #LastCallTrain is because people say they want, and will use, the service. The need for this train has been mentioned hundreds of times on our Facebook page.

It’s time for SunRail bosses to provide the service that people want.

Maybe the SunRail bosses forgot that SunRail was created to serve people, real people.

The #LastCallTrain is especially important to millennials. They are the future leaders of Central Florida. Without the enthusiastic support of millennials SunRail will wither and die.

Of course the idea of a #LastCallTrain won’t be favorably received by some graybeards like us who stopped hanging out decades ago. We expect some critics to say that a #LastCallTrain will be too noisy early in the morning. Maybe those critics never heard a freight train. SunRail trains are much quieter and pass faster than most freight trains that use the track corridor during the wee hours.

As for the agreement that reserves the SunRail tracks for freight trains after midnight; Orlando is full of good lawyers who can find ways to modify the agreement to meet everyone’s needs.

It’s time to start thinking creatively to boost SunRail ridership and provide the service the public expects and deserves.