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.