Wednesday, February 17, 2016

SunRail when we want it, not when they tell us to ride

We love the Orlando Magic. The team is a source of pride that helps unite the community. But the team’s performance is disappointing. The Magic make us mad because they lose so often.

That’s the same way we feel about SunRail.

We love SunRail. It has the potential to be a great community asset. While SunRail has a fantastic on-time record, its bare-bones workday schedule and lack of late-night and weekend service are ridiculous and harm ridership.

We’re disappointed with SunRail’s leadership because this community needs much more service than we’re receiving.

Recently some visitors to the SunRailRiders Facebook page complained that we’re too critical of SunRail. Sadly, our intentions have been misunderstood, but the point is this: SunRail wasn’t built for engineers, or for politicians. It was created to serve this community.

About a year ago during a SunRail Commission meeting Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs defended SunRail’s limited service. She said SunRail was created as a “commuter” train. That’s why it concentrated on rush-hour service.

That’s true Mrs. Jacobs. But now the community is speaking. We want a train that we can use when we need it, not when a politician or FDOT manager tells us to use it.

We want weekend service. We want more trains during the day. We want trains late at night. Those who want more service aren’t just folks who want to party in downtown Orlando, or go the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturday morning.

Thousands of our neighbors work weekends -- at hospitals, the airport and in the hospitality industry. Many don’t own cars. When SunRail isn’t running their travel time doubles.

Yet politicians and SunRail/FDOT managers ignore what the people want. The topic of improving the schedule doesn’t get much discussion during SunRail Commission meetings.

Every day that passes brings us one day closer to a day of reckoning. Until May 1, 2021 the state foots a major portion of the bill to run SunRail. After that, the expenses become the obligation of SunRail’s local funding partners -- Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties and the city of Orlando. By 2021 that annual bill will be about $49 million. Ideally, the fare box will pay 30 percent.

This means local politicians will need courage and creativity to raise about $30 million annually. Unless there’s extremely strong support within the community, that SunRail funding issue will not go anywhere.

Most people in this community have never ridden SunRail. Many who don’t need SunRail to get to and from 9 to 5 jobs in downtown Orlando would like to try it but they can’t because the train doesn’t run late at night or on weekends.

If people don’t experience SunRail and see how it can make their lives easier, why would they support taxes to keep SunRail in business?

Drastically improving the train’s schedule is the only way to save SunRail. We want SunRail to not just survive. We want it to thrive.

SunRail is much more than a fun train ride. Effective transportation is critical to this region’s economic health. A robust public transit system – SunRail, LYNX and Votran – is essential.

If the people currently managing SunRail can’t figure out how to run trains more frequently during the day; late at night, and on the weekends and holidays, then replace them.

SunRail needs an improved schedule now. We deserve it. We demand it.

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