Those who attended Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s State of the City speech received free SunRail tickets to “Try the Train.”
While we don’t know how many of the speech attendees tried the train, the “Try the Train” ridership-building initiative isn’t new. The initiative, which is being managed by a SunRail consultant, has been underway since the beginning of this year.
Between Jan. 19 and March 15 the consultant distributed 5,515 of the paper tickets through downtown Orlando employers, according to a spokesman for SunRail.
As these are one-way tickets, most people took two tickets. One to ride the train to work in the morning and the other to return home after work. In other words, the distributed tickets were enough to provide round trips to a little more than 2,700 people.
Records provided by SunRail showed that of 5,515 free tickets distributed, a total of 1,105 were actually used. Based on our own independent reporting we know that at least a few people who received free tickets gave away their second ticket to fellow riders, or strangers on the platform.
The million-dollar question is: Of those who used the tickets to try the train, how many of them became regular fare-paying SunRail riders?
The SunRail spokesman wrote: “Obviously, this is a difficult metric to create with 100 percent accuracy.
“But,” the spokesman continued, “we are working with employers to distribute post-try-the-train day surveys that (among other questions) specifically asks our first-time riders if their experience has motivated them to adopt SunRail as their full-time commuting method.”
While the spokesman didn’t give us a definitive answer on how many of those who tried the train became regular riders, he noted survey results showed that 17 percent of the “Try the Train” riders from Orlando Health “adopted SunRail based on the experience."
To be clear, the consultant provided 2,700 tickets to Orlando Health. Only 300 of those tickets were actually used. Considering that most people supposedly rode round trip, that means 150 people at Orlando Health tried the train in response to the campaign. Of those who tried the train, 25 people “adopted SunRail based on the experience.”
25 people out of 2,700 tickets! That’s not much of a return on the investment.
Considering how many people work at Orlando Health and Florida Hospital, most officials expected the hospital stations would host thousands of riders daily. Instead those stations have the weakest ridership because SunRail is America’s most inconvenient train.
The train’s schedule – no late-night train, no weekend train service -- don’t come close to meeting the real-life work schedule demands of hospital caregivers.
Giving away tickets won’t substantially improve SunRail’s ridership. Improving the ridership requires a sensible SunRail schedule.