Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dyer demonstrates the vision and courage needed to push SunRail forward

Judge John M. Cheney would have been proud of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer at the recent SunRail Commission meeting.
Judge who?
At the turn of the 20th Century Judge Cheney’s family owned the Orlando Water & Light Co.
Over time the privately owned company encountered problems providing services to a growing Orlando -- barely 10,000 residents by 1920.
Cheney recognized that his family didn’t have the resources to meet the demand. So he made the audacious proposal for the community to take over the water and electric plant and grow it.
Cheney and other civic leaders vigorously campaigned to pass a $975,000 bond issue to buy the utility. That sum was eye popping back in those days.
Certainly some people thought the idea was risky. It was risky, but also worth pursuing.
Fortunately, Cheney and his colleagues prevailed. The bond money purchased the water and electric plant for $600,000, and also provided money to make the capital investments needed to keep growing that utility company – now known as the Orlando Utilities Commission – into the second largest municipal utility in Florida.
What if Cheney lacked the courage or vision to make the proposal? What would Orlando be like today?
At the recent SunRail Commission meeting Mayor Dyer must have been channeling the spirit of Judge Cheney when he suggested the SunRail Commission take over management of commuter train now and not wait until 2021 when state dollars for SunRail run out and the train becomes the financial responsibility of local government.
What many people may not realize is SunRail is run by the Florida Department of Transportation, not the SunRail Commission of local elected leaders. For all we know, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (a proven passenger rail enemy) may have personally made the decisions that prevent SunRail from reaching its full potential to provide convenient service to our community.
Dyer explained the rationale behind his proposal is for local leaders to get a feel for what it takes to run a passenger railroad before FDOT walks away in 5 years.
Dyer’s suggestion received a warm reception from fellow SunRail Commission member Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer, a passionate advocate of public transit.
The other two commission members present – Seminole County Commission Member Carlton Henley and Volusia County Council Member Pat Patterson – sent mixed messages when they responded to Dyer’s suggestion with a barrage of confusing questions and comments. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs didn’t attend the meeting.
We support Dyer’s proposal. We also urge local leaders to accelerate discussions to consolidate SunRail and LYNX into a seamless and dynamic public transit system.
Bringing SunRail under local control will make it easier for us – the riders and residents – to shape SunRail into the passenger rail service that meets the needs and expectations of our community.
To be sure, we have disagreed with Dyer on issues in the past, but we are delighted with his SunRail proposal.
Just as in the days of Judge Cheney, it takes leaders with vision and courage to get important work done and to improve our community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Special train for soccer fans

Our Copa America Centenario soccer
tournament high hopes have been dashed …. sort of.

There was an item on the SunRail Commission meeting agenda regarding that soccer tournament at Camping World (Citrus Bowl) Stadium. In a Tuesday blog post we hoped that agenda item meant SunRail was going to run trains for the first match on Saturday, June 4.

No such luck – still no weekend service. Despite that disappointment there was some good news at Wednesday’s SunRail Commission meeting.

Officials announced that Bombardier – the folks who actually operate SunRail – will provide late-night service for fans attending the Copa America Centenario matches on Monday, June 6, and Wednesday, June 8.

By the way, the special late trains on those date aren’t free like some past SunRail special train operations. Everybody riding the late train on those nights needs to buy a ticket. And don’t forget to tap on and tap off before you board and when you get off.

Still, this is great news because usually the last northbound SunRail station would be leaving the Church Street station at 9:25 p.m. -- well before soccer fans would be able to get from the stadium back to the station after the matches.

See you on the Rail!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Special SunRail to the Copa games!

If you’re a soccer fan, then you probably already know the significance of the Copa America Centenario tournament. Three matches will be played here in Orlando at Camping World Stadium (formerly known as the Citrus Bowl.)

You also know that the first Orlando match will be played on Saturday, June 4th, and you’re probably thinking “Dang, and SunRail doesn’t run on weekends.”

But wait, it looks like help is on the way. On the agenda for Wednesday’s SunRail Commission meeting there is an item marked “Special events trains – Copa games”
Read between the lines. What does that tell you?

See you on The Rail!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Are days numbered for ridership consultant?

When the SunRail Commission meets on Wednesday we wonder what they’ll do about the public affairs consultant hired last summer for $125 per hour for 40 hours per week to increase SunRail’s ridership. ($20,000 per month, sweet!)

Even though the consultant has distributed thousands of free tickets to get more people to “try the train”, ridership has decreased. In April there were fewer than 2,000 people using SunRail on a daily basis.

To be fair, the ridership decline isn’t the consultant’s fault. Many more people would actually like to use SunRail, but the real problem is that SunRail has a terrible schedule. People have to wait up to 2 ½ hours for trains between the morning and evening rush hours. For most would-be riders it simply isn’t practical or convenient to use SunRail during off-peak hours.

As we have previously, noted the off-peak waiting time between trains could be reduced to 1 hour by hiring additional train crew for $250,000 per year. Getting more people to “try the train” with the current schedule is futile. We would rather see money spent on more train crew than on a pricey consultant.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

It's easy to fix SunRail

SunRail can solve its problems for half the price of a new LYNX bus.

A new LYNX bus costs $500,000.

It would only cost about $250,000 to convert SunRail from a bitter joke to a serious and effective transportation system for Central Florida.

LYNX bus at SunRail station

Many others want to use SunRail after office hours to attend social and entertainment events, such as the ongoing Fringe Festival. However, in December 2015 SunRail canceled the #NightTrain that ran until 11:30 p.m.

Instead all those would-be SunRail riders are adding to maddening congestion on beleaguered Interstate 4, US 17-92 and other north-south thoroughfares. Traffic congestion wastes time and money and is harmful to our local economy.

Hourly SunRail service maximizes the more than $1 billion invested to create SunRail. The SunRail trains were built to carry people. Those trains are a waste when they are sitting idle in the railyard.

More frequent and convenient SunRail service creates an opportunity for LYNX to redeploy some of its buses from north-south routes to offer more service to riders who live east and west of the SunRail corridor. Ideally buses would pick up people east and west of the rail line and bring them to a SunRail station where they could catch trains heading north and south. That, friends, is how a real public transportation system works.

We certainly aren’t suggesting that LYNX sacrifice purchasing one new bus to fix SunRail. Honestly LYNX needs hundreds more buses and drivers to provide the level of comfortable, reliable and fast service that our residents deserve.

However, it’s beyond ridiculous that the city of Orlando, Orange, Seminole, and Volusia counties and state leaders can’t (or won’t) scrape up $250,000 to turn SunRail from a failure to a success.

See you on the Rail…or sweating in the sun waiting for the train.