Sunday, December 11, 2016

How come SunRail waits to last minute to announce Saturday service

The accompanying video explains why SunRail waits to the last minute to announce Saturday service.

Ever since the occasional #SaturdaySunRail service was launched this fall finding out which Saturdays the train would run has been a hit-and-miss proposition.

Sometime the service has been announced just a few days before Saturday – not enough time for many people to plan to use the train.

The late announcements have contributed to low ridership on a couple of Saturdays.

The good news – if you can call it that – is this past week the announced the train would run on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17, and that the same schedule would be used both weeks.

Hopefully that helps improve the Saturday ridership.

Keep in mind that #SaturdaySunRail is not a regular SunRail/FDOT operation. 
The Saturday train service is being paid for by Team SunRail – a private-public partnership – to support large-scale events in downtown Orlando.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Cost of running #SaturdaySunRail

FDOT/SunRail said it costs $23,000 per week to run the train on selected Saturdays.

Keep in mind, though, #Saturday SunRail is financed by Team SunRail – a public-private partnership.

The main goal of the Saturday operation is to support some large events -- mostly in downtown Orlando. Generally, the schedule is oriented to afternoons and late evenings.

For that price, SunRail typically activates 4 trains and crews (including security officers) to provide up to 10 round trips from Sand Lake Road in south Orlando to DeBary in Volusia County.

Even though the operation is privately financed, riders still pay standard fares.

Ridership on Saturdays has ranged from 3,400 to 1,700 “boardings”. 

“Boardings” represent every time someone steps aboard a train. Since almost everyone rides round trip, the actual number of riders is half the number of “boardings”.

Text alerts come to SunRail

Why doesn’t SunRail send text messages when there’s a service interruption?

Great question.

The SunRail Customer Advisory Committee has been fighting for a text alert service for a year.

Their requests fell on deaf ears of SunRail’s former leadership team, which kept making excuses for why the text alert system was unneeded.

The committee members – regular riders charged with speaking up for the consumers – said putting service interruption alerts on Twitter was not adequate.

SunRail staff said a text messaging service would cost too much and would distract staff.

The SunRail marketing team even presented the results of a rigged survey to try to shut down the discussion.

Enter SunRail’s new CEO Nicola Liquori. After hearing the request, she decided that SunRail will offer text message alerts when a train is delayed or canceled. The details are still being worked out.

Ms. Liquori has certainly set a new standard for service at SunRail.

SunRail's last best hope - Nicola Liquori

Nicola Liquori.

Remember that name.

Ms. Liquori is SunRail’s new CEO.

She is the last, best hope for saving SunRail.

Given adequate political support and money Ms. Liquori can transform SunRail from a train wreck to a winner.

Make no mistake. SunRail is a train wreck.

Except for a few of momentary spikes, SunRail ridership has been sinking for almost 2 years.

Currently SunRail has about 3,300 daily “boardings” on its usual Monday to Friday schedule. The “boardings” account for every time someone got on a train. Most people ride the train roundtrip, so the actual number of daily riders is roughly 1,600 for a $1 billion passenger rail system.

Thousands more want to use the train for work and other activities. They can’t because the schedule is awful.

There are 2 ½ hour gaps between trains in the off-peak hours. Other than occasional Saturday service, the train mainly serves those working Monday to Friday bankers’ hours in downtown Orlando.

On the SunRailRiders Facebook page we’ve heard from lots of people who formerly rode SunRail. They stopped because the schedule is too inconvenient.

The SunRail staff and the SunRail Commission – local elected officials who oversee SunRail – know all about the deficiencies. Rather than work with vigor on solutions, they try to explain away the problems.

Enter Ms. Liquori. She joined SunRail as CEO this past June.

At first, we were very skeptical of her because she formerly served as chief financial officer of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise. She’s a number cruncher with no railroad experience.

What she did have though, was the gift of listening, understanding and caring about rider feedback.

During a recent SunRail Technical Advisory Committee meeting Ms. Liquori said:

“The most frequent question, and I would say complaint, is related to the schedule.”

Asked by a committee member to explain, Ms. Liquori elaborated:

The schedule problem “is referring to the infrequency of trains. The time windows. It really runs the gamut.

“You have folks that want to have more midday service.

“We’ve gotten some feedback from folks at Florida Hospital and Orlando Health saying the schedule really doesn’t align with their shifts.

“I had one lady I was talking to who said we really don’t seem to accommodate hourly workers.”

We have attended almost every public SunRail meeting over the last 2 years and that’s the most honest observation we heard from any SunRail/FDOT official.

However, Ms. Liquori can’t personally write a check for the money it will take to improve SunRail’s schedule.

We – the riders and others who wish they could use SunRail – need to stand with Ms. Liquori.

One of the things you can do right now to support Ms. Liquori  is click here to add your name to the petition requesting money from the state for a full-service SunRail.

We need to demand that our local elected officials on the SunRail Commission stand with Ms. Liquori and fight to get the money she needs to improve SunRail service.

If people can’t ride SunRail, the train’s ridership will continue to tumble.
The clock is ticking.

FDOT is subsidizing SunRail until 2021. Then the funding becomes the responsibility of local governments.

Based on SunRail’s poor ridership, there’s no way local governments will continue funding SunRail.

Central Florida needs SunRail. Anyone who drives knows traffic is a nightmare. SunRail provides an alternative to driving. It helps take some traffic off our clogged roads.

We want SunRail to survive and thrive. That is why we stand with Ms. Liquori.

We hope you do, too.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#SaturdaySunRail is a train wreck

#SaturdaySunRail crashed and burned.

Last Saturday’s (Dec. 3) #SaturdaySunRail ridership was the worst ever. There were only 1,768 boardings.

Realistically that means roughly 880 people rode SunRail because “boardings” represent every time someone gets on the train. Almost everyone takes the train going AND coming back.

Considering that it cost about $20,000 to run SunRail on a Saturday, it might have been more cost effective to order an Uber for each of last Saturday’s riders.

For the record, here’s the #SaturdaySunRail ridership history:

Don’t fall for the talking points from the consultants and spin doctors at SunRail/FDOT. The ridership collapse does NOT prove that the public won’t support weekend SunRail service.

The poor ridership proves that big brains behind #SaturdaySunRail don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

The truth is #SaturdaySunRail was the worst planned, worst executed and worst promoted program we’ve ever seen.

From the beginning, SunRail/FDOT and Team SunRail – the public private partnership funding #SaturdaySunRail – could not provide an advance calendar of the Saturdays SunRail would be running. They’ve skipped up to 3 Saturdays in a row.

When they did announce #SaturdaySunRail would run, you found out only a few days before Saturday. Worst yet, almost every Saturday SunRail DID run, it had a different schedule.

Sometimes the schedule wasn’t customer friendly.

Last Saturday (Dec. 3) for example, SunRail service was offered to benefit fans going to the ACC Championship football game at downtown Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. However, the published schedule showed there was a good chance that the SunRail service in downtown would end before the game was over.

Who does that?

Why would any sensible fans use SunRail if they weren’t sure they could ride the train home?

Transit success depends on consistency and reliability.

We hate to report this ridership calamity. We’re passionate supporters of SunRail and we’re very disappointed that #SaturdaySunRail was run into the ground.

Other passionate SunRail riders who follow this blog have written: “It’s as though they want SunRail to fail.” We think those riders are on to something.

With thoughtful planning and a consistent schedule – including an early train for people headed to work at Florida Hospital, Orlando Health, Orlando International Airport and other service-industry jobs -- #SaturdaySunRail could be a smashing success.

Instead we have a train wreck.

By the way, they plan to run #SaturdaySunRail this Saturday (Dec. 10) and on Saturday (Dec. 17). Tuesday morning an FDOT spokesman sent us a note explaining that for the next 2 Saturdays #SaturdaySunRail will be using last week's Saturday schedule. Click here to see that schedule

Good luck with that.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mayor misled public on #SaturdaySunRail service

Turns out that’s NOT true.

This week a SunRailRiders fan pointed out that this Saturday (Dec. 3) the last northbound train of the evening will depart from downtown Orlando before the ACC Football Championship football game at Camping World Stadium (Citrus Bowl) is likely to be over.

The game starts at 8 p.m. Fans have to catch a shuttle bus to and from the stadium, which is a couple of miles from SunRail. The last northbound SunRail train leaves downtown at 10:58 p.m. Saturday.

When the SunRail rider contacted SunRail, here’s the response he got:
"Thank you for contacting SunRail Customer Service and sharing your concerns. We regret to hear that the December 3, 2016 schedule does not meet your travel needs. SunRail on Saturdays is sponsored by our local government funding partners, business leaders and other community stakeholders which is a privately funded initiative. As such, the schedule for December 3, 2016, is centered around the specific sponsored events. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Then we contacted SunRail/FDOT to ask about Dyer’s promise the train would be delayed to accommodate riders.

Here’s FDOT’s response:

“One of the goals of this pilot program is to provide Saturday service to-and-from as many major events as possible. SunRail leadership and the program sponsors have worked to map out a service schedule that achieves that goal.

“That said, SunRail has a limited window in which trains can run, as well has how many days in a row crews can work. Generally speaking, the corridor window is approximately 5 a.m. until midnight. As far as crews and staffing go, extra Saturdays have them working six days in a row. If they work into Sunday, it would affect their availability for regular Monday service. 

“While college football games are date certain, times for major games are often set later based on TV coverage.

“In this instance, the conclusion of the ACC championship game will occur past SunRail’s available operating window for the corridor and staffing. We regret that the game and the train schedule are not able to line up exactly. It should be noted that fans still have the option of taking SunRail to the game via one of the downtown stations, if they wish…. We cannot speak for what the Mayor might have, or might not have, said.”


Don’t these people talk to each other?

The mayor is the chairman of the SunRail Commission. Now it turns out he doesn’t know what he’s talking about…

Making promises you can’t keep, and a complete disregard for customer service (possibly leaving hundreds of riders stranded downtown), is a great way to lose the public’s confidence and support.

If you’re taking SunRail to the ACC football game on Saturday, our advice is: Make sure your Uber or Lyft account is set up, because there’s a good chance you’ll need the ride-share services to get home.

This is another reason why we need funding for full-time SunRail service.

If you want SunRail service 7-days-a-week, hourly service during off-peak hours and late-night trains, please click here.