Friday, December 9, 2016

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.

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