Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy birthday SunRail - what happened?

Happy birthday, SunRail!

We had such high expectations for you when passenger service started May 1, 2014.

Those first couple of weeks of free service were crazy.

The trains were absolutely packed. Operators had to add trains to satisfy the demand.

Even after SunRail started requiring riders to pay the usage remained high, as people throughout the region realized how they could use SunRail for day trips to Winter Park’s trendy Park Avenue.

But then reality set in, and ridership slumped.

Even though there have been some recent ridership upticks, small upticks SunRail has settled into life as a bit of a disappointment. Fewer than 2,000 people use the system daily, even though planners predicted 4,600 boardings daily.

We’re rabid SunRail fans, but we would be lying if we didn’t say the ridership remains disappointing despite a fortune spend on consultants who are supposed to be getting more riders. During a SunRail meeting about a year ago a consultant said there are roughly 25,000 people living along the track corridor who could be using the train.

Despite the nightmarish driving conditions on Interstate 4, it’s understandable that more people don’t use the train.

SunRail is the most inconvenient passenger train in the country.

If you live in Seminole or Volusia counties and you work Monday to Friday bankers’ hours in downtown Orlando, SunRail works great.

If you’re a caregiver at Florida Hospital or at Orlando Regional Medical Center – two of the region’s biggest employers – you’re out of gas. The train schedule, doesn’t align with the real-world work schedules for many hospital staffers.

If you’re in the hospitality or service industries with a non-traditional schedule that includes late-night hours and weekends – you’re out of gas.

If you want to take the train down from Winter Park to attend events at downtown Orlando’s Amway Center, the new soccer stadium, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts or at Loch Haven Park cultural venues – you’re out of gas.

If you need to take the train to an appointment during the middle of the day – you’re out of gas. There are 2 ½-hour service gaps during the day.

We don’t know what our community’s leaders were thinking when they planned for a Monday to Friday public transit system. Worse yet, after three years they have no real plan of how to fix it.

We have got to improve the SunRail ridership with a sensible schedule or our train system will be out of gas.

Happy birthday!

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