Thursday, May 31, 2018

Osceola residents may get to ride SunRail for free

New SunRail riders in Osceola and some from Orange County may get to ride for free when the train service is expanded southbound in late July.

Osceola Commission Viviana Janer, who also serves as chair of the SunRail Commission, raised that topic Thursday (May 31) during the train commission meeting.

The idea had been discussed briefly in other SunRail meetings. Ms. Janer pressed SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori for a decision on whether residents who live near the new SunRail stations will get an opportunity to ride the train for free. Back in 2014, when SunRail launched the train system, people rode for free for several days.

1st-day riders in 2014
Ms. Liquori responded that by the second week of June she will decide whether to allow free rides for passengers boarding at the new stations.

There’s a lot to weigh in making that decision. People who live on SunRail’s new southern leg understandably want to get the same treatment extended to those who live on SunRail’s first leg. The tricky part is how to do that without giving all SunRail customers a free ride.

Back in 2014 when the train launched so many people decided to check out SunRail that the system was overwhelmed with up to 10,000 people daily joyriding as though they were checking out a new attraction at Universal or Disney. Trains were so packed the schedule went out the window.

As a reminder, the SunRail service is being extended to stations in Meadow Woods in south Orange County, and Tupperware/Osceola Parkway, downtown Kissimmee, and Poinciana in Osceola County.

See you on The Rail!

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Check out SunRail's new schedule

SunRail announced its new train schedule.

The schedule will go into effect this summer when SunRail begins service to its southern extension.

At the end of July SunRail will start serving four new stations – Meadow Woods in south Orange County and Tupperware, Kissimmee and Poinciana in Osceola County.

The schedule change was made to integrate the four new stations into the system and to make the train more convenient for the caregivers at Florida Hospital and Orlando Health – two of the region’s largest employers. Officials have been disappointed with the ridership at those two stations. The caregivers said the existing schedule doesn’t coincide with their real-world shift changes.

While it’s possible there could be a last-minute adjustment or two, here’s os the schedule that was presented on Thursday (May 31st) to the elected who sit on the SunRail Commission:  (Click schedule to enlarge)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

How to take SunRail to Disney

At least 3 or 4 times every month someone asks us if it’s possible to take SunRail to Disney.

Until now the answer has been NO.

However, at the end of July when SunRail starts serving Osceola County, the answer will become – sort of.

Then riders will be able to take SunRail to the Kissimmee Intermodal Station where they can transfer to the Lynx bus to ride Link 56 to the transportation and ticket center at the Magic Kingdom. Don’t forget you get a free transfer from the SunRail train to the Lynx bus.

Granted this trip isn’t as seamless as getting off the Monorail at the Magic Kingdom but it is a noteworthy improvement.

A Lynx manager told us it’s not out of the question that one day Lynx might consider a bus that would run from the Tupperware SunRail station down Osceola Parkway – a straight shot into Mouse World.
Link 56 to the Magic Kingdom

The Kissimmee station connection news is good for Mickey Mouse fans, and for thousands of Disney employees who fight traffic every day on I-4 and other thoroughfares on their way to work. (No, the employees don’t live under Cinderella’s Castle!)

The downside for Disney fans and workers is that SunRail does not run on weekends, bank holidays and late at night. You can help change that by clicking here to sign a petition to extend SunRail service to Orlando International Airport. Once SunRail connects to the airport, the train will have to offer weekend service and trains later into the night.

See you on The Rail!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sign your name to connect SunRail to the airport

Have you signed the petition supporting the proposal to SunRail to Orlando International Airport?

What are you waiting for?

Local officials have explained that the airport connection is critical to make SunRail a full-service train system.

Once SunRail is connected to the airport they will have to run the trains on weekends, more frequently and later at night.

By signing this petition, you are achieving two important goals:
·        You will make trips to the airport much more convenient and hassle-free. Imagine how many cars this could take off the roads.
·        You will make SunRail much more useful to everyone from those going to work, as well as folks going out to play at night.

Full-service SunRail creates a universe of new opportunities for employment, education, and businesses large and small.

A few weeks back we told you that we need to make our voices heard to make SunRail more useful and convenient.

Right now, you have an opportunity speak up.

All you need to do is click here and add your name to the petition.

Friday, May 4, 2018

New SunRail schedule includes good news for Magic fans

Good news Orlando Magic fans!

It looks like during the next season many of you will be able to take SunRail to weeknight games in downtown Orlando and back home after the games. Fans can thank SunRail’s southern expansion to Poinciana.

As Magic fans know, the present SunRail schedule only works one way – to the game -- because the last northbound train leaves downtown’s Church Street station at 9:25 p.m. (The way the Magic plays, leaving the game early may not be a bad thing.)

SunRail’s tentative new schedule proposes that the last northbound train will leave Church Street after 10 p.m.

SunRail managers have been reworking the schedule to include service to the new Meadow Woods, Osceola Parkway/Tupperware, Kissimmee and Poinciana stations. Two more train roundtrips are being added to serve the longer train route.

One of SunRail’s major priorities has been to better accommodate the real-world schedules of the staff and caregivers at Florida Hospital and Orlando Health hospitals. Even though those hospitals are two of the region’s largest employers – ridership at those stations has been disappointingly low because of shortcomings in the current schedule. Last year SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori pledged to use the opportunity of service expansion to improve the schedule and ridership.

The tentative schedule was discussed briefly at this week’s SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting. While Ms. Liquori and her team won’t be able to change water to wine, one of the positive developments appears to be a later departure time for the last northbound SunRail train. They plan to present the new schedule very soon.

This later service will not only benefit Magic fans but also date night for some couples. Magic fans headed southbound after the game still will be out of luck, though.

And no, there is no new weekend service. Remember, Ms. Liquori is limited by the budget she has been provided for Monday to Friday service. Any weekend service needs to be sponsored – either businesses or local government.

During a recent interview, Osceola Commissioner Viviana Janer, who also chairs the SunRail Commission, explained what it will take to get weekend service. Click here for that explanation.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Happy anniversary SunRail!

May 1, 2014, seems like such a long time ago.  After a disappointing second day of SunRail, I emailed my local leader in Volusia County, Pat Northey, about how poorly the SunRail service was planned and executed.  She urged me not to give up on it, and I stuck it out.  Over the next month, I frequently emailed her about my frustration with the service.  Finally, she emailed me back and told me that she had the perfect job for me.  She neglected to mention the pay for the job, which I later found out to be zero. 
Ceremony launching SunRail

Approximately one year later, I became the inaugural chairman of SunRail’s Customer Advisory Committee, a role which I stayed for an extra term because the other members were also busy professionals who were smart enough to realize that our committee seems to be a giant exercise in futility.

David Porter from requested at our last meeting that I put together my thoughts about where we are four years later, and I gladly accepted.  The big problem is, what is there to write about that hasn’t been covered by David over and over again.

I thought of writing about all the inefficiencies and shortcomings of SunRail over the last four years.  But I’m not going to do that.  I’m not going to tell you about the disappointing leadership (to put it kindly) of SunRail’s management 1.0, who are almost all gone now.  I also won’t write about the lack of support from State, Federal and local leaders, including our governor that choke the otherwise outstanding potential of Nicola Liquori and SunRail Management 2.0.  

I’m not going to write about the prior culture of big vendor giveaways and poor contract negotiations that put us in the position of being a system that serves the vendors better than its riders, or the unfavorable deals that could have been avoided, had we hired someone from a similar system as a consultant.

I won’t be writing about a system that uses a ticket collection system that costs more than it brings in revenue, or a really, really lousy schedule that serves us during such a narrow window that it can never grow ridership and only serves the “suits,” a word that I was mocked for using during a Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission. 
Finally, I won’t write about how unfair it is that most of the members of the community who would love to ride this system to an event in Orlando, or dinner in Winter Park will never have the opportunity to ride because we didn’t have the foresight to run our rail system on the weekends.

No…  I’m not going to dwell on the system’s many weaknesses.  We can fix all of the issues with SunRail before time runs out and our local leaders pull the plug.  Hopefully, our leaders will come to their senses and realize that the interlocal governance agreement needs to go, and with it, the shell game of who to look to fix the broken system.

It has been my pleasure to serve the riders of SunRail.  I would encourage anyone who is reading this to volunteer to be a part of this committee – and more than that - be a very annoying and vocal member who demands change.  Things will never change unless we demand it, and when we speak the truth enough times, eventually it is heard.

With that, I am imparting a list of things that need to occur if we expect this system to be its best and continue after the state funding period:

1.      Put the needs of riders over the greed of vendors by negotiating and re-negotiating agreements that are favorable to the public, not your vendors.  If you need help, take a look at the Albuquerque Rail Runner agreements.  Hire consultants from larger rail systems, if necessary.

2.      Fix your lousy schedule and run trains a minimum of no less than every hour from 5 a.m. to 12 am.

3.      Make your Commuter Rail commissioners elected officials that we can hold accountable for their actions or inaction.

4.      Run a limited schedule on weekends for the benefit of community members who do not have the luxury of working near the corridor.

5.      Credit your pass holding riders for days that you do not operate or days you have significant delays and run special non scheduled relief trains when you have delays.

6.      Get rid of the clunky ticketing system that costs more to operate than it brings in revenue.

7.      Communicate quickly, honestly, and openly with customers and conduct town hall meetings to assess community needs.

8.      Establish an interlocal police agency to handle corridor incidences that prioritize transportation over minor traffic incidents.

9.      Fix the Church Street / South Street station bifurcation before someone is killed at the crossing.

10.    Revise your governance agreement to streamline the implementation of changes to the system.

Happy Anniversary SunRail!  May you long survive the mistakes of those who planned you.

By Jeffery Morris