Thursday, November 15, 2018

What's next for SunRail with Gov. DeSantis?

If you ride SunRail and grasps its potential to boost the local economy and ease traffic, then the question you should be asking yourself is: What’s next?

Now that the ballot counting is pretty much over, Ron DeSantis will become Florida’s next governor. DeSantis has minced no words expressing his disdain for rail as a transportation option in Florida.

In an interview with a television reporter during the campaign DeSantis, a former Congressman who represented part of Volusia County, which is served by SunRail said, “I’m skeptical of some of the ideas that we’re going to create some big train and everyone will be happy.

That attitude doesn’t bode well for SunRail, which depends on money through the Florida Department of Transportation to fund operations through 2021.
In just 2 years it will be up to the local funding partners – Volusia, Seminole, Orange, Osceola counties and the city of Orlando to fork over about $30 million to continue SunRail operations.

Florida Department of Transportation executives currently manages SunRail, with advisory oversight from the SunRail Commission -- local elected officials from Volusia, Seminole, Orange, Osceola counties and the city of Orlando.

Contrary to what some may think, SunRail can’t pay its operating costs solely with revenue from the fare box. No public transit system in the world can pay for operations solely from the fare box. Typically, a transit system can pay about 30 percent of the costs from fares. Beyond that, they need government support.

Are the local governments prepared to take over the management of SunRail?

Not yet, but during the past year, the SunRail Commission started working on a transition plan.

At the last couple of commission meetings, however, there has been discussion and some sharp words over changes needed in the local operating agreement that stipulates – among other things – what each local government would pay.

Until this past summer, SunRail’s ridership has been disappointing. Things changed in late July when SunRail extended train service down to Poinciana in Osceola County. That expansion increased ridership by almost 2,000 – up to 5,300.

Anyone who drives knows that our roads have reached the crisis point, regardless of whether you’re in downtown Orlando or in DeBary. Improved public transit won’t end traffic jams, but it offers an alternative to driving.

People who ride SunRail say they arrive at work relaxed and save thousands of dollars in car repairs and other expenses.

Despite naysayers, SunRail has been a great investment because it has spawned more than $1 billion in Transportation Oriented Development near SunRail stations. Those developments range from apartment communities to new workplaces.

There’s another $1 billion in investment in the development pipeline. People want to live and work near transportation.

There’s much work that still needs to be done for SunRail reach its full potential. That includes:
·        Adding weekend train service. Riders have been begging for weekend and late-night service since SunRail launched. But SunRail currently does not have money in its budget to meet that demand.
·        Creating a dedicated funding source – such as a surtax on rental cars -- to provide the money SunRail and Lynx need to provide prompt and convenient public transit.
·        Merging SunRail and Lynx into a single regional transportation agency to improve coordination and make better use of resources.
·        Connecting SunRail to Orlando International Airport. It’s estimated that such a rail connection would cost around $200 million. Until now, locals hoped they might get some of that money from the federal government. However, the Trump administration is unlikely to provide help.
·        Extending SunRail service to DeLand in Volusia County – as pledged in SunRail’s original plan. However, just like to airport, it’s unlikely the Trump or DeSantis administration would be much help.

The long-term fate of SunRail rests with our local elected officials, not with Tallahassee or Washington.

Central Florida needs to pull up its big-boy pants and git ‘er done.

During the past 30 years, Central Florida’s local political and business leaders found the resources and will to build two basketball arenas, a performing arts center, a soccer stadium; expand and improve Camping World Stadium, the Orange County Convention Center and the University of Central Florida.

Isn’t about time those leaders did something that will benefit average people?

Central Florida deserves a public transit system that works. Let’s get to work!

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