Monday, January 28, 2019

Local officials have no idea of how they will run SunRail in 2 years

Central Florida governments have no plan for how they will run SunRail when the Florida Department of Transportation steps away from that responsibility in 2 years.

Under the agreement that launched SunRail, FDOT is managing and financing the railroad until 2021. Then management of SunRail becomes the job of the local funding partners – Orange, Volusia, Seminole and Osceola counties and the city of Orlando.

Mind you, SunRail was approved in 2011. Everyone knew this day was coming, yet the SunRail Commission – local-elected officials who represent the funding partners – have spent years fiddle-faddling around.

2021 is right around the corner and there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency. Consider, for example, the SunRail Commission meets on a quarterly basis – the next meeting is this Thursday (Jan. 31).

Can the commission really afford to meet only 4 times a year when there is so much that needs to be accomplished, such as figuring out how the local governments will pay to operate and grow SunRail?

The commission also needs to figure out how to provide the level of service residents have been clamoring for – weekend and late-night trains and rail connections to DeLand and Orlando International Airport.

It costs roughly $40 million a year to operate SunRail. Last year SunRail collected roughly $8 million through the fare box, federal grants, and fees paid by Amtrak and other railroads that use SunRail tracks.

The local governments need to agree on a reliable dedicated funding source to fill the funding gap.

In addition, SunRail and Lynx need to be merged into a single public transit agency for the sake of improved service and efficiency. Consolidating SunRail and Lynx into a single agency likely requires state legislation – and nothing in Tallahassee happens quickly.

About a year ago, the SunRail Commission approved a working group that hired consultants to study the future management of SunRail, but everything is moving in slow motion. Time to stop studying and start doing.

If you ride SunRail and you care about its future, you should be worried. SunRail and the calendar wait for no one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Forget about taking SunRail to the Pro Bowl

Hey sports fans, were you looking forward to avoiding traffic congestion and exorbitant parking fees on Sunday (1/27) by riding SunRail to downtown Orlando for the Pro Bowl?

Well, you’re out of luck.

Here’s the scoop from a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation that manages SunRail:

“SunRail is not running a train for this year’s Pro Bowl. The cost for last year’s initiative was covered by Bombardier (the contractor that operates the train).

“Ridership last year was 1,877. This year, the SunRail team is working with Bombardier on longer-term opportunities such as the special southern train at 10:30 p.m. on Magic game nights, extending into April. We are also looking at other opportunities as well.

Kissimmee SunRail riders get a boost

Starting Monday (1/28) public transit in Kissimmee will get a big boost.

That’s when Lynx’s Kissimmee Circulator -- also known as Link 709 -- begins service at the Kissimmee SunRail station.

This mini-bus was launched to make it easier for people to get to popular destinations in Kissimmee’s downtown core.

The service, which will run from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, will link the intermodal transit station with the Osceola County Courthouse and administrative center with Kissimmee City Hall, Osceola Regional Medical Center, Florida Hospital Kissimmee.

Until now, it’s been a pretty good hike between the intermodal station – which serves passengers from SunRail, Lynx, Amtrak, and Greyhound -- and the county courthouse.

The Kissimmee Connector will travel on Dakin Street, Lakeview Drive, Emmett Street, Church Street, Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, Oak Street, Central Avenue, and Main Street.

For the first 6 months of service, people will be able to ride the 12-passenger mini-bus for free.

See you on The Connector.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ride SunRail for a night on the town!

Sometimes you just have to ride SunRail for fun.

Thursday, Jan. 31, is one of those days.

On that evening, Florida Daycations and Events is hosting an Art Along Broadway event in Kissimmee. For tickets and more information on that event, CLICK HERE.

SunRailRiders is collaborating with Florida Daycations and Events to encourage people to use SunRail to enjoy destinations along the SunRail corridor that connects Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties.

Florida Vacations and Events, led by Brenda Cioe, packages a variety of fun activities throughout Central Florida.

Granted, we’re all frustrated that SunRail doesn’t run on the weekends or late at night. But you will be delighted to see some of the Daycations that Brenda will be rolling out over the next few months.

Some of those events will be during the day, which is perfect for stay-at-home moms, retirees, snowbirds, tourists and people who have days off during the week, such as hospital caregivers; public safety officers/firefighters and airline professionals.

Others, such as the event on Jan. 31, will be held in the evening. These are ideal for folks who work a regular 9 to 5 to come out after quitting time to have some fun and then ride SunRail back to their home station.

On the evening of Jan. 31, the event will be held in Kissimmee and includes shows, music, food and fun and a display of Art Along Broadway. As the event organizer, Brenda has packaged the entire experience for $23- per-person (excluding the SunRail Ticket as many of you are departing from various stations).

This is a great opportunity for many people who say they have never had an opportunity to ride SunRail.

Come on, you know that every now and then it’s fun to stay out late on a school night!

See you on The Rail.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Why is there such a disconnect between Lynx and SunRail?

We just saw a glaring example of the disconnect between the Lynx bus and SunRail on Martin Luther King Day (1/21).

We watched Lynx buses continue to stop at the Sand Lake Road SunRail station on Monday even though SunRail was shut down for the MLK holiday.

It would be easy to gig Lynx and say: How come they didn’t tell their drivers not to stop at SunRail stations on the holiday? This time we must give Lynx a pass.

Don’t give us that jazz about: It’s a federal holiday and everybody has the day off.

Everyone is not off from work. Many people who work in the service/hospitality industry are not off on federal holidays.

Let’s not forget all the people who work at area hospitals and Orlando International Airport. They use SunRail. Many of them are not off on MLK Day, on other holidays, or weekends. They have told us that when SunRail isn’t running their travel time to and from work increases by an hour or more.

SunRail is public transit. Put an emphasis on “public”.

SunRail should not be a “boutique” train only serving the schedule of “suits” riding in from the suburbs to work in downtown Orlando’s glass towers.

SunRail needs to be a full-service train that runs 365-days a year. Nothing less is acceptable.

SunRail needs to take a lesson from Lynx and step up its game.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Once again SunRail insults the memory of Dr. King

It is a disgrace that SunRail will not be operating on the Monday (1/21), the national observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Dr. King came to national prominence as a public transit activist in 1955, when he helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

For more than a year, hundreds of black people in Montgomery didn't ride the buses because they refused to sit in the back. In 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. where he went to support sanitation workers who were striking to protest dangerous working conditions and poor pay.

Dr. King was a champion for working people, poor people – the very same people who get screwed when SunRail is not running. SunRail is not a theme park ride, it's public transportation that real people depend on.

The MLK Holiday is a bank holiday and a holiday for federal workers (let’s not even get into that). Most other people, especially hourly workers and those who work in the service and hospitality industry must work on that holiday.

Many people who use SunRail -- especially those who do not own cars -- say an hour or more is added to their travel time when the train is not running. So how the heck can SunRail honor MLK while screwing working people? It’s cynical. (The Lynx bus will be running.)

We raised this concern several times in the past, including earlier this month at the SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting. SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori, who came to her present role long after the schedule was established, said she would find out why MLK Day was a SunRail holiday.

Her interest and concern are deeply appreciated. It’s time for SunRail to provide the community with the level of service we need and deserve.

Sadly, we won’t see you on The Rail on the MLK holiday because the train won’t be running.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Wi-fi problems on SunRail?

Had problems with the free wi-fi on SunRail?

You’re not alone. We’ve heard several complaints about the wi-fi system not working, or people having a difficult time connecting.

A member of the SunRail Customer Advisory Committee asked about wi-fi issues during a recent committee meeting.

SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori acknowledged there have been issues with the wi-fi that they have called to the attention of the company that provides that service.

In addition, Ms. Liquori said they have been considering retaining another company to provide that service.

Free wi-fi has always been one of the cool things about SunRail. You can get work done on your way to work, or on your way home, or just spend time Facebooking on the train.

Hopefully, this will be resolved sooner, rather than later.

See you on wi-fi and The Rail!

Friday, January 11, 2019

SunRail could be headed for a financial wreck

SunRail riders should be alarmed by the recent TV news report about the $21 million deficit facing the Lynx public bus system that serves Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties.

In 2 years SunRail will likely be facing the same deficit jam. In 2021 the Florida Department of Transportation turns over the financing and management of the rail system to Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Volusia counties.

As you’re reading this article, there is no plan for how those local entities will run the railroad.

One of the main reasons Lynx is in a jam is because it has no dedicated funding source to subsidize its operating costs.

It costs roughly $40 million a year to operate SunRail.

Last year SunRail collected about $8 million from riders’ fares and other sources, such as grants, fees paid by Amtrak and other railroads that use the SunRail tracks. Right now, FDOT is picking up the difference.

In 2021 the difference between the income and expenses becomes a local responsibility. Most public transit systems around the country rely on a dedicated local funding source to pay that difference. Central Florida does not have such a fund for SunRail, or Lynx.

A dedicated funding source could be a penny sales tax; a surcharge on rental cars (Orlando is the nation’s largest rental-car market), or a slice of the expressway authority tolls.

No public transit system can support its operations solely from the fare box. Typically, a public transit system can get about 30 percent of its operating money from the fare box.

It is the responsibility of our elected officials to provide that funding source to subsidize our public transit. Politicians don’t want to touch it because they don’t want to be blamed for a tax.

Let’s not forget that all transportation -- from the airlines to the street outside your house -- is supported by taxpayer subsidies.

Public transit is a service just like the police and fire departments, which are also expensive to run. Unlike police and fire, public transit does generate some income through the fare box.

SunRail is an amazing community asset that has not come close to meeting its full potential with weekend, late-night and airport service.

We need a strong SunRail. Indeed, we need a strong Lynx bus system – as Lynx helps many SunRail riders connect with their train stations. Anyone who drives knows we need more transportation options because our local roads have exceeded their capacity.

Public transit in Central Florida will not survive unless we come up with a dedicated funding source.

Time is running out.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Why isn't there a fast way to reach Disney with SunRail?

Our bad!

Later we learned the bus ride from the Kissimmee Intermodal Station (used by SunRail and Lynx) to Disney could take an hour or more. In a car, that same ride would take 30 minutes give or take -- depending on the time of day and the traffic.

The Link 56 bus uses U.S. Highway 192 and makes stops so you can see why the trip takes so long.

It would be much quicker if Lynx ran an express bus straight from the Tupperware SunRail station down Osceola Parkway to Disney. That trip takes 20 minutes or less.

Lynx has said it has considered such a route, but that has not been included in the bus service changes that go into effect this month.

People need the bus service now, not some time in the future.

That’s why we’re asking people to CLICK HERE to sign a petition to launch a Lynx express bus connecting SunRail to Disney.

This bus service would boost the ridership of Lynx and SunRail.