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.

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