Hi everyone, HARTride 2012 here. I know I said that the 2014 Year-End Recap was going to be my final post for 2014. But I felt that I needed to convey something as soon as possible, while the “iron is still hot” so to speak. Anyways, we’re only hours away from kicking off the new year, and there’s going to be a lot at stake in 2015 when it comes to public transit in Florida. In particular, the SunRail Commuter Rail line in Orlando has reached a critical point in its young history. That critical point is the expansion of service that people throughout the Orlando metro area have been asking for.
Back in December, an announcement was made that a late-evening test train would begin service on the 22nd of that month, all in response to a petition that was signed by over 3,400 people, yeah…that’s a lot of signatures! So WAY TO GO! Yes, this is exactly what Orlando needs, more passenger rail service in the evening! This allows people to head out to see an Orlando Magic game, or have a nice evening out on the town with friends, all without having to worry about being stranded. Whatever the reason for staying late in downtown Orlando, now you have a way to get home that doesn’t have to involve your car.
Now, while this later evening train, which leaves DeBary at 9:05pm, arriving at Sand Lake Rd at 10:08pm, before departing northbound from Sand Lake at 10:20pm to arrive back at DeBary at 11:23pm, is great news, the momentum cannot stop here. We have to keep up the pressure on state and local leaders to not only make this trip permanent, but also usher in late night service that runs through 12-midnight, more frequency during the midday, and weekend services. The first and foremost way you can do just that, is by riding SunRail. If your destination lies within range of the SunRail corridor, you can easily leave your car at home, or park it at one of several suburban area park-n-ride lots, and use the train to reach a particular station of your choice. From there, you can easily connect to LYNX buses that will take you to most major destinations. From the DeBary station, you can connect to VoTran buses that will take you to nearby areas quickly and safely.
If you can’t ride SunRail regularly, that’s okay. Being that I’m in Tampa, I really can only use SunRail on occaision. However, I did get to use it during the fare-free week back in May of 2014, and I absolutely loved it! If I resided in Orlando, I would be using that train every chance I could…seriously…I would. But anyways, please, if you can’t ride SunRail regularly, tell your family members, friends, coworkers, and anyone else you know who could take advantage of SunRail, to use SunRail. The more regular riders we can get on board the train, especially the #NightTrain, the better! Because if the #NightTrain fails, it’s going to be so much harder to get service expanded…period.
Another way you can get involved is by attending meetings. On January 9, 2015, the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission – which oversees SunRail – will be meeting, and among the topics to be discussed are the #NightTrain, and the Ultimate I-4 project, the latter by which I will talk about in a moment. If you can attend this meeting, then please…do so! Every additional SunRail supporter that comes out to this meeting will make a huge difference in the path that the commission will take from that point onward. We have to show our elected officials that SunRail is a HUGE DEAL. I cannot stress this enough. If you want to attend the upcoming commission meeting, please take note of the information below:
Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission January Meeting
MetroPlan Orlando Office (Board Room)
315 East Robinson Street, Suite 355
Orlando, Florida 32801
Meeting runs from 10:00am until 12-noon
Information regarding special accommodations can be found through the MetroPlan Orlando website. Just select the meeting event on January 9 and a box will appear with the information needed.
Thank you to the wonderful folks at the SunRail Riders group for providing me with the venue information! This allowed me to obtain the time of the meeting from the MetroPlan Orlando website.
Now, you might ask, what does SunRail have to do with transit in Tampa Bay? Well, SunRail has A LOT to do with transit in Tampa Bay. Because here in Tampa Bay, we too have been fighting to get better transit for years. And here in Tampa Bay, we have to deal with the anti-tax group No Tax For Tracks. NTFT was formed in 2010 and is run by Tea Party insiders who clearly do not want our transit systems to be expanded and improved. Instead, they want to see transit systems CUT, SLASHED, and eventually PRIVATIZED. In other words, they want the private sector to handle our bus and rail services and want NO PUBLIC DOLLARS to ever be used for transit again. NTFT will stop at nothing to make sure that West Central Florida has at least as many toll roads as the Orlando metro area has. And, NTFT’s leader even supports the building of a sprawling tolled beltway in eastern Hillsborough County that will only cause more sprawl, and that’s something that the Tampa Bay area does not need.
Now where does SunRail fit into this equation? Well, SunRail is often used as one of many targets by NTFT when it comes to “wasteful spending”, as they see it. If for instance, the #NightTrain isn’t successful, NTFT will no doubt have more reasons to argue that SunRail is nothing more than a boondoggle that has wasted taxpayer dollars and must be shut down immediately. Now do we really want these Tea Party insiders to keep whining like this? The answer is…NO, WE DON’T. We need to show these out-of-touch insiders that transit really can be a success story. And this is our chance to do just that by riding the #NightTrain and showing your support for SunRail at the upcoming Commuter Rail Commission meeting. If we can ensure that SunRail is a successful service, then that will send a message to Tampa Bay that a commuter rail line can thrive over there as well!
So here’s the bottom line on this matter, and something to keep in mind while going through your New Year’s plans. What happens in the Orlando area will have a substantial impact on other metro areas throughout Florida, including Tampa Bay and Miami. Miami’s Tri-Rail, which is considered to be SunRail’s big brother, has plans of its own for eventual expansion. If SunRail is a success, you can expect that service on TriRail will grow as well. And, as I mentioned, it could also pave the way for commuter rail lines in Tampa Bay, and even in Jacksonville. I believe Jacksonville also has passenger rail plans on the table.
Okay, so I mentioned the Ultimate I-4 project a bit ago, so let me go into more detail. For those who aren’t aware, the Ultimate I-4 project is a radical reconstruction project that will revamp interchanges and add lanes to the busy and congested thoroughfare. A key reason why SunRail was built, is to provide an alternative to the congestion on I-4. The Ultimate I-4 project will begin this upcoming
January February. Yes, that’s right, January February , 2015, we are only weeks away from groundbreaking. And…the project is expected to continue through 2021. That’s about six years of construction, which equates to six years of traffic headaches.
Even when the project is finished, will the congestion really end there? No, it won’t. And on top of that, the project introduces Tolled Express Lanes, which has really been gaining steam throughout the entire state, and the nation for that matter. My question to all those who support Tolled Express Lanes is this…do you really want to pay $5, $6, $7, $8, even $9 or $10, or even more…one-way…just to escape the morning gridlock? Think about it…the costs of maintaining your car, plus gas, plus tolls and parking.
Now even though the price of gas has gone down, your maintenance costs, as well as the overall costs of tolls, will likely not go down. And…it only takes one economic hiccup for gas prices to skyrocket again. Is that what you want to deal with for your daily commute? Why spend money each month on car maintenance, gas, tolls, and parking, when you can easily purchase a SunCard? A SunCard with a monthly travel plan costs far less than all of those expenses combined in a month’s time. You can also add funds to your SunCard just like you would a store gift card or a PrePaid Debit card.
For those of you who can easily take advantage of one of SunRail’s park-n-ride lots, that means less gas consumption, which in-turn means less money used on gas, and eventually vehicle maintenance. It also means money saved on tolls and parking, because SunRail’s park-n-ride lots are free of charge! Think about it? Calculate how much you spend monthly on gas, car maintenance, parking, and tolls. Then compare those costs to how much you would pay if you purchased a SunCard with a monthly travel plan. I think you will quickly see how much money you’ll save by using SunRail.
With all of this said, I want to give a HUGE thank you to the SunRail Riders group. They have been leading the charge in advocating more service on the line, including the #NightTrain test. In fact, the SunRail Riders are the ones that organized the petition by which over 3,400 people signed. Without them, I really don’t know where SunRail would be right now. We all need to join the SunRail Riders in lending support for the train and making it clear that we need more service, including midday, late evening, and weekend services. We also need to make sure that we send a clear message to all those who want SunRail to fail, including the various Tea Party insiders. We need to keep telling them that SunRail will be a success story, not a huge flop like they want it to be. Expanding service on SunRail will do exactly that, and we need everyone to play their part in supporting SunRail, whether it is riding the rails, or at the very least…informing those you know to use the service, and attending meetings.
To close, it’s not just the SunRail Riders that are counting on your support for SunRail, I…HARTride 2012, am counting on your support too. Because together, we can all make a huge difference in the path that Metro Orlando takes when it comes to public transit.
Thank you, and have a safe and wonderful New Year!