Summer Service Changes – PSTA, HART, LYNX, SunRail, Votran

This post was last updated on 06/19/2018
More information has been released regarding the upcoming service changes for LYNX, SunRail, & Votran

It’s that time again…service changes, service changes, service changes!

In this post, I will outline some of the key changes that are coming to the following transit agencies: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (d.b.a. LYNX), SunRail Commuter Rail, & Volusia County Transit (Votran).

Please note that with some of the agencies, further detailed information may not be available immediately as of this posting. Updates will be made when that information becomes available. This post is meant to present a general level overview of some of the key changes that will be enacted during the course of the next two months.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA)

PSTA is enacting several map/scheduling/time point changes on Sunday, June 17, 2018, which can be viewed on the PSTA website. The most significant changes however will take place the following day, Monday, June 18, 2018 – when Routes 100X & 300X will be officially re-launched as extended versions of their current selves. This will allow both routes to each serve a key area in the Tampa Bay region that wasn’t previously served by a PSTA express bus route.

  • Route 100X – St. Petersburg/Gateway/Tampa Express: Thanks to additional Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Urban Corridor Project funding, the 100X will be extended southward to serve Downtown St. Petersburg via Interstate 275. All existing points (Gateway Mall, Britton Plaza in South Tampa, and Downtown Tampa) will continue to be served as they are today, with the limited trips to the Fidelity National (FIS) complex on Roosevelt Blvd & 16th Ct N being kept. The overall span of service within the existing route will largely remain the same, but adjustments to the schedule have been made to account for the Downtown St. Petersburg leg, thus creating an expansion to the overall span of service when the extension is accounted for.
    • The redesigned Route 100X will continue to operate Monday through Friday only, but will have a peak-hour frequency of roughly every 45 to 50 minutes, instead of the current 30 to 60 minute frequency. The midday trips have also been re-timed.
    • Buses will originate in Downtown St. Pete, at The Pier District (2nd Ave N, just east of the Sundial Shoppes where the Central Ave Trolley terminates), with the first trip of the morning departing at 4:42am.
    • From The Pier District, buses will circulate through the downtown area – serving all designated bus stops along the way – before entering the interstate system via I-375. Buses will then exit I-375 and enter I-275 north, then exiting at 54th Ave N.
    • From 54th Ave N, southbound/westbound buses travel along MLK St N while northbound/eastbound buses use 4th St N to enter/exit Gateway Mall.
    • From Gateway Mall eastward, the existing routing is used. The last trip from downtown St. Pete will be at 5:42pm.
  • Route 300X – Gateway/TPA Airport/Tampa Express (re-branded as the “Airport Express”): With the opening of the bus transfer hub at Tampa International Airport’s Rental Car Center, PSTA began formulating plans to alter Route 300X service while longer term plans for a direct express route from Clearwater Beach to Tampa continue to materialize. FDOT Urban Corridor funding will allow for the 300X to serve the TPA Airport Bus Hub on most trips while maintaining hourly peak service & the limited midday trips. Two trips (one AM eastbound & one PM westbound) will be kept as direct trips between the Ulmerton Rd Park-N-Ride Lot & Downtown Tampa via I-275. The overall span of service will remain largely the same – with a slightly earlier start time & somewhat later end time.
    • The redesigned Route 300X will continue to operate Monday through Friday only, with peak frequency changing to operate hourly versus the existing schedule. The midday trips have also been re-timed.
    • Buses will continue to originate at the Ulmerton Rd Park-N-Ride Lot on Ulmerton Rd, just east of Starkey Rd. The only major routing change is that most trips will now serve the TPA Airport Bus Hub, where customers from Pinellas can easily transfer to HART Routes 30, 32, 35, 60LX, & 275LX. Future plans also include Pasco Transit launching its own express route from central Pasco County to the bus hub.
    • The first eastbound trip of the morning will be at 6:10am, with the last trip being 6:20pm.
    • Only the 7:00AM Eastbound trip from the Ulmerton Rd Park-N-Ride Lot & the 4:55PM Westbound trip from HART’s Marion Transit Center will skip the airport. These trips will travel between Downtown Tampa and the Gateway area directly. These trips are being retained as direct trips to/from Downtown Tampa due to concerns from customers who use the existing 300X during the height of rush hour to get to/from work.
  • Other Changes: Minor map/scheduling/time point changes will be made to Routes 5, 7, 14, 15, 16, 20, 68, & the Dunedin/Palm Harbor Flex Connector (Route 813).

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)

HART will be enacting similar changes to some of its bus routes on Sunday, July 1, 2018, which can be viewed on the HART website (Select the Routes drop-down menu and scroll to the “HART Service Changes – Effective 71/18” section to view maps and schedules). The most significant changes will include the replacement of Route 51LX with Route 275LX, the addition of Route 48 – which restores service to key areas of northeastern Hillsborough that was lost when Route 57 was eliminated in October, 2017, and the elimination of the Downtown Tampa In-Towner Trolley Services due to ultra-low ridership.

  • Route 14 – Armenia Ave: Weekday service will be completely re-timed to reflect traffic patterns during the day. Buses will now depart roughly every 30 to 35 minutes. Weekend frequency will remain unchanged.
  • Route 48 – Temple Terrace: One of the biggest complaints by far that I’ve seen since the Mission MAX system restructuring was implemented back in October of 2017 was the elimination of Route 57 through Temple Terrace. The 57 was eliminated due to lower ridership & high upkeep costs, but many residents complained that they were left with no avenue to get to work or other destinations in Hillsborough without the route in place. While these residents clamored for HART to revive the 57, the route in its previous form was not going to return due to certain areas having ultra-low ridership levels. However, talks for a replacement service to serve key areas where residents were left with no service begin gaining traction during the late winter of 2017, when Hillsborough County officials began discussing the possibility of additional funding for the transit system. While a recurring funding arrangement failed to be reached, a one-time infusion was agreed upon to provide additional funds for service maintenance and expansion through FY 2018.
    • The routing for the 48 will be similar to how the 57 operated, with buses originating at the NetPark Transfer Center on 56th St & Harney Rd. Buses will leave the transfer center going south on 56th to Harney Rd, then 78th St, Temple Terrace Hwy, Davis Rd, Morris Bridge Rd, and then Fowler Ave. The previous segment of the 57 along 56th St and Fletcher Ave will not be served by the 48 due to the 6 already serving those areas. 42nd St & Skipper Rd just north of the USF Tampa campus will also not be served by the 48. Buses will instead continue down Fowler Ave to 30th St, where they will connect to the University Area Transit Center.
    • Service will run hourly, with weekday service starting at 5:30AM & running through 9:30PM. Weekend service will pretty much mirror the weekday schedule.
  • Routes 51LX/275LX: Due to the continuing decline in ridership of Route 51LX, which runs from Pasco County to Downtown Tampa via Temple Terrace, HART will be eliminating the route entirely & replacing East Pasco to Downtown Tampa Limited Express service with Route 275LX. The 275LX will operate all week long instead of just during weekday peak hours with hourly frequency, plus service to Tampa International Airport. The agency is re-allocating its funds through the FDOT Urban Corridor Project to fund the 275LX service.
    • With the 275LX, buses will originate at the Wiregrass Park-N-Ride Lot in Wesley Chapel, then travel down Bruce B. Downs Blvd to the Lowe’s Park-N-Ride Lot near I-75 in Tampa Palms. From there, buses will make a stop at the University Area Transit Center via Bruce B. Downs Blvd, then to Downtown Tampa & the Marion Transit Center via Fowler Ave & I-275. The segment along Bruce B. Downs Blvd & Fowler Ave will essentially restore basic service to areas along these corridors that were lost when Route 45 was re-aligned & Route 57 was eliminated back in October, 2017.
    • From the Marion Transit Center, buses will re-enter I-275 and terminate at the Tampa International Airport Bus Hub at the Rental Car Center, with departures synchronizing with Route 60LX so that customers traveling between the airport & downtown can enjoy a roughly 30 minute headway. Service on the 275LX itself will be hourly, with service starting up at approximately 5:10AM & running through about 10:00PM. Two trips will originate at the Marion Transit Center going to Tampa International Airport & the other two will originate at the University Area Transit Center going to Wiregrass. In the evening, trips will stagger to end at either transit center between 9:50PM & 11:00PM. Weekend schedules will basically mirror the weekday schedule.
  • In-Towner Services: Due to the continuing decline in ridership, Routes 96 & 97 will be eliminated. Customers wishing to traverse through Downtown Tampa can utilize Routes 1, 8, or 19, with Routes 1 & 19 serving western Downtown & the Riverfront, & Route 8 serving eastern Downtown & the Channelside District. Customers can also use the Downtowner free shuttle service provided by the Tampa-Downtown Partnership. Talks are currently underway as to the possibility of the partnership transferring operation of the shuttle service to HART.
  • HyperLINK Service: Despite the initial success of the HyperLINK ride-share type program, various factors – including whether there would be future commitments to run the service by private sector vendors – have prompted HART to end the service. Service in all zones will wind down on July 31, 2018.
  • Other Changes: Minor map/scheduling/time point changes will be made to Routes 1, 25LX, 31, 42, & 45.

Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (d.b.a. LYNX) & SunRail Commuter Rail

In anticipation of the opening of Phase II of SunRail from Sand Lake Rd in southern Orlando to Poinciana, LYNX is making key changes to the bus network in Osceola County, along with changes to other routes in the overall network to improve system efficiency.

Xpress Route 208, which currently runs from the SunRail Sand Lake Rd Station to the Kissimmee Intermodal Station, will end services on Friday, July 27, 2018. SunRail trains begin operating between the Sand Lake Rd & Poinciana Stations the following Monday, July 30, 2018.

Also in anticipation for the SunRail extension, a new route will be created in Osceola County – Route 155 – which will serve The Loop, Osceola Parkway, Tupperware SunRail Station and Buena Ventura Lakes.

You may view all of the upcoming changes – most of which will become effective on Sunday, July 15, 2018 – on the LYNX website. Further updates will be made when schedules for each individual route become available.

The new SunRail schedule is now available on the SunRail website by selecting the banner on the homepage. A PDF file will then open with the new schedule.

Volusia County Transit (Votran)

Votran has an odd tendency to not post service changes in a very timely manner. However this time, they’ve posted a week ahead regarding the launch of Route 44 in the New Smyrna Beach area. This route will connect the Julia St & Sams Ave transfer point in downtown NSB to the WalMart supercenter & Shoppes at Coronado complexes on the northwest corner of SR 44 & I-95. Buses will then travel eastward to the beachside, to Indian River Village, before heading back to the downtown NSB transfer point. Service begins on Monday, June 25, 2018 and will operate on a flag-stop system until permanent stops are constructed.

Further updates will be made when the new schedule & map are posted.


Please be sure to bookmark my website: globaltransitguidebook.com | Contact Me.

You can also find me on Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | YouTube

Legalese | Disclosures

The “Summer of Hell” is upon us…

The so-called “Summer of Hell” in the New York City metro region begins Monday morning (7/10/17). Here’s some helpful resources to help plan your commute:

What is the “Summer of Hell”? Amtrak is performing much-needed repair work to the tracks in the Hudson Tubes, which connect commuter and intercity trains between New Jersey and New York City’s Penn Station. The work will result in trains running modified schedules, which in-turn will cause lots of commuter headaches.

Will the Tampa Bay Region FINALLY see commuter rail?

In a Tampa Bay Times article yesterday, it was revealed that CSX Transportation was finally letting up to the possibility of selling two key freight rail lines to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in the same manner that it did with another key rail line that is now a part of SunRail in Metro Orlando. While this is great news for the region, many concerns have been raised as to how and if the plan will ever materialize. CSX has been in talks with FDOT for at least several months now, but the issue at hand has been in the minds of many within the local transportation realm for years.

What are the two rail lines?

The two rail corridors in question includes the north-south line that runs from Brooksville, closely paralleling US Highway 41 until it reaches northern Hillsborough County, skirts past the University area, and ends in downtown Tampa, with another spur leading into South Tampa (the Times article does not mention the South Tampa spur however). The other corridor branches off from the Brooksville line at Busch Blvd and parallels the roadway and Linebaugh Ave in an east-west direction, connecting to a spur towards Tampa International Airport, before swooping into Pinellas County and eventually Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Will CSX ask for a reasonable purchase price?

One huge concern that I have, is the cost of purchasing these two lines. A couple of people that I’ve talked to in the past have expressed that the only way CSX will put these lines up for sale is if they do so at a ridiculously high price. Something that would force FDOT to walk away without any compromise. However, I know that with what was able to materialize with SunRail, something can be done to ultimately bring the price down some while continuing to give CSX its portion.

Along with the purchase price, another unclear batch of costs includes building stations, parking facilities, purchasing rolling stock, and double-tracking the corridors.

Everyone MUST be involved in the process!

And when I say EVERYONE, I mean FDOT, the commissions of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties, AND every municipality within those counties (especially those who lie along the corridor). Plus, we will need to have the involvement of state representatives and senators, MPOs, and even TBARTA (although the state never gave the latter the powers it needs to actually operate as a regional transportation authority instead of just a planning body). Without this political unity, the entire plan stands to fall right through the cracks, just like every single past transportation initiative and Go Hillsborough. If Metro Orlando can have this kind of political unity to have saved SunRail from the chopping block of Governor Rick Scott, then why can’t Tampa Bay have the same? The answer lies in the next segment of this post.

Enough of the squabbling!!!

This news comes after the Times wrote a scathing op-ed about the Tampa Bay Region’s lack of local leadership and why it has largely contributed to not just the failed transportation initiatives, but also shortcomings in education, as well as the ongoing stalemate between St. Pete and the Tampa Bay Rays on a new stadium. This is also the same reason why FDOT is pushing so hard to build Tampa Bay Express (TBX). The problem at hand is that no one at the municipal and county levels want to work together in most situations. I’ve in fact seen countless times where mayors, city council members, county commissioners, etc. have done nothing but squabble in disagreement amongst themselves instead of working together towards one common goal. Because of this, I see our elected officials only working only for “me, myself, and I”, and not for their constituents who put them in office to begin with.

This individualistic mentality has got to end immediately! Especially when we are dealt with a regional situation like this. Instead, all of our elected officials need to start coming together and working together AS A REGION in order to tackle the big issues that affect all of us…whether it be transportation, education, or sports teams and venues. Otherwise, we will pay an extremely hefty price when these same powers to be, despite community opposition, allow TBX to be built in its entirety with no alternative transit option. Because at the end of the day, if we fail to work together AS A REGION, FDOT will simply walk away from this prospect with CSX and will instead continue to only focus on TBX. And finally, if the powers to be cannot do their jobs as promised, they all should not expect to be re-elected in the next election cycle.


Please be sure to bookmark my website: hartride2012tampa.wordpress.com | Contact Me.

You can also find me on Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | YouTube

Legalese | Disclosures

Tampa Dreams of SunRail

Metro Orlando is very grateful to have SunRail! Because here in Tampa Bay, it’s hard to build a better transportation network without a meaningful passenger rail system.

In collaboration with the SunRail Riders group – which advocates for better service on the SunRail Commuter Rail system in Orlando – I’m going to talk about SunRail and the challenges that Tampa Bay faces being without a passenger rail system. This post highlights the 7-day-a-week congestion along I-275, challenges with keeping the TECOline Streetcar Line running, and the ongoing battle between transit advocates and supporters, and the rail haters.

I invite you to read the full post at sunrailriders.com and tell us what you think. I want to take a few moments to thank the SunRail Riders for giving me this opportunity, and for everything that they do to help make SunRail even better! I hope to be able to write other pieces for the SunRail Riders in the future.

NOTE: Corresponding media in the post (except this photo) is not mine. Credit goes to their respective authors.

Railway Safety Campaign Videos from the New York City MTA

Some of you may recall my blog post about not beating a train at a crossing several months ago and why you should never ever attempt to risk your life for the sake of “saving a few extra minutes”. Well recently, the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (or MTA) has been putting out a railway safety campaign along its commuter rail system to inform people on the dangers of doing certain things along its tracks.

Here are three videos that the MTA published during the month of June.

Don’t beat the train at its crossing. NEVER attempt to drive around lowered crossing gates.

Pedestrians should not do the same. ALWAYS wait for the train to pass and the crossing gates to raise before continuing your walk.

Trespassing is ALWAYS illegal. NEVER walk along or on railway tracks, they are considered private property and can bring forth DEADLY results.

Be safe out there!

Happy 1st Year Anniversary SunRail!

The crowds board the train. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.
This was the scene on SunRail last May during the introductory fare-free period. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.

Today is a HUGE DAY in Orlando.

Today marks the first anniversary of the SunRail Commuter Rail line that stretches between DeBary and southern Orlando (Sand Lake Rd). Since the line’s opening, we’ve seen many positive and negative developments, as well as a good share of bashing from the rail haters (including Tea Party insiders and activists who continually call for the line to either be privatized or completely shut down). We’ve also seen the emergence of an advocacy group that is pushing for more service, including weekend service. As the Ultimate I-4 reconstruction project gets into major “tear up the roads” mode, SunRail will no doubt become a vital alternative for those wanting to escape the traffic headaches. In this post, I will look back at this past year of SunRail being in service and what achievements and hurdles it has faced, as well as what challenges remain as we head into 2016 and beyond.

First Year brings in largely mixed results

Like many passenger rail lines, when SunRail was first introduced with a period of fare-free service, tons and tons of people showed up (including myself). While many people showed up to be able to contemplate how SunRail would work into their daily commutes, some were on board trains simply for the fun of it. In fact, so many people arrived at the various stations during the fare-free period, that some riders had to be turned away due to trains becoming full. Once the revenue service began, ridership dropped and struggled to level out at more sustainable levels, creating the perfect climate for the various rail haters to come out of the woodwork and criticize SunRail for being a taxpayer boondoggle. Now that regular ridership has for the most part leveled out at sustainable levels, demand is steadily growing for more service. Many people complain in fact, about the fact that trains don’t run often enough and that there is no weekend service. The advocacy group, the SunRail Riders, have been working to change this picture by advocating for more service on the train – including weekend service. And while the SunRail Riders have done an excellent job at standing up for more transportation choices in metro Orlando, getting more service on SunRail has by far been the biggest challenge.

In December of last year, FDOT announced that they would add a late evening round trip, allowing weekday service to end during the 11PM hour instead of the 9PM hour. This run, which the SunRail Riders call the #NightTrain, has been popular with commuters coming off from work later in the evening, as well as those going home from sporting events, and those wanting to spend an extra hour or two hanging out in downtown Orlando after dinner. SunRail officials have stated that this late evening train will stick around at least through the end of 2015, but beyond that…is a huge mystery box. That’s why this late evening train needs to get as many riders as possible so that FDOT does not axe this run come December. If service is reduced, it will be that much harder to bring in more midday service, late night service that runs through 12-midnight, and weekend service.

Another plus for SunRail has been special events that have resulted in subsidized free service on the weekends. This has included the inaugural Orlando City Lions Soccer game and the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. These such events show just how strong weekend ridership could be if regular service were to be expanded. However, many officials still are skeptical of any such expansion, citing a nearly $30 million dollar price tag to add additional railcars and locomotives, as well as added labor, operational, and maintenance costs. The state of Florida recently announced that it had no funds available to fund any further service expansion on SunRail, although many of us transit supporters know…that is simply not the case. The state has money, but it’s been made blatantly clear that the number one transportation priority outside of regular roadway maintenance is the massive toll road expansion projects that the state claims will result in faster commutes for everyone while creating more jobs. What isn’t realized here though is that all of these toll roads, including managed toll lanes along our interstates (dubbed Lexus Lanes), will only create induced demand. Furthermore, the jobs being created through these roadway construction projects are largely temporary construction jobs, which will no doubt be reduced as these projects come to an end.

Other challenges for SunRail persist; including problems with the system’s ticketing machines, railway crossing incidents, and funding issues for its three planned extensions; one towards Poinciana to the south, DeLand to the north, and a third possible phase to Orlando International Airport. It is unclear at this time whether the ticketing machine problems will be resolved, the recent rash of car versus train incidents at railway crossings have led to the rail haters calling for more safety protocols for the system, and while area politicians are hopeful about obtaining federal funds for the planned extension to Poinciana, the two other extensions for SunRail aren’t as peachy when it comes to funding (the DeLand extension is facing low ridership projections, which may not allow it to get as much funding and support as originally hoped, and airport extension remains largely unfunded) . The two biggest questions remains though; what will become of SunRail as Ultimate I-4 continues? And what will become of it once the local municipalities and counties take over operation in 2021? As long as the Tea Party opposition towards passenger rail, and public transit as a whole for that matter, as well as the overall state of the economy being in limbo for at least a few more years, I don’t see things getting that much better for SunRail in the distant future. What I am hoping for though is that existing service will be sustainable for the long term so that one day, service can be expanded.

Go Hillsborough – Part 1 – An Overview

Credit: HARTride 2012
Credit: HARTride 2012

Let the discussion begin

You’ve likely been hearing about it over the past few months, but now the official public outreach process has begun in Hillsborough County. What is this outreach process about exactly? It’s about building a better transportation network throughout the county. Because let’s face it, we’re at a pivotal crossroads right now, and unless we act to fix the situation at hand, things will only get worse from here.

Read more

Ultimate I-4 in Orlando begins

In the back passenger seat looking back as my family traveled down I-4 near downtown Orlando in 2008. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. August, 2008.
In the back passenger seat looking back as my family traveled down I-4 near downtown Orlando in 2008. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. August, 2008.

It’s the 1st of February, and what is to be one of the largest infrastructure projects in Central Florida to date…is officially kicking off. That’s right, the construction phase of the Ultimate I-4 project is officially underway according to various news outlets throughout the state. The project will bring forth roughly six years of construction headaches as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) completely rebuilds interchanges throughout the thoroughfare from Kirkman Rd to State Road 434. In addition to rebuilding key interchanges, lanes will be added to the highway, including two Tolled Express Lanes in each direction.

Project Information

FDOT has the latest project information on the I-4 Ultimate web site. You will want to check into this site periodically for updates throughout the project’s duration. As of right now, you shouldn’t expect too much to change in your daily commute, but as February comes to a close, you will likely begin seeing some major lane shifts and closures, as well as tons of overnight and weekend work. If you have not yet planned out alternative routes in the event things get real bad on I-4, NOW is the time to do so.

Escape the construction mess! Use Transit!

For those of you who ARE ABLE TO USE SunRail, but haven’t started; NOW is the time to purchase your SunCard and make sure that there is enough balance. SunRail provides fast and easy connections with the LYNX bus system, which will allow you to not only save time and hassle versus driving on I-4, but also save on gas. Even though gas prices are at its lowest levels in years, many analysts are predicting that we’ve hit rock bottom, and that those prices are going to climb right back up in the next few months. Making these preparations now will save you tons of headaches down the road. If you’re not able to use SunRail or Lynx, that’s okay, there are other options such as carpooling, vanpooling, and even telecommuting (if your employer allows for it). If you aren’t sure where to start, in terms of planning out your commute, FDOT’s Re-Think service may be able to help!

Safety is top priority

If you choose to traverse I-4 during construction, you’ll want to keep a close eye out on lane shifts, closures, and reduced speed limits, as well as any ramp closures and associated detours. You can bet that the Florida Highway Patrol will have an increased presence during the construction phase as well, so don’t risk yourself getting a ticket, it’s not fun or cheap. Even worse, is getting into an accident because you didn’t pay attention to the roadway ahead of you.

Conclusion

So I will repeat, prepare NOW for the next six years of headaches along I-4 as the Ultimate reconstruction project rolls along. If you can use SunRail, then please do. If you can’t, then please spread the word to all those you know who can use SunRail. SunRail is currently at a pivotal moment by which we need to fight even harder for more evening, midday, and weekend service. Right now, SunRail does not run on the weekends, and the I-4 construction will continue around the clock, so if you hate having to drive I-4 on the weekends, then I hope that you will consider supporting the SunRail Riders in their mission to bring weekend rail service so that commuters have an alternative transit option seven days a week.

2015 will be crucial for SunRail – An important message to the public

A SunRail train waits at the Sand Lake Rd station. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
A SunRail train waits at the Sand Lake Rd station. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

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.

The SunRail #NightTrain…why it’s so important.

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.

How SunRail impacts Tampa Bay’s transit situation.

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.

The Ultimate I-4 Project…why pay more?

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.

Kudos to the SunRail Riders!

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.

Conclusion

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!

HARTride 2012

Transit Tourism – Orlando, FL via SunRail – Part 1

In my 2nd installment of Transit Tourism, I’m going to share my experience using the SunRail Commuter Rail line in Orlando, FL. I was originally not planning to hop aboard SunRail until much later in the year (likely as part of a transit trip utilizing the HART bus system in Tampa, Megabus going from Tampa to Orlando, and using SunRail and the LYNX bus system while in the Orlando area), but decided last-minute to do so after visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom last week (Wednesday, May 14 to be exact).

Read more