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It's difficult to believe that Central Florida's SunRail commuter train will soon be 6 months old. Regular passenger service started May 1.
We think overall SunRail deserves high praise for the historic launch of train service in our community, but there's lots of room for improvement.
Let's get down to specifics:
The stations are generally well designed. We particularly like the aesthetic touches at stations, such as the metal sculpture wading birds at Sand Lake Road and the orange-crate art in DeBary.
Spaces are free and plentiful at most stations where parking is provided. However, the automatic ticket vending machines are slow and sometimes unreliable. There continue to be problems with a few crossing gates. The platform canopies at most of the stations are very disappointing because they provide little shelter from the sun or rain. Whoever approved the design of the canopies deserves a kick in the pants.
Grade: B minus
The SunRail trains are great. They're comfortable and well designed. The train crews, especially the conductors, are fabulous.
The fare is an outstanding bargain. Try driving round trip from South Orange County to DeBary in Volusia County for $7.50. It can't be done.
However, many riders are rightly pissed off with the labeling of ticket selections in the vending machines. One ticket selection is for a 7-day ticket, even though SunRail only runs Monday through Friday. Riders feel that they're getting ripped off because you only get 5 days of rides on a 7-day ticket, and you must use the ticket on 5 consecutive days. This untruthful labeling just reminds riders that SunRail doesn't run weekends -- another major complaint. The labeling is equally deceptive for the 30-day ticket. This must be fixed!
SunRail has an excellent on-time record. But when things go wrong it's time for Katie to bar the door. Most of SunRail's problems are caused by people and vehicles trespassing on the tracks, despite a robust safety campaign.
SunRail's responses to service interruptions have been uneven. SunRail needs to be much better prepared for the unexpected because things are going to go wrong. Riders depend on SunRail to get them to the destinations, regardless of problems.
The biggest service deficiency is that SunRail does not provide service on the weekends and late at night even though it's badly needed. SunRail remain stubbornly reluctant to expand service despite a major petition drive. Weekend service is critical to people who don't work a traditional Monday to Friday 9-5 schedule. Expanding service would be a tremendous boost to businesses and cultural venues along the train corridor.
We live in the hospitality capital of the world, yet SunRail doesn't seem to have much aptitude for customer service. They're not rude, but they're neglectful.
Getting rid of the SunRail Ambassadors who worked on the station platforms was a terrible move. Even though they were hired as temps, they proved to be invaluable by answering questions, helping with misbehaving ticket machines and reinforcing safety and operating rules. Most riders, especially new ones, appreciated the assistance provided by the Ambassadors.
SunRail does a poor job communicating with riders on the platforms when there are service interruptions. We're glad that SunRail is working on a text messaging system to alert riders when there are problems, but why wasn't that system in place before passenger operations started?
Based on what we've seen, SunRail needs lessons in disaster planning and customer recovery. To improve they should reach out to the airlines and Disney -- businesses that have extensive experience and knowledge in those subject areas.
SunRail's OVERALL GRADE: B minus
Lynx and Votran also deserve a B grade for providing essential bus service that connects many neighborhoods to SunRail stations.
So what grade would you give SunRail? Email us email@example.com
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