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Everyone keeps asking us: When will SunRail start running trains every weekend?

Considering the official tally that 26,000 people rode SunRail on Saturday and Sunday during the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, providing trains every weekend should be a no-brainer. But it’s not.

So back to the basic question: When will SunRail start running trains every weekend?

The answer: No time soon unless we, the riders and Central Florida community, put some serious skin in the game.

The most formidable roadblock to weekend service is money — or lack of it.

Under the existing agreements, the state of Florida provides a lion’s share of the money required to offset SunRail’s operating expenses. The money riders pay at the fare box only covers a portion of the expenses. Almost every transit system in the world relies on government subsidies to provide train and bus service.

State officials already made it clear they will not pay for weekend service because SunRail was conceived as a commuter train to provide a rail alternative for weekday rush-hour commuters during the I-4 Ultimate construction project.

At a recent meeting of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, which oversees SunRail, we were told that adding weekend service would cost $5.5 million. In the grand scheme, that’s not an insurmountable amount of money to raise. And a big part of the solution begins in our wallets.

During special train operations for the Winter Park Art Festival, we spoke with numerous riders who said they would willingly have paid for the free train service that was sponsored by event organizers and Florida Hospital. It cost sponsors $32,000 to run 12 trains during those two days.

Check this out: If the 26,000 people who rode SunRail during that weekend had to buy tickets for $4 each – ticket prices vary depending on where you board the train – that charge would have raised $104,000.

In addition, hundreds of visitors to our Facebook page said they are willing to pay slightly higher ticket prices for weekend SunRail service.

Considering the passion around the issue of weekend SunRail service, we’re confident Saturday and Sunday ridership could be higher than weekday ridership.

So let’s play with some numbers. If 8,000 people rode SunRail every Saturday and Sunday — and paid a roundtrip fare of $6 — that would raise nearly $2.5 million over a year.

Surely there has got to be a way to gather a coalition of businesses, governments and Central Florida individuals to raise the remaining $3 million needed to provide SunRail service every weekend.

The real question IS NOT: When will SunRail start running trains every weekend?

The real question IS: How bad do we want it?

 

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