Something shocking happened in the SunRail universe one weekend in August.
On Saturday morning we posted a 33-second video on our Facebook page. The video showed crowded SunRail trains during this spring’s Winter Park art festival. We asked people to “like” and share the video clip if they wanted SunRail to run every weekend.
As of Monday morning more than 31,000 people watched the video; 1,400 liked it, and more than 1,200 people shared it. We’ve been campaigning for 7-day service for more than a year but we were stunned by passionate response to our Facebook post.
Until this weekend we considered Saturday and Sunday SunRail to be the second priority behind extending train service down to Poinciana and up to DeLand. Now we think weekend SunRail is equally as important as extending service to new stations.
We believe that satisfying the demand for weekend service will determine SunRail’s longevity. Remember, the Florida Department of Transportation is footing a considerable portion of the bill for running SunRail until 2021. Then SunRail becomes the financial responsibility of the Central Florida community.
At some point the community will likely be asked to support a tax increase to subsidize SunRail. Expect the mother of all political battles. The rail haters will be poised to drive a stake through SunRail’s heart.
Will reasonable people be willing to support SunRail and get others to do the same? Right now we have serious doubts.
Based on comments people left on our Facebook page and conversations we’ve had with riders and would-be riders, many people think the SunRail bosses are deaf when anyone raises the topic of weekend service. The disappointment is causing some to sour on SunRail. That worrisome.
The SunRail service that exists now falls short of the needs and expectations of riders and would-be riders. On our digital-media channels we have regurgitated the financial and logistical challenges associated with weekend operations. The riders don’t want talking points. They want weekend service, not in 2018 or 2020. They want it now.
SunRail will need much more than the support of people who currently ride the train to keep it running after the state dollars dry up. Many Central Floridians are currently very interested in SunRail but have never ridden the train because it’s not available on the weekends. Run the trains on weekends so they can get accustomed to it, and they’ll be strong supporters.
Or ignore them, and live to regret it when we need their support.
Weekend SunRail service is much bigger than going to the Winter Park Farmers market or brunch on Park Avenue. Seven-day service helps to boost the local economy; creates more opportunities for arts and entertainment; makes life easier for people who work on Saturdays and Sundays; helps reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. Weekend SunRail service is a transportation option required to keep making progress in a 21st Century community.
See you on The Rail.