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Ride SunRail to Lake Eola fireworks on July 4?

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The July 4th celebration at Lake Eola Park is one of the Orlando’s biggest celebrations. That annual event also creates one of the city’s biggest traffic jams.

The traffic mess after last year’s July 4th celebration and fireworks display was particularly maddening because things could have been a lot better if Orlando made use of its newest transportation alternative – SunRail.

SunRail launched in May of 2014, but the trains remained in the Sanford train yard on Independence Day 2014 because July 4th is a scheduled holiday for the commuter train.

This year we’re urging Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the July 4th event planners to make use of SunRail, even though we know it will cost some money. It’s wasteful and shortsighted to leave SunRail sitting in the garage when it could be doing so much good for the community. Lake Eola Park is within a short stroll of 2 SunRail stations.

Everyone remembers earlier this spring when SunRail helped tame nightmarish traffic congestion during the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and the Orlando City Lions inaugural soccer match at the Citrus Bowl.

One recommendation, though: Don’t offer free rides on SunRail for July 4th.

Free rides bring out too many joyriders who are taking the train just for the thrill of it. Those joyriders overwhelm the trains and crowd out people who want to use the trains for transportation to events.

Many SunRail riders told us that they would be more than willing to pay fares for weekend and special-event SunRail service. Collecting fares can help to reimburse Orlando for a portion of the money it would pay to provide service on a day that SunRail normally would not be running.

And if SunRail charges fares, we hope there will be adequate staff on hand at all stations to help with the ticket-vending machines that have a reputation for malfunctions.

We appreciate that providing service on July 4th can be a bit complicated since people would not leave Lake Eola until after the fireworks display — around 10 p.m. SunRail normally has to be off the tracks before midnight to make way for freight trains that support businesses up and down the rail corridor. That said, there’s time to work out an exception to let SunRail run after midnight to get riders back to their home stations.

Now, let’s get ‘er done.

See you on The Rail.