SunRail’s Interconnectivity Answers Questions & Concerns
By Steve Olson
Few green initiatives will have the impact of SunRail, which starts revenue service May 1. Not only does it provide an alternative to commuting on I-4, it also is spawning Transit Oriented Developments along its 61.5 mile corridor through Central Florida. It’s an exciting time, a game changer for the region. But amid all the excitement, there is no doubt that folks are uncertain about riding SunRail to and from the office during the business week. They’d like to, but they have questions and concerns.
“What happens if my child gets sick and I have to leave, or there is an emergency at home? What do I do then?” Fortunately, reThink has it covered.
reThink is a program of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Launched in July 2010, the business-focused program assists workers with their daily commute – including providing a way home – should an emergency arise.
How It Works
It’s easy. Go to reThinkYourCommute.com. Click on the “Emergency Ride Home” button and enroll. The emergency ride home program allows you to get reimbursed for up to four emergency rides in a calendar year. For example, it will help cover the cost of a taxi. Certain conditions do apply.
SunRail will also offer free parking at outlying lots, covering seven of the 12 stations. Commuters can leave their vehicles behind and ride the train. But for some, there is concern about getting that last mile after arriving at the station. Some might not know they can ride a LYNX or Votran bus from the SunRail station to their final destination and take the bus back to the train at the end of the day. Better yet, it’s all included in the price of your fare.
Plus, there is an expanded, free City of Orlando LYMMO downtown bus. The SunRail base fare, before discounts, is $2 one way, with $1 added for every county line you cross. Again, reThink can help answer those train-to-bus and bus-to-train questions.
Once downtown, maybe you need to run an errand during lunch time, or attend a meeting. What do you do? reThink can help you plan whether it is more efficient to walk, bike or even rent a car through a new car share program.
It’s being done under contract with Hertz 24/7. Go to reThinkYourCommute.com and click on the “Carshare” button. Once signed up, you can rent a vehicle and do it all online or with your smart phone. The rental cars are located in several lots in downtown Orlando, some close to SunRail stations, others close to where people live and work. You can rent the vehicles by the minute, hour or day. Base rates start at around $8 an hour.
Commuters Banding Together
reThink also works to promote carpooling and can assist groups in arranging a vanpool – an option that employers could use to get workers to and from SunRail stations.
Last year alone, the six-person team at reThink worked with almost 300 employers across the nine Central Florida counties, enrolling more than 6,000 people for the ridematching and emergency ride home programs, as well as other programs reThink offers.
The odometer on Courtney Miller’s car recently topped 100,000 miles. Miller, who helps coordinate the reThink program in Central Florida, logs the majority of those miles on the I-4 corridor, visiting employers to help their employees reThink their commute and encourage the use of alternative means of travel, such as SunRail. The irony of all those miles on the road to promote transit is not lost. For every mile driven, the goal is to get that many more people riding SunRail, exploring other transit options, carpooling, vanpooling, biking or walking to work.
According to the American Community Survey, 81 percent of workers in the metro area drive alone to work. That number is in line with national trends, with the exception of a spike in carpooling during the 1970s oil crisis.
That means about 19 percent of commuters are carpooling, riding the bus, biking, walking or working from home. SunRail will no doubt bump up those numbers, as there is a renewed interest in alternate commute options, in large part thanks to SunRail. It’s just that kind of paradigm shift that Central Florida will need to help make the most out of several new transportation investments in the near future.
The work is not done when SunRail starts on May 1.
Efforts are underway to expand transit options even more, such as providing a rail connection to the Orlando International Airport, the Medical City-Lake Nona area, and the Orange County Convention Center. Another study is underway to examine potential transit connections along the US 441 corridor into northwest Orange County and Lake County.
Plus, SunRail is planning to expand service another 29 miles, all the way to DeLand on the north end and to Poinciana to the south – covering more than 61 miles on the entire system. There’s clearly no time to rest. And FDOT, SunRail team members, as well as the reThink team will be out there every day getting Central Floridians to “reThink” their commuting options.