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Six things SunRail can do to improve service right now

We love you, SunRail, but you need to work on some things

Photo: Photo courtesy of SunRail, License: N/A

Photo courtesy of SunRail

It’s only been a couple of months since SunRail – the Orlando area’s first commuter-rail line – started its passenger service from Sand Lake Road to DeBary. Our verdict: We love it. It’s convenient, it’s clean and it’s moderately on time (it definitely beats the bus on that score). For those of us who use it regularly (including this writer, who takes it from Maitland to Orlando, then bikes from the station to the Orlando Weekly office in Colonialtown), the positive outweighs the negative on this venture. That’s not to say that SunRail is perfect. It’s not. But fortunately, it’s also a work in progress. According to plans for SunRail’s second phase, the rail service will expand in 2016, adding stops as far north as DeLand and as far south as Poinciana. U.S. Rep. John Mica has even suggested that there should be future expansions, perhaps through Apopka and into Lake County.

Those kinds of changes are pretty far off (and they’re also expensive), but in the meantime, we’ve got some suggestions for smaller changes that could happen right now to make SunRail a better, smarter and more user-friendly experience.

1. Make more room for bicycles and wheelchairs 
For a commuter train that’s supposed to encourage Orlandoans to use different forms of transportation to get around town, there’s surprisingly little room designated for bicycles on the SunRail. There are just two spots for bikes downstairs in each car, and there are more cyclists than that using the train at any given time. If there were more bike-friendly spaces on the train, you could attract even more people to use it – after all, just about anywhere you get off a SunRail train, there’s really no easy way to get to your ultimate destination. If you’re in Winter Park or downtown Orlando, you can get around on foot. But some of these stations drop you off in a parking lot. You’d need a bike, at least, to get anywhere from there. We asked a polite conductor what would happen if more cyclists started to use the train; he told us that if the train became too crowded, some cyclists wouldn’t be allowed to ride the train because their bikes would take up too much space in the aisles.

We also couldn’t help but notice that, while SunRail is fully wheelchair accessible and has accessible restrooms, there aren’t very many designated wheelchair spaces, either.

2. Increase carrying capacity
The SunRail stations opened to paying customers May 19, and since then there’s been an average of 4,100 daily commuters riding the rails. But each SunRail train only has two passenger cars, and each car has a carrying capacity of only 300 people. So the trains fill up quickly, and sometimes it’s standing room only during the busiest times of day. SunRail briefly added a third car to its busiest trains to help accommodate the traffic, but then they quickly revoked it, because the equipment isn’t supposed to be used until 2016, when the service expands. It was the worst tease ever.

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