A previous version of this story stated that Saturday SunRail service will begin on Oct. 15. Saturday service will make its debut on Nov. 5, according to SunRail.
Residents looking for a new route to their Saturday events will have to wait until Nov. 5 to give it a try.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced in a press conference that SunRail will extend its service to select Saturdays beginning Oct. 8 — pushed to Nov. 5 due to the hurricane. The special weekend service is funded by the city of Orlando and the Downtown Orlando Partnership, as well as donations from non-public businesses including Florida Hospital and the United Arts.
The city of Winter Park’s Community Redevelopment Agency also allocated $20,000 last month to chip in for Saturday SunRail service, and the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and Park Avenue Merchants Association also agreed to contribute $2,500 each toward running the rails on weekends.
The service will run through February and cost an estimated $250,000 overall. Should funding exceed that amount, SunRail officials say operations will continue past February until all funds are depleted.
“Ask any of the commission members what the biggest question they get about SunRail is, and they’ll tell you it’s about expansion,” Dyer said. “People ask, ‘When will we get more frequent service?’ It’s pretty clear people want more SunRail.”
The announcement comes after pressure to reform SunRail. David Porter writes extensively on the state of SunRail in his blog, sunrailriders.com. Porter has long advocated extending service to weekends, holidays, and later hours to “save” SunRail since it first started chugging along in May 2014.
A report on transportation effectiveness reveals the SunRail has the second-worst operating expenses in the nation. According to information complied by Yonah Freemark, a doctoral student in city planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), on his website thetransportpolitic.com, it costs SunRail approximately $35.11 to transport each rider. By contrast, his data shows, it costs the Oceanside Sprinter in California $5.89 to transport each rider. Freemark said extending the service to Saturdays could improve its effectiveness under certain conditions.
“The best way to improve SunRail's effectiveness would be to increase ridership. Because the line is so long but has so few riders, the cost to operate the line for each rider is very high comparatively,” Freemark said. “Adding service on Saturdays would improve the effectiveness of the service if it encourages people to ride SunRail at other times during the week, thereby increasing the use of existing train services.”
Representatives of both Winter Park and Maitland said they support the new Saturday service. The Maitland station continually has some of the lowest ridership of any stop on the SunRail route, according to a 2015 MetroPlan Orlando transportation report. To increase ridership, Maitland currently subsidizes 25 percent of the cost of an Uber ride within the city to, or from, its SunRail station.
“We welcome SunRail’s new Saturday service,” said Maitland Community Redevelopment Agency Manager Charles Rudd. “The majority of special events happen on Saturdays and this provides a great opportunity for folks to use SunRail to come to Maitland to visit our events as well as our great venues.”
Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary gave his support to the service at the press conference announcing the Saturday schedule last Thursday.
“As someone who grew up taking a rail line into Manhattan, and as someone who just spent 45 minutes in traffic on I-4 dropping his son off at school, I recognize all the possibilities that the SunRail can be, and this is a great example of how we can take the next step,” Leary said.
Last year, the Winter Park Community Redevelopment Agency supported SunRail ridership during the 2015 March Sidewalk Art Festival. According to the Winter Park CRA, ridership for the weekend totaled over 10,000.
“Having Saturday SunRail service will help our residents and guests enjoy our city, especially during the holiday season,” said Winter Park spokeswoman Clarissa Howard. “SunRail helps avoid any traffic and parking issues that might be otherwise experienced during popular events.”
Visit sunrail.com for more schedule information.