People are spending hours sitting on I-4 trying to get from one place to another,” SunRail’s deputy program manager Sandra Gutierrez told the Hillsborough contingent.
“You talk to these people who have transformed their commute from a highway system to a commuter rail system, and it’s just night and day.” I think we had that true life experience today,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp quipped, after meeting up with the others later in the morning.What a nightmare! If we only had SunRail in Tampa Bay we'd never experience traffic jams again.
Driving I-4 through Orlando these days is a horror. Most of it is under construction throughout Orlando to improve driving conditions as part of the Ultimate I-4 FDOT project. Yet most sections of I-4 in Orlando have 150,000 riders per day, compared to SunRail's 150,000 per year. Why would drivers put up with the mess and congestion and unforeseeable delays on I-4 when they have SunRail?
SunRail suffers from the usual maladies of rail. It goes where the tracks are laid, not where you want to go. It takes longer door to door. It does not leave or arrive when you need.
Much of the article reads like a fan magazine for rail and our Hillsborough (cheer)leaders.
Transit supporters are hoping that SunRail, a freight-turned-commuter rail service, could be a model for a similar venture using CSX rail lines in Tampa.
[Hillsborough County BOCC member Mariella] Smith left the two-hour session with Orlando transit officials with one prevailing feeling: envy.
“It seems like a lot of community partners and energy, from private sector to public grant funding," Smith said while waiting on a platform to catch a train back to the cars that brought them. "A lot of things came together and it happened very quickly.”
Envy. Not common sense.
"A lot of things came together and it happened very quickly.” How quickly?
Was it a success?
Negotiations with CSX in Orlando started in 2004, followed by an agreement with local governments in 2007. In 2010, the Florida Department of Transportation committed to paying for the rail corridor and acquired it from CSX the following year. Construction started in 2012, and the first line — 32 miles — opened in 2014.I guess 10 years is considered quick for our Hillsborough (cheer)leaders. Perhaps they need to get out more.
Was it a success?
During its first year of operation, SunRail made a total of $7.2 million from a combination of fares, advertising and fees paid by CSX and Amtrak to run their trains through the corridor. However, SunRail spent a total of $34.4 million during that same year, ending it with a $27.2 million deficit and an average daily ridership of 3,700 passengers.This is not success by any common understanding. It's amazing how our leaders conflate the failure of SunRail and believe it be a success. SunRail has done little to improve over the years, although SunRail has extended recently, and ridership increased marginally, it is still a huge money loser consistently with low ridership.
For reference, here is a snapshot the most recent data available from SunRail's 2018 Agency Profile report in the National Transit Database.
In 2018, it cost SunRail $42.28 for each passenger trip. Or $84.56 per person for a round trip commute if you're one of few lucky riders.
Yet converting several CSX lines in Hillsborough for passenger rail is a high priority in the Hillsborough MPO 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan.
Advocates, including [Hillsborough BOCC member Pat] Kemp, are interested in the 10-mile stretch between downtown and USF. Cost estimates vary, depending on the year and parameters of study, but it could cost $500 million to $1 billion to build and an additional $12 million in local annual operating costs.
As the SunRail car rattled along, Beth Alden, executive director of Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, listed off the benefits of a Tampa to USF line: It connects two of the area’s top three job clusters, it’s anchored by downtown and a major university, and it cuts through walkable neighborhoods with substantial bus ridership, she said.
The latest projection shows rail ridership in 2040 at about 3,500 people per day along the downtown-USF stretch. That’s close to the ridership on SunRail’s first line, but on a segment that’s a third of the length.Again, this downtown Tampa to USF is in the MPO's plans.
|Source: Hillsborough MPO 2045 LRTP Major Investments for Economic Growth Tech. Memo
Given the priority of Vision Zero in Hillsborough and Tampa, if SunRail is to provide further guidance, they might want to consider the high number of accidents involving SunRail. Unless rail supercedes Vision Zero in the transit activists hierarchy of needs.
This proposed rail segment does connect two major Tampa job clusters. Yet they estimate only 3,500 people per day riding the rails? Twenty years from now? Costing up to $1 billion, and $12 million a year?
Are you kidding me? 10 years of the operating cost alone could buy each of the 3500 riders a nice $34,000 car, and provide them much greater mobility and access to job opportunities.
For a reference point, traffic on I-275 at the Hillsborough Avenue interchange, which parallels the USF to downtown Tampa CSX route, averaged 179,000 per day in 2017.
What a tremendous amount of money for so little benefit for mobility and congestion relief.
Even if you are a fan of transit, you should be outraged about this time frame and expense, not to mention the low ridership. As a Facebook friend noted:
Now, rapid transit buses could carry the same number of passengers for less than $10 million per year, without the up front $1 billion price tag, and could be up and running by 2024, 16 years before the transit rail line. In fact, there are already express buses that service USF to downtown. Dedicated lanes could cut down travel time at a fraction of the cost of rail.
An expensive 20th century rail line would not eliminate any of the cars traveling on I-275, even in 2040, when it's finally up and running.
A good ride sharing program could actually remove cars from the road far faster.
If people want to test transit, buses give a much easier way to test it, without the billion dollar up front commitment and high operating costs.
So, why are Democrats on the county commission seriously considering a train transit that would be the most expensive to build and operate and the longest to get started? Graft? Stupidity? Both?Let's not be envious of SunRail and replicate their failure in Tampa Bay.
We must use common sense.