On Friday, the day after SunRail's launch, I watched as joy riders crowded on trains, and eventually dispersed at the various rail stops, including Park Avenue in Winter Park, to visit, shop and gawk at neighborhoods that were seemingly inaccessible to them before the train service started.
I trailed one group of local tourists who were making their way back to the Winter Park station; all were first-time visitors to the avenue. Trudging along in the rain, one woman pointed to Park Plaza, a particularly historic landmark, and called it an ugly building.
The comment ignited my passionate, protective nature. As a Rollins College student, who also works on the avenue, Winter Park is close to my heart.
Despite my annoyance with these visitors, I still decided to board a southbound train to test the new system.
On the ride to downtown Orlando, a woman accompanied by her young son and her mother sat across from me. Having ridden from DeBary, this family negotiated which station would be their next stop. The woman discounted her son's pleas to have dinner in downtown Orlando by simply telling him, "Those restaurants are not any better than anywhere else."
Once again, my protective instincts flared up. I am a downtown resident, and I couldn't help but think of Kres Chophouse, Kasa Restaurant & Bar and Artisan's Table, which all serve savory dishes and are a stone's throw from the Church Street SunRail station.
A few seats away, two businessmen with briefcases told a SunRail security guard they were dissatisfied with the number of joy riders taking up space on the small train. The guard said he expected the train service to regulate itself once passengers began paying for the service on May 19.
I began to reflect on the intention of SunRail as a commuter service and my own relationship with this new train. The divide between joy riding, local tourists and professional commuters puzzled me, and I was uncertain as to which category I fell into. I have a car, and while I was taking the train home from work, I didn't need SunRail to make my commute. Was I a joy rider, or a commuter?
I looked to Sunrail's marketing campaign for clarity. The public-transportation system's motto, "A Better Way to Go," certainly captures the commuter aspect of this new service, but it fails to represent the diverse range of people who will use the train for noncommuting reasons.
Rather than advertising SunRail's convenience and cost-effectiveness for commuters, the Florida Department of Transportation should focus on celebrating the Central Florida communities it connects.
Orlando is certainly a dispersed city, where commuting is an unfortunate necessity. The intent of SunRail is to make travel both safer and more convenient, but simply providing a savings calculator and a list of miscellaneous reasons for using this new form of public transportation is convincing only to those who commute daily, like the two businessmen on my train.
But by making SunRail personal through a campaign that highlights the individuality of the various neighborhoods where the train stops, the new service would reassure all riders that they have a place on the train.
By employing a more creative outlook for what this train represents for Central Florida, SunRail will grow beyond a simple means of reducing the hassle of commuting to a service that families, local visitors and all Central Floridians can utilize.
It is not about whether you are a commuter, a joy rider or something in between — what connects us all is SunRail.
David Matteson, 21, of Orlando is studying English and studio art at Rollins College.
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