SunRail has been rolling along Metro Orlando tracks for a week now, attracting so many riders that the commuter trains often run an hour or more behind schedule.
"It's a good thing to be over capacity, but they [passengers] have to be satisfied," said Noranne Downs, the Florida Department of Transportation official in charge of SunRail.
SunRail, she said, is changing to meet the bigger-than-expected demand.
Originally, SunRail had only one train operating during the off-peak hours but now has two. On Wednesday, it added an extra car to one of the five trains that run during the morning and evening rush hours.
Downs said SunRail — which is operated by the international transit company Bombardier — is going over every passenger complaint and trying to come up with answers.
Much of what SunRail is hearing is about a trend that showed itself on Day One: SunRail invariably falls behind during the late morning and early afternoon when three of the five trains are taken out of service for maintenance and the crowds do not dwindle as expected.
The delays often persist into the peak afternoon ride, frustrating commuters who want to go home. The trains usually run on time during the morning peak hours of 5 to 10 a.m., depending on the station.
Downs hopes the remedy is the extra car and train, though she could add more if the tardy runs do not improve.
Other issues facing SunRail include:
•A digital-messaging system at each of the 12 stations is not used to inform riders of the arrival of the next train. Riders say they could handle the delays better if they knew just how long the wait would be. Downs said she would work to use the boards more effectively.
•The two busiest parking lots are at Sand Lake Road, the southernmost stop, and DeBary, the northernmost station. There are no traffic lights near the lots, making it difficult for people leaving in their cars, particularly after the evening runs. Downs said she would have engineers study the traffic flow to see whether stoplights or other remedies might work.
•Straps used to secure bikes are cumbersome and difficult to use. Downs said SunRail workers are looking for ways to make tying down bikes easier, possibly with Velcro.
•Some disabled passengers have had a hard time getting on and off the trains, especially when they are crowded. Conductors have been told to make sure portable ramps are kept near the doors.
•The ticket-vending machines at the stops and online are not working yet. Downs said they should be functional by Friday — Monday at the latest.
•Riders forced to stand say they have nothing to hang on to when the train is moving. The bench seats have a handle on their aisle sides, but there are not enough to go around. Downs said she would look for a solution.
Downs said she is largely pleased with how the inaugural week has gone.
During its first four days of operation, SunRail carried nearly 40,000 passengers along its 31.5-mile route. That's more than twice the average daily ridership of 4,300 SunRail was expecting.
Many of the passengers have been attracted by free rides. SunRail has waived the $2 one-way base fare for its first 12 days, prompting thousands of people to board because they are curious about Metro Orlando's first fixed-rail mass-transit operation.
Passengers generally have been good-natured about the delays, though some have become frustrated, taking to social media to vent.
"I am a train advocate and ride this as my daily commute with my bike. HOWEVER, when you know the trains are FULL ... ADD ADDITIONAL CARS TO THE TRAINS! THIS ISN'T ABOUT HOW PRETTY THEY ARE, IT'S ABOUT RUNNING ON TIME," landscape architect Greg Bryla wrote on the SunRail Facebook page.
Yet Bryla considers himself a fan of SunRail, telling the Orlando Sentinel he intends to ride every workday.
"You need to adapt, and you need to adapt right now," he said of the delays.
One positive question Downs said she often hears is people asking when SunRail might operate on the weekend or more frequently and to more locations, such as Orlando International Airport.
"It's designed for commuters," she said, "but people want it for a lot of other things."
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5444Copyright © 2015, CT Now