Testing the Sunrail Commute Part 2

Around six months ago they started a local commuter rail service in Orlando. I took advantage of a free trial period to test a commute to work. See Testing the Sunrail Commute for details.

Problems with the commute  included not only timing of the trains but also lack of transportation options at either end of my train route. It was a big hassle to get to and from work.
Last week our local bus system, Lynx, started a test run of NeighborLink shuttle to take people from the Maitland Sunrail station to the offices in Maitland on the other side of I-4. This is great news since that was a very painful part of my commute.
I took advantage of this trial period to see if this could be a commuting solution for me. I chose a Thursday close to the slow holidays to test this out. I was slightly afraid there may be a hitch in my commute and I would end up later to work by accident.
The shuttle requires you to call a number 2 hours in advance of your ride to make sure you are scheduled for it. Because my expected ride time is at 7:05 am (which means a 5:00 am call!) I decided to call the day before. The person on the phone informed me that the shuttle will be at the station at 3 scheduled times in the morning so all I need to do is show up. She added my name and phone number to the system so my request call to get taken back to the station would be more efficient.

My plan for the next day is to get there early to catch the first train. I added some buffer time to figure out how to buy a ticket.

To make sure I was ready I did some preparations the night before:

Checked my tires for air. Pumped them up to recommended PSI.
Checked all my lights to make sure they worked.
Located my “lost” bike lock – it fell under my husbands rarely used car – doh!
Set clothes and supplies aside for the next day.
I woke up about 5:00 am and checked the weather. It was to be a chilly morning but I wasn’t worried, I can sweat in a snow storm.

Jeans and sneakers will do for this ride. Boy am I tired. I decide to tackle the makeup thing at work in case I end up dripping in sweat.

I removed my basket so I would have less hassle with parking and make it slightly lighter.

I turned on all my lights and I was ready to go.

The ride down to the Florida Hospital took me about 23 minutes. A couple extra minutes is dedicated to finding suitable bike parking. The ride is uneventful but my hands are pretty cold throughout the ride.

Bike parking is found within a Florida Hospital garage right next to the Sunrail Station. I locked it up and hoped all the parts would be there when I returned.

I wasn’t sure which way to go but I could see the sunrail platform right outside the garage so there should be a easy way to get to it from the garage right? Yeah no! I walked out the “exit”/staircase door only to find it was a dead end with no direct way to get to the Sunrail platform. The door shut behind me and there was no handle to get back in the garage. It was either go all the way around to find another way there or climb across a ditch. I chose the ditch because it was the shortest route. Things were dry so it was ok but I suppose this will not be an option for me on rainy days.

Dead end

The ditch

I still had almost ten minutes to get a ticket and get on the train. Buying a ticket was easy but I got help from an attendant since it was my first time. I decided on a round-trip ticket for this trip since I didn’t know when my next commute day would be. I chose my destination from the kiosk. I am traveling only one county so my fare is $3.75. I think the cost goes up depending on how many counties you cross in your commute. I am assuming the monthly passes are more economical.

Users need to tap before you get on and tap when you get off the train. I guess this is to activate the ticket.

The train arrives on time and I choose a seat upstairs.

I have time to pack my helmet away until this afternoon for my ride home.

An attendant checks my ticket to verify I have activated it.

Didn’t really test the wifi out but it seems to be available.

Two stops and 12.5 minutes later I am at my stop in Maitland. It is time to tap off.

We arrived at 6:48 AM. The shuttle was there waiting.

The lady driving the shuttle was extremely helpful and friendly. She gave me details all about the service. Unfortunately we were not scheduled to leave until 7:05 (over 15 minute wait). I suppose they wait for the southbound train to arrive before making the first trip. While I enjoyed the conversation I wish the shuttle could have taken off immediately after the train trip. It was already adding 15 minutes of idle time by having this waiting period.
While in the shuttle I found out that it will not service my side of Maitland Boulevard as of this time. I also learn how the shuttle has many places it cannot go (for example it is forbidden to go into Altamonte Springs which is in some places right across the street from Maitland office areas). I am lucky because they can drop off in front of RDV Sportsplex which is not a long walk across the busy street to my building. I will save the whining for those who work in building set much further behind on my side of Maitland Blvd. The shuttle has one other passenger to drop off and took about 15 1/2 minutes to get there from the station.  I arrive at the office at 7:30 AM.

Crossing Maitland Blvd by foot.

Total commute time to work is 1 hour 30 minutes.

For the trip home the driver informed me that she already had scheduled pickups at RDV, one at 5:00 and one at 5:30.  I could call 2 hours in advance if I wanted another pickup time. I decided the 5:00 pickup would be sufficient to get me to the 5:29 PM train and it was.

Pick up spot at RDV

The shuttle arrived promptly. Traffic was already starting to get backed up. It took us a little over 15 minutes to get back to the station.

I headed over to wait for my Southbound train (15 min wait).

The train ride back took about 13 minutes. I was happy when I arrived to find my bike locked up and safe in the Florida Hospital garage.

It had warmed up a bit but still cool enough to be only a slightly sweaty ride home.

The bike ride home is only slightly more challenging because there is more traffic. I feel the need to go faster to keep up with traffic. I chose to stay on the busy road for most of the ride home but I could easily subsitute cutting through the Audubon Park neighborhood to make it a more relaxing ride.
I commute that way most days and the big difference with being on the bike is that I had an urge to stop at a local business to shop or meet friends. Unfortunately no friends were out at the time and I couldn’t think of an errand that needed to be run that day. Being on a bike really exposes you more to a neighborhood and I think that is a good thing.

In my previous trip I was real frustrated with my riding experience. The train itself is clean and timely and the staff is friendly and helpful. My complaints then were about the lack of more frequent trains and lack of connection options. At least for now the connection options are getting better. The most frustrating part of the bike commute is now replaced by the shuttle. I still don’t know if this is a practical solution for me. Commuting each way took an hour and a half. When I traveled last time it was only a little over an hour each way. I didn’t like that I had to wait 15 minutes for the shuttle to leave the station. It is real hard to convince someone whose worse case car commute is 45 minutes (normal 25 minutes) to give up an extra hour and a half a day to take the train. Some areas that could improve even more: increase train frequency (allow commuters to time the shuttle better), have on demand shuttle trips from the station or as soon as a train arrives, expand the office drop-off area of the Maitland shuttle, and add more feeder shuttles (ummm…Baldwin Park).

Will I take it again? If the Maitland shuttle continues then yes. I won’t ride it every day, it isn’t practical for me sometimes due to the nature of the work I do. But I can attempt to ride a couple times a week. Adding some extra bike riding would be good for my overall health.  I would like to try next to time the commute so I can attempt a 6:00 pm exercise class in either Winter Park or Mills 50 or try commuting with some baggage (laptop, lunch or change of clothing).
I am looking forward to what the future holds for Sunrail. I see so many areas where it can get better.
Hopefully I will have another happy update soon!

Testing the Sunrail Commute

Our local commuter service Sunrail started this week. They are providing free service for two weeks so I decided to take a day off to test how a commute might work for me.
Let me start by saying that I really want this train to work. I think Orlando (Central Florida) is in desperate need of some public transportation options for many reasons. Some reasons include to reduce traffic, to provide transportation for those who can’t or don’t want to drive, and to have the city be “greener”.
That being said, I am not sure the Sunrail is my solution. I am what one would refer to as a reverse commuter. I already live in the city limits and my office happens to be outside of the downtown vicinity in a suburban office park. This train was obviously made for people who do the opposite of what I do (live in the suburbs and commute downtown).
There is no train station in walking distance to neither my work nor my home. And any bus connectivity would require at least a mile walking on either end (acceptable) and up to an extra 2 hours added to the commute (not acceptable). Because there is no shuttle bus capability my only option is to do a bike and ride option. The bike and ride option is what I tested out today.
I started bright and early from my home in Baldwin Park a little after 6:00 am. I should have left a bit earlier to catch the first train but I couldn’t quite get out of bed early enough.
I pumped up my tires to the required pressure to make sure they were ready for the commute.

I turned on my bike lights and headed down the route to the Florida Hospital Station. There are two train stations almost equi-distance from my house. I just chose the Florida Hospital one for this morning’s commute because I have yet to see the station. Of course rain is coming later in the day so I decide I need to get this commute over with early.

Since I have biked the 4 mile route to the general area of the station before, it was a relatively event less ride.

The station was nice but relatively empty. I didn’t have to wait too long for the train to arrive.

Luckily the train northbound was not full. I had plenty of room for my bike and myself. I attempted to strap my bike in but it was awkward and I was afraid if I fully locked it in, I wouldn’t have time to unlock it at my stop. Unfortunately it ended up falling over twice – even once after I thought I correctly strapped it in. Maybe this will be easier with practice.

The train is very clean and pleasant. My stop is two stops away. I forgot to time the journey but it couldn’t have been longer than 15 minutes. Upon arrival I easily removed my bike and got off the train.

At this station I notice there is a place for bus pick up but no bus. It would be really convenient if there was a bus to take me the rest of the way.

I biked the rest of theway instead, and the safest route is a 4.5 mile route that back tracks to go around interstate 4.

There is a more direct route but it is super scary. You are basically traveling over a highway-type road with no bike lanes, no sidewalks and cars moving at very fast speeds. No thank you.
I chose the scenic route. The first part of it, Sandspur Road, was a easy but bumpy ride. However the bike lane only runs down one side of the road. What? On the way back I ended up taking the sidewalk (I know sidewalks aren’t safer but it relieves my anxiety on having pedal fast to not hold up traffic behind me).
After my turn on Wymore Road, I discover there are no bike lanes. Thankfully the lanes are wide enough that I am able to safely ride with the flow of traffic.
After crossing under I-4 I start my way toward the office buildings on Lake Destiny Drive. There are many problems with the road. There are bike lanes but the paint is worn on most of them so drivers might not be aware they exist. The lanes are poorly maintained: weeds grow into the lane, parts are broken up, tree debris exists in them, and at one point the lane fully disappears due to weeds.

Now you see it.

Now you don’t

And someone decides a dumpster can hang out in the lane…

However it is not all bad. There is a cute .10 mile trail.

There is some bike signage.

And there is even a cross walk at some point.

I finally see my office in the distance.

I arrive at the office. At this point I would lock up my bike and go shower upstairs (luckily we do have showers). However today I just enter the building to bathroom and refill my water. Plus I text my co-workers to let them know how sweaty I am.
I head back to the station to take the train home. But alas I am 5 minutes too late. The last morning train has just left and the next one does not come for two hours. But it is only 8:29 am! I am sure that made sense to some train planner but it makes no sense to me. Don’t you think people will still be commuting in the late morning? Are you really saving that much by eliminating trains every 30 minutes mid-day? What about people who want to commute to lunch? I guess that is not possible.
I don’t want to wait around two hours so I head down 17-92 to go home by bike. I am tired and do not wish to ride with traffic so I sidewalk it. Parts of the route are nice. I got to ride by Lake Lily Park and see some great views there.

I skipped breakfast to get to the train early so I decide to stop at wawa to get a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Then rains happens.

Luckily it is only a light drizzle all the way home. I guess I got lucky with the overcast skies; it could have been a whole lot hotter.

My bike commute experience ended up taking approximately 64 minutes to get to work (49 minutes by bike, 15 by train). My normal driving commute averages 25-35 minutes. My bike back home from the “work” train station took me 51 minutes (part of that was a stop at the ATM).
What have I learned from this experience? I learned that it might be easier than I thought to just ride my bike to work from my house. The route includes more sidewalk riding than I like but it is doable. Maybe one day a week and a shower at work?
One thing I have proved is a time saving/convenience argument is not going to get me to take the sunrail. If I choose to ride it now, it would be purely a exercise/tree-hugging hippie argument for me to take it. Or I could be forced into it when I-4 construction begins sometime soon. What I want to happen is that the Sunrail planners add in a shuttle at one end of my commute (preferably the work end). This would lighten the commute by bike. Only time will tell what route I will take in the future.