There are a lot of misconceptions about commuter rail and its place in a healthy transit system for Central Florida. Here are some questions and answers that address these.
Q: I’m not going to ride the rail so how can it help me?
A: Transit modes like bus and rail are alternatives to using automobiles. When a rider uses transit, chances are very good a car is not using the road system. If only a small fraction of drivers become riders, this can mean the difference between a gridlocked road or highway and one that flows freely. Recall your own experience on minor holidays and no-school days. By supporting rail an automobile driver, even if he/she never uses rail, benefits by having fewer cars on the road system.
Q: Transit doesn’t pay for itself, so why should we build it?
A: All transportation is subsidized by our governments to one degree or another, and no transportation alternative is expected to pay for itself. If you use your automobile, you are using the road system. Our taxes pay for the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of the road system. The automobile user is only paying a fraction of the actual cost of that transportation mode. Other transit alternatives actually pay a portion of their operating cost through fares collected. Of course automobile drivers using toll roads pay more, but even then tolls don’t cover the entire cost. Bus and rail transit provide transportation capacity at less overall expense than roads, they’re better for the environment and use less land.
Q: Why don’t we just spend the money on buses?
A: Buses are a vital part of a transit system, but they can’t do everything. They use the road system that is already congested. Would you prefer to sit in a bus on I-4 rather than your car? They are also more expensive per passenger mile than rail. Rail is best at carrying riders over a fixed route at medium to longer distances. Buses provide the feeder routes that take riders to and from the rail stations.
Q: Why not build light rail to the airport and the theme parks now? Why SunRail?
A: An important mission of SunRail is to take commuters off I-4 during the widening that is going to start in 2010. The pre-existing CSX rail right-of-way gives FDOT a quick, inexpensive way to get commuter rail up and running. This is the same way TriRail got started in South Florida when I-95 was widened. I-4 commuters are a ready-made, pre-existing ridership waiting to use the system. Once SunRail is up and running, then east-west light rail will be the next step. SunRail will provide a great many of the riders this east-west system will use. Without SunRail an east-west light rail system would be difficult to justify.
Q: I’ve heard that commuter rail will help prevent development sprawl. How can it do this?
A: Establishing a high-capacity rail system makes people want to live in close proximity so they can use it effectively. This demand for proximity to the transit stations increases the value of development of all kinds around the station locations. This demand focuses developer’s efforts to build close to the stations. Communities with station locations use their zoning and regulatory powers to encourage optimal development around stations and discourage sprawl. Thus development is concentrated around stations and not wherever a developer can buy cheap land and get a road built to it. The better the transit system, the better the ability of communities to focus growth.
Q: How can I find out more about commuter rail, SunRail, transit and how to manage growth?
A: . For more information check these websites: http://www.smartgrowth.org/, http://www.metroplanorlando.com/, http://www.transact.org/, http://www.beforesunrail.com/