Recently our town of Orlando has started building stations for a new light rail system. The first phase of the project will run from north of town to south of town going through downtown itself. On the north side, it runs through the very populated area of Maitland and Altamonte Springs. That will be great for their commuters coming into town to work. We do not live in that part of town. We live southwest of Orlando close to the Universal Studios and International Drive area, a big tourist area to say the least. But the light rail will not come anywhere near us.
In fact, the southern route of the light rail will not go to Disney. It will not go to the airport. It will not go to the Florida mall. It will not go anywhere near the outlets. It will not go to the Orange County Convention Center. Sadly, it will not go anywhere near anything that might help tourists get around.
Why do I want the light rail to help tourists? Well, for one reason, we were just in Seattle Washington about a month ago and we took advantage of the light rail system there to get from the airport to downtown Seattle where our hotel was located as well as the convention center. At a cost of only $2.75 for a one-way ticket, it certainly beats the $30 taxi ride alternative. Sure there were several stops between where we got on and where we got off, but only about 10. Depending on the time of day and thus the traffic conditions, the 45-minute ride may have even been faster than a taxi.
The train cars were a bit older than since the light rail in Seattle has been around for a while, but they were still comfortable. My only complaint/recommendation to them is that since the line goes to the airport, an area to place luggage might keep the aisles from being cluttered with people’s travel bags. I even met a person on my ride back to the end of the conference going to the airport who works for the marketing department of a major company in the Seattle area. He told me that he takes the light rail every day to and from work. It is less stressful than driving into town and he does not have to pay to park his car in one of the parking garages in part compensating him for the cost of riding the rail. He usually spends the time reading the news on his Windows Phone or reviewing work documents or doing email so that when he gets home, he has more free time for his family.
I know the local light rail in Orlando tried to save money by using the existing train tracks used and owned by freight carriers. They made a deal with them for access during certain daylight hours while freight trains were routed around the western side of the county to avoid the downtown tracks. I’m sure that saved a lot of money, but if the train does not go where it is convenient for users, they will not use it. Originally, one of the alternatives was to have the tracks go down the center of I-4 to the International Drive area. I don’t know if cost or other facts squashed that proposal, but the new line reminds me of a road we use to call ‘The Road to Nowhere’ in Reading Pennsylvania. That road was built as part of a proposed by-pass around town, but funding stopped after only a small segment was built which essentially went,… well… nowhere.
To get to the nearest station for the Orlando light rail from my house would be about the same distance as I would need to drive downtown and in fact, the traffic to and from the station over the existing road would be involve more traffic and probably more time. Even if they eventually added a line from that station that extended from the Orlando airport at one end to International Drive/Universal area at the other end, it would be inconvenient and more time consuming because of transferring between trains. (Sort of like the difference between direct flights between two cities and flights with one or more stops where you have to run from one end of the airport to the other to get to your connecting flight.)
I wish them luck and success, but unfortunately, I don’t think the southern end at least will be of much help to me.
C’ya next time.