Friday, May 23, 2014

SunRail Adventure #4

I went for my fourth ride on SunRail on May 25, 2014. Today's SunRail adventure involved meeting someone aboard the train who boarded in Debary and riding to Winter Park for lunch. This particular ride was my first time experiencing the system where riders had to pay for their fares. It was three days after SunRail ended their free rides and it seems like they still have some bugs to work out.

I walked to the Longwood Station to catch the 12:49 Southbound train. Once I arrived, I ventured to one of the machines on the platform to buy my ticket. I was instructed to "Touch screen to begin." After touching the screen several times in multiple spots with no response, a SunRail Ambassador informed me that the machine has a twenty second lag. While I was waiting for the computer to catch up, the person ahead of me completed buying their tickets at the adjacent machine. The second machine seemed to be working properly and I was able to easily buy my ticket. Round trip from Longwood to Winter Park cost $5.50. As I finished up my transaction, the lag on the first machine finally caught up and moved on to the next screen (much more than twenty seconds). If this issue occurs on both machines at once, getting people to buy train tickets will get difficult.
Buggy ticket kiosks.
I was instructed to "tap on" with my ticket after it was purchased. This involved placing the ticket in front of another machine on the station platform. The machine sees the ticket, I'm assuming through RFID, and either accepts or rejects your fare. You are supposed to tap on wherever you board the train and then tap off at whichever station you disembark. I'm not exactly sure what happens if your ticket taps don't match up with the starting and ending points that were selected when the ticket was purchased. I'm assuming they could charge the difference to your credit card if you paid that way, but there doesn't seem to be a way to charge cash customers who ride a distance that would require additional fare. Once tickets were bought and tapped, the train arrived one minute behind schedule. Much better than the majority of my previous rides.
Southbound SunRail arriving in Longwood.
I boarded the train and found the friend I was meeting who was riding from Debary. We rode on the lower level of the train. There were more passengers than I was expecting for a train during non-peak hours. The car was nowhere near the standing room only crowds that I experienced previously, but still had the majority of the seats on this level occupied. I got the impression that most of the people on board were, like us, riding the train for fun rather than commuting. Soon enough, we arrived at our destination in Winter Park, exited the train, and tapped off with our tickets in the station.
Southbound SunRail leaving Winter Park.
Once in Winter Park, we had about an hour until our return train. I feel like SunRail could run at least one more train in each direction during non-peak hours to be a little more useful during the day. We walked up Park Avenue for a bit and ventured over to Park Avenue Pizza (which isn't actually located on Park Avenue) for lunch. I had a slice of plain cheese and a slice of white pizza topped with ricotta, spinach, and tomato. It was a hot day and this restaurant had no air condition, but they had good pizza by the slice which overshadowed the temperature. I enjoyed the unhealthy amount of oil that dripped from the slices. This is sometimes a telltale sign that a slice of pizza might be tasty. Apparently this place was popular with SunRail riders because I recognized other diners in here from the train.
Park Avenue Pizza on Urbanspoon
We still had a little more time before our return train so we wandered a bit further up Park Avenue and stopped into a new candy store called Rocket Fizz. Apparently this is a franchise which wasn't very apparent from the store itself. I'm afraid it may give Sassafras Sweet Shoppe some competition in the specialty candy market. Rocket Fizz was at least triple the size, was located on Park Avenue as opposed to a side street, and had a very large selection. I'm hoping both of Winter Park's candy shops can coexist...
Rocket Fizz
After perusing the various sugar-filled contents of Rocket Fizz, we returned to the Winter Park Station to catch the 2:11 northbound train. I was able to tap on without any problem, but my train cohort had his ticket come up with error messages for an unknown reason. We both boarded the train regardless. The train left the station two minutes late. For the return trip, we rode on the upper level of the train. I would estimate that our car was about 3/4 full. The ride home was quick and uneventful.

Overall, my first paid ride on the SunRail went as planned with some minor hiccups. The ticket machines that take minutes to respond is one of those hiccups. This wouldn't work well if the stations were busy and lots of people needed to buy tickets all at once before a trains arrival. There was also the error message for a ticket that was definitely paid for when trying to tap on for the return trip in the Winter Park Station. Even if it wasn't paid for, it wasn't like anyone was checking tickets. It seems like SunRail's ticketing system runs on trusting that people are paying like they should. Unlike subway systems that I've been on, there are no turnstiles or gates to go through to board SunRail. If someone was to board SunRail and leave without a ticket, I would be surprised if any SunRail employees would notice from what I saw today. I know in theory, the conductors are supposed to come around and randomly check tickets. I didn't see a conductor in our car on both of the trains I rode. I wonder if they're going to eventually get stricter with actually checking tickets, or if SunRail is basically going to continue running on the honor system? It should be interesting to watch, and regardless, I'm looking forward to my next ride somewhere on SunRail!

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