A shuttle system that four cities were counting on to take riders to and from SunRail stations won't be ready when commuter trains start rolling next May.
Maitland, Altamonte Springs, Casselberry and Longwood have high hopes for FlexBus, an on-demand shuttle service for SunRail riders that was supposed to be running later this year.
But now the FlexBus technology won't be ready until the end of 2014 at the earliest.
"Getting FlexBus in place before SunRail opens is no longer possible," conceded Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz. "We're going to move as fast as we can. But SunRail is a project that is going to last for generations, hopefully. And we will keep striving to make it a success."
The delay has some officials worried that their residents won't use SunRail when it rolls into town in May 2014.
The cities see the experimental system as key to the success of SunRail because stops are not close to major employment and shopping destinations. Without a convenient link from the stations to their final destinations, commuters might decide to keep driving instead, further clogging local roads. Casselberry does not have a stop, but residents are expected to use neighboring stations.
"Ideally, of course, it would be in place before SunRail started running so we could get people used to using it," said Maitland Development Director Dick Wells. "But we still think it is going to provide a good alternative for people to use."
The cities have been working with Lynx and transit consultant TranSystems to develop the taxi-like system, which is aimed at commuters who can choose between SunRail and driving to work.
As envisioned, FlexBus wouldn't have fixed routes or schedules. The idea is to allow riders to summon a shuttle bus or van, using a computer, cell phone or kiosk at a station, to their location within 12 minutes. A computer system would contact the closest vehicle and map the quickest route to the rider's location. Fares have yet to be determined, but customers could pay using a credit card by smartphone.
Wells said the projected start time is uncertain.
"At one point it had been moved to about 16 months following SunRail's rollout, and now it's within a year," Wells said, adding that the cities are hopeful it can be moved up to the end of 2014.
A TranSystems representative referred questions about FlexBus to Lynx, whose representatives did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Lynx CEO John Lewis has said the technical challenges of implementing the system are the transit equivalent of putting a man on the moon.
Funding is another hurdle. Federal grants are paying for the development phase, but how much it will cost the cities to operate the system and how those costs will be split have yet to be worked out.
The project encountered a setback in April when Lynx told the cities it would not operate FlexBus but would instead use the technology on its existing NeighborLink system. The cities argued that their understanding had always been that Lynx would run FlexBus.
Since then, the cities have decided to solicit private companies to operate the system instead. Martz said he expects the four cities to come up with an agreement next month, then approach potential partners.
"We believe the private sector can leverage the innovation better" than Lynx, he said.
Copyright 2013 - Orlando Sentinel