May 19--DEBARY -- The mid-morning SunRail commuter train out of this northernmost stop on the system was about 20 percent full, a stark contrast to the standing-room-only crowds it was carrying when rides were free.
During its first 12 days of operation, the 10 a.m. DeBary run typically caused major delays of an hour or more for SunRail because few could get on the train. All other trains, as a result, ended up running behind schedule into the evening ride home.
But, barring an unforeseen setback, delays would seem unlikely today, which was the first day that SunRail started charging its $2 one-way base fare.
The freebies resulted in more than 17,000 people boarding the system Friday, the last day of gratis service. Many people, including retirees and young families, flocked to the trains, overwhelming the system.
This morning SunRail appeared to be carrying mostly commuters, with the trains running almost exactly on time.
The biggest problem facing riders was the ticket machines, some of which were not working or were responding slowly. The DeBary station machines would not accept cash.
Platform attendants often helped riders get their tickets.
"It was pretty easy," said Jeff Fraser, who got on at the Lynx station and headed to Sand Lake Road, the southern terminal of the 31.5-mile route.
Fraser, who manages the Zumiez skateboard shop at the Florida Mall, said he loves the train.
"I was waiting for it for the longest time," said Fraser, 27.
Patty Masciantoni of Winter Park
said she's rooting hard for the train to succeed, so she didn't mind the crowds of free-riding sight seers last week.
Masciantoni lives in Winter Park and works at the Orange County Public Schools central office in downtown Orlando. She expects to ride SunRail to and from work several times a week, though perhaps not every day.
"I'm glad they were riding the train. I think some people were curious," she said. "When you have people ride it for free, they'll tell their neighbors and friends, and maybe we'll get more (paying) riders. I really want this to be a success."
On the other hand, Richard Clemons, who lives in east Orange County and works off Sand Lake Road, would like to see the trains a little less crowded than what he experienced last week.
"Yeah, that's the biggest hope," he said.
In DeBary, about 60 people got on the 10 a.m. train. Among them was Lawrence Sell, 66, a retired retail worker. He said he had ridden for free, but did not mind paying, either.
"I'm a rail enthusiast," he said, "a rail fan."
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