FL: SunRail Parking Lot in DeBary May be Expanded

July 24--So many people are using the SunRail station in DeBary that commuter-train officials are looking at expanding the parking lot.

SunRail project manager Tawny Olore said she thinks an additional 100 spots need to be added to the 275-space lot, which consistently runs more than 80 percent full.

No cost estimates or time frame has been set for the expansion, SunRail spokesman Steve Olson said.

From Day One, DeBary has been among the busiest SunRail stations, drawing overflow crowds when the train was giving free rides during the first two weeks in May.

The site was so popular that Volusia County officials set up a satellite parking lot and shuttled riders to and from the station. Crowds thinned once fares were charged, and the temporary lot closed.

Unlike DeBary, the other 11 stops along the 31.5-mile route have plenty of room, with occupancy rates ranging from about 14 percent at Altamonte Springs to 37 percent at Lake Mary. Olore said the lots were built to last 10 years before additional spots would be needed.

The heavy use at DeBary comes despite complaints from passengers that the system's fare-paying setup does not work very well and the discomfort that can come with the often-crowded trains on Thursdays and Fridays.

Kathy Thomas, who rides from DeBary to Church Street in downtown Orlando, said in an email to the Orlando Sentinel that "the train itself is great ... but the frustration/dissatisfaction factor with the payment system is high for myself and many of the people I've spoken with on the train."

The biggest problem, she said, is that she has to pay for her pass at the stations, which she contends is time-consuming and inconvenient. She would prefer adding money to her account online, but that service does not work -- even though SunRail has been accepting fares since mid-May.

"I've been told since May," she wrote, "that they expect to have this fixed 'within the next two weeks' but it has not happened yet."

Others using the tap-on, tap-off equipment at each station complain that the devices do not always work, causing would-be riders to scurry to find a working unit.

Olson conceded SunRail has "sporadic connectivity issues" but promised a fix is coming soon, though he did not elaborate. Tech workers, he said, intend to "improve software and hardware fixes to speed response times and debug the system."

SunRail ridership, he said, is a little fewer than 4,300 daily, the number that the system was supposed to hit by the end of its first year of operation. That has resulted in some rides running at or near capacity, especially during the afternoon Thursday and Friday, when more leisure passengers tend to board. Early in the week, the trains are not as crowded.

The solution, Olson said, has been to add a third car to the usual two-car, one-locomotive set. Typically the extra car goes on the 12:30 p.m. southbound train from DeBary, which tends to pick up more of the additional late-week passengers.

dltracy@tribune.com or 407-420-5444407-420-5444

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