By Erika Webb
SunRail's paid service started May 19 and already rider numbers have nearly reached the goal set for the end of the first year.
The first day of paid service, passenger boardings were 4,177, according to a Twitter update May 20 from Florida Department of Transportation District 5.
"Goal to reach: 4,300 daily boardings after first year of operation. Decent start," the agency reported.
Former DeLand resident Elaine Dobson Lerner lives in Lake Mary and commutes to a law office, where she works as an attorney, near Sea World daily.
Via State Road 417 and State Road 528, it's a 45-mile trip costing $15 daily in tolls. Using Interstate 4, the journey is 30 miles and lasts 45 minutes "on a good day."
As everyone who travels the interstate knows, not all days are good.
Ms. Lerner's longest workday commute on the interstate was just shy of two hours.
Since May 1 when she first rode aboard SunRail, finagling has been the name of the game, but, she said, it's worth the effort.
"I was on it the first day and one other free day," Mrs. Lerner said. "It was crazy jammed, standing room only. There were no delays, just really crazy with everyone standing and (occupied) by what I call Lookie Lous."
Since paid service started, she's ridden SunRail every day but one.
"It's definitely more of a commuter feel, a commuter vibe," Ms. Lerner said. "People are in nurse's uniforms, doctor's uniforms, in professional dress. The crowds are a lot less."
On Monday morning she drives an older car she owns to work. At the end of the day, she drives it to the station at Sandlake Road, nine miles from her office, and takes the train back to Lake Mary.
"I either walk the three miles home or I have someone pick me up," she said.
Friday she performs the same ritual in reverse.
In between, it's a matter of taking the old car back and forth between the Sandlake station and her office.
"So every day is different," she said. "Initially I thought I would use (SunRail) all the time, but I'm gonna use it 50 percent of the time.
Having the opportunity to talk to other riders about their situations has been interesting.
"Everyone's reasons are different," Ms. Lerner said. "Mine are reducing stress and reducing cost. It's very stressful to be on I-4 and the toll road."
Talking with another passenger, she discovered others are going to even more lengths than she is to achieve peaceful commuting.
"On the train yesterday a lady told me she's from New Smyrna Beach," Mrs. Lerner said. "She takes her car to Lake Mary and travels to (her job at) Florida Hospital in Orlando."
With a station nearby, it's an easy walk to the hospital.
"She's trying to reduce mileage and trying to relax on the train," Ms. Lerner said.
"Our reasons are similar," she added. "With two hours a day commuting, it's just trying to reduce stress, getting on and reading or using the Wi-Fi, which works great, by the way."
Mrs. Learner bought one of more than 13,000 pre-sold SunCard tickets. With the pass, she is spending $3 each way, $6 daily to ride SunRail.
The final SunRail numbers for estimated boardings during the first 12 days of operations -- during free service, according to FDOT were:
Thursday, May 1: 10,819
Friday, May 2: 10,496
Monday, May 5: 8,586
Tuesday, May 6: 9,761
Wednesday, May 7: 10,437
Thursday, May 8: 10,675
Friday, May 9: 14,749
Monday, May 12: 9,849
Tuesday, May 13: 9,825
Wednesday, May 14: 11,328
Thursday, May 15: 11,215
Friday, May 16: 17,110
Estimated boardings since May 1 were 134,850 and average boardings per day since May 1 were 11,237, FDOT reported.
"Boardings on the last day of free service Friday May 16, topped an estimated 17,000 and pushed up the estimated average daily boarding count to 11,237," the release stated.
In the first week of paid service, Sunrail ridership averaged 4,572 people a day. Officials had estimated 4,300 riders per day.
For a full list of SunRail fares and discount options, visit sunrail.com.