By Dan Harkins
DEBARY - The SunRail station on the south side of the city along U.S. 17/92 won't be open for commuters until next spring.
But that's no reason to wait to enlist potential riders. SunRail officials are making the rounds from city to city to get the word out about ways the rail system will help riders get to stations from outlying areas and even provide emergency transportation to regular commuters who find themselves in need of a ride somewhere fast.
At the very least, they hoped to show how much people can save by switching to a more environmentally friendly way of getting to and from work.
The average commute down Interstate 4 is 16 miles, said Michael Wacht, a representative of SunRail's public involvement team, which costs an average of 55.5 cents a mile.
"So that's (about) $200 you can save a month by switching to transit," he said.
The math can come a lot closer to home at sunrail.com/savingscalculator, where potential rail riders can factor the fuel efficiency of their vehicle, current price of gasoline, distance of commute and any tolls or parking fees to find out how much they would save using commuter rail.
Commuters with a round trip from somewhere around DeBary City Hall, for example, to the heart of downtown Orlando drive 50 miles a day and spend about $16.65, not including parking and any tolls. It is estimated SunRail riders will pay about a $2 daily fare, plus another $1 for crossing into another county.
That's a savings of $13.65 a day, or $273 a month, according to the calculator.
And that doesn't even factor in each rider's lighter carbon footprint and calmer commute.
"In the future," said Commissioner Dan Hunt, "we'll be moving around this state on trains instead of sitting on Interstate 4 backed up."
A major hurdle to getting drivers to switch to commuter rail, however, is the assumption it will be difficult or more costly to link with rail by bus from closer to home.
Not true, said Nicole Masters, a representative of the Florida Department of Transportation's reThink initiative to promote Central Florida's coming commuter rail system.
"We're going to assist people who want to take SunRail to find ways to get to the station," she said. "... It's a little bit more than walking distance (for many), but it's certainly close by" for all of Deltona, DeBary and Orange City.
The effort to make the transition seamless is multifaceted. By contacting the agency at rethinkyourcommute.com or calling (866) 610-7433, potential riders can identify carpooling options for getting to rail stations, get bus route transfer information, evaluate biking or pedestrian options, and learn how never to be stranded in the case of an emergency.
"That helps you know you can get where you need to on transit," Ms. Masters said.
Another benefit is that once a daily fare is paid, it includes all bus transfers to and from commuter rail stations.
At the station, platforms will be equipped with canopies, cameras, ticket vending machines, water fountains and assistance phones. Riders will add money to reusable plastic cards issued at the stations that will be swiped at machines onboard the train as well as on all connecting buses.
Once aboard the double-decker trains, wireless Internet will be available for a climate-controlled trip averaging 45 mph. Until interest mounts, the train will run weekdays every half-hour during peak times, from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and every hour during all other daylight hours.
In other business, commissioners gave unanimous final approval to a series of land use changes, chief among them the rezoning of a 69-acre strip of U.S. 17/92 through the center of town from commercial-office to commercial-retail.
For more than a decade, retail development in this area had to be tied to a larger, mostly office-related use.
The commission also unanimously approved a preliminary subdivision plan from Savol LLC for the Saxon Pointe planned unit development at the southeast corner of Saxon Boulevard and U.S. 17/92, directly across from Gateway Center for the Arts. The commissioners also approved a rezoning request for a 13,149-square-foot Ladybird Academy day care center to be built on one of Saxon Pointe's seven lots.
Much of the rest of the development will contain 87, single-story apartment units mainly for seniors.
A few neighbors of the development from the Saxon Woods neighborhood expressed concerns about increases in traffic.
Paul Perry of DeBary said, "I'm concerned about traffic coming out of that area. Turning left out of our area is already a danger. ... I feel we are going to have some real serious challenges in the flow of traffic and with accidents, especially with some of the older folks living back there."