OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – An announcement that Florida Department of Transportation eliminated a fixed bus route for Poinciana's new SunRail station set to open in July threw the Osceola County Commission meeting off its tracks earlier this week.
The new Poinciana station is one of three SunRail stations expected to open in Osceola County on July 30, as part of SunRail's second phase of the project.
Osceola County Commissioner Vivaina Janer, who also serves on SunRail's Board of Commissioners, announced the bus route change.
"Recently in the last month or so, three routes were cut down to one," she told her fellow commissioners Monday night. "So the service to Poinciana, the fixed route, was cut completely."
Commissioner Brandon Arrington, who represents the district that includes Poinciana, said he was disappointed by the decision.
"It's another slap in the face," he said. "It's disheartening, if you will. The minority community in Central Florida keeps getting pushed down and neglected."
On Thursday, Janer said the decision to eliminate the fixed route to the new Poinciana station was made by the Florida Department of Transportation, based on a recommendation from Lynx.
"Lynx had recommended to FDOT that there is insufficient ridership for the fixed route service to the Poinciana station," Janer said.
She said Lynx made that decision based on ridership models from 2011. But, Janer said, population and traffic in Poinciana has exploded in the seven years since then.
"Public transit is a big focus for us. We are one of the fastest-growing counties in the entire nation and, therefore, with that comes a lot of congestion, and public transit is really one of the only options to really relieve our congested roadways," she said.
Poinciana resident 66-year-old Richard Quailes agrees. On Thursday, he was waiting at a Downtown Kissimmee bus stop on his way home.
"It's growing phenomenally. When I first came to Poinciana, it was a wooded area," he said.
Quailes said he takes three buses at least three times a week to doctor's appointments and his favorite bookshop in Orlando.
According to his experience, a lot of people from Poinciana are taking the bus.
"The buses are full all the time," Quailes said.
Quailes said he is looking forward to the new SunRail station opening up in Poinciana, but was concerned when he learned that there will be no fixed bus routes to take him there.
"It doesn't make sense that they won't at least try," he said. "I'm sure if you survey some others too you will find out there are people that would want the service."
For residents of Poinciana such as Quailes, Janer hopes to make that happen.
"I am upset," Janer said. "How would anyone feel when it's the only station among 16 without a fixed feeder bus and it's the station the models prove will have the highest ridership?"
Janer said FDOT offers the option of a NeighborLink shuttle for Poinciana residents. She said they can call and request that the shuttle pick them up and take them to the new SunRail station. However, she said, that shuttle doesn't make sense for people who commute every day.
"We are working to ensure that they get the best connectivity as possible to that station," she said. "(FDOT) said that they will reassess the need and see if we could get that fixed bus service or not, so we are still waiting to hear back from them."
News 6 asked FDOT for comment on the commissioner's concerns, a representative for FDOT said they will re-evaluate eliminating the route.
Read the full FDOT statement below:
"The Department and LYNX established a letter of understanding in 2015 related to the feeder bus service associated with Phase II South. As part of that understanding, FDOT and LYNX agreed to evaluate some proposed routes for Osceola County. Of the three routes mentioned, one route is recommended to move forward, one route is not moving forward and that has been agreed to by all parties (FDOT, LYNX and Osceola County). The third route is being re-evaluated, as requested by Commissioner Janer. The initial results of the analysis produced low ridership results."