After more than 10 years of planning and just less than 10 months before its demonstration phase is set to kick off, LYNX announced last week that it’s pulling out of overseeing operation of the intelligent transport system FlexBus, leaving its four committed participant cities questioning the system’s future.
A month after an update to the city of Maitland revealed that everything for FlexBus, an on-demand bus system, was running on schedule to launch later this year, city officials said they were shocked and disappointed to find out LYNX no longer planned to help oversee the project as of last week.
In a letter dated March 18, LYNX director of engineering David Healey stated LYNX is not in the position to implement the operations of FlexBus service at this time. He said the four participating cities – Maitland, Altamonte Springs, Longwood and Casselberry – can operate the system themselves, or seek an outside operator to apply for funding grants to run the system for them.
“That wasn’t really the intent (of the deal), because we’re not in the business of operating a bus system,” said Maitland City Manager Jim Williams.
Williams, and Maitland’s federal lobbyist Louis Rotundo, said there’d been no warning that this was coming until it hit their desks last Friday.
“To say this letter is a surprise would be sort of an understatement,” Rotundo said. “…To see this letter show up at the end of this process is, I think, disappointing to say the least.”
Members of Maitland’s City Council sounded off at Monday’s meeting, questioning how the system – deemed by Council members a necessity for the success of SunRail – can proceed.
Looking back at a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from the agreement between the four cities and Lynx, Maitland Community Development Director Dick Wells said there are enough implied wordings of LYNX’s involvement through implementation of FlexBus that warrant the city’s surprise following last week’s letter.
“This to me is an outrage,” Maitland Mayor Howard Schieferdecker said. “… This is something we’ve been trying to do for a long time that’s very important for SunRail, for our SunRail and also for the other cities, and now we’re really in a bind.”
“Now you’re creating this SunRail project and you’re killing it before it’s even getting started,” Councilwoman Linda Frosch said. “… This has a severe domino effect on a lot of businesses and a lot of residents.”
Schieferdecker said LYNX participation was key to the process of getting federal grant funding for the system as a public entity. Without LYNX, Rotundo said, it might be impossible for the cities to get the grant money from the government they’d planned to use to operate the system.
Council members, with the support of Rotundo, are reaching out to state and local officials for advice on answering the inevitable question of, “What now?” Meanwhile, spokesperson for LYNX Matthew Friedman said it’s business as usual for LYNX.
“Our job was to develop the concept and it’s the partners’ job to come up with the operations dollars,” Friedman said, adding that LYNX has not strayed from its initial path with the project of committing to develop the technology – never agreeing to operate the buses.
Rotundo said the city will work to see if LYNX will reconsider continuing with the project through the trial phase, or look into other options for funding and operation.
“It’s rather disappointing that we’ve stepped up as four cities and said, ‘We’ll help, we’ll do our part, we’ll do it with our money,’ and one of the agencies that’s supposed to be facilitating the success of SunRail seems to be on a different mission,” Rotundo said. “That’s not very helpful to the region.”