MISSING LYNX

For the first three years I spent in Orlando, I did not have my own car. Though I was lucky enough to have friends with cars who were willing to give me rides, I did a lot of solo exploring (especially when I had work to do–I tend to get more done if I go somewhere specifically to write) and felt bad asking them to drop me off only to pick me up again hours later. As a result, I got to know the Lynx system well, planning out bus routes hours in advance. I quickly realized that often, the travel time to and from my destination exceeded the amount of time I spent there, even if it was not physically very far from home. On top of that, missing a bus delayed everything by 30 minutes to an hour.

Of course, being a student who could easily work from home, I was not highly affected by this: I had the privilege to call it an inconvenience. However, of Orlando’s 109,454 households (US Census Bureau), 4.9% do not have a car (Timmons). That means that over 5,000 households rely on public transport or other options such as Uber and Lyft for their transportation needs. What was an annoyance to me is a much more serious issue for this demographic. Take, for example, the seven-hour commute of Verrisa Graham from Conway to Kissimmee. Without a car, Graham does not have another financially viable option: “it would cost about $40 to use a rideshare app like Lyft to her job, instead she pays $50 a month for a bus pass” (Yanes). 

Verrisa is far from the only passenger affected in this way. Monivette Cordeiro compiled firsthand accounts from several other Lynx regulars, including: Randy Snay, an Applebee’s chef who rides two buses to work and gets out late enough that he has to bike two hours back at the end of his shift; Rhyshelle Scott, a Universal employee who is similarly inhibited by the buses’ current hours, to the point where she has had to spend the night in the break room; and Daniel Paredes, who works near Disney Springs and has to wake up 6 hours before his shift in order to make it in time–while also requiring an Uber back once he gets off, which comes out to almost $90 a week. For many of Orlando’s employees, particularly those in hospitality, this is simply a part of the daily routine.

Why hospitality, specifically? For one thing, Orlando’s economy depends heavily on it. “Not only is tourism a significant part of Orlando’s GDP, but the sector also is a major contributor to local employment with 17.1 percent of the metro’s employment being within the industry” (Storey). That article is from 2018, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number has risen fairly steadily since: 250,300 people in the Orlando-Sanford-Kissimmee area currently work in this field. That accounts for approximately 19% of the city’s workforce. The income from these jobs is relatively low: jobs in food preparation, maintenance, and amusement and recreation attendance positions all fall at or around $30,000 a year, with supervising positions slightly higher at around $40,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). These are, simply put, not highly paid positions. However, the area surrounding Disney World, Universal, and other tourist attractions (see southwest corner of the map) where many of these people are employed are subject to highly inflated rent and cost of living as a result of their proximity to those destinations (Fig. 1, Best Neighborhood). As a result of this discrepancy, many of Orlando’s hospitality workers are unable to afford the seemingly-simple solution of moving closer to their place of work. 

Fig. 1: Map of average rent costs in Orlando, where green signifies “high-end” and red “most affordable.”

The other “obvious” solution for workers facing commutes as drastic as these is to find another job. However, this presents a similar problem: “The average metropolitan Orlando resident can access an estimated 5,596 jobs by transit within a 30 minute commute time—about half of the jobs accessible in the same time as a resident in Pittsburgh, less than one-third as many as a resident in Denver, and a fraction of the number [nearly 527,000] accessible via auto in the same travel time” (Giuliani 11). Without a car or proper access to efficient public transportation, workers’ options are extremely limited.

One example of a neighborhood that is disproportionately affected by Orlando’s public transportation is Parramore (Fig. 2). This area houses just under 3,000 people, and (as of 2019) has a median income of $22,912 (City Data). The Link 8, which connects Parramore to Lynx Central Station near the intersection of I-4 and Colonial Drive, is Lynx’s most heavily used route by far: with over 2 million riders every year, Link 8 serves more than twice as many people as the second most popular route. Over two thirds of its riders use it upwards of five days each week, and more than half do not have a driver’s license (Witthaus). 

Fig. 2: Map of central Orlando, with Parramore’s location outlined in red.

The problems with the current Lynx bus system, and Orlando public transportation in general, have not gone unacknowledged. “Lynx operates 310 buses to cover 2,500 square miles across Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties and a sliver of Polk and Lake counties. By comparison, Pittsburgh, which serves a metro area with about the same population as Orlando, has more than twice as many buses — 720” (Russon). As an aside, Pittsburgh’s public transit is not limited to buses–it also has a comprehensive subway system. Russon continues: “Las Vegas uses more buses than Lynx, 400, to cover a much smaller territory of 280 square miles. Orange County Public Schools operate close to three times as many buses as Lynx. And Walt Disney World uses 432 buses to service its theme parks and hotels across just 40 square miles.” In addition to this, the majority of routes only run once an hour, with only 4 out of every 10 running on the half hour (Russon).

That is not all, though–the problem has gotten worse with Orlando’s population growth across the past decade. The area’s population has jumped by over 30% since 2000, which is nearly twice the nation’s average, and around 1,000 new people move to the city every week (Russon). However, the number of Lynx buses has remained stagnant since 2012. If 300 buses were not enough a decade ago, they certainly are not equipped to serve Orlando’s current or future populations. 

The possibility of expanding Orlando’s public transportation has been received favorably in polls, as well. “A large majority (91% of all respondents) agrees that “the community has an obligation to provide public transportation for the benefit of people who cannot afford to own and operate a car, are unable to drive because of age or disability, or for those who choose not to drive’” (Wright 16). Furthermore, 56% of respondents said that in the next two decades of improving Orlando’s transportation issues, the emphasis should be on expanding bus and rail options–widening existing roads, building new ones, and encouraging walking/biking came in at 12%, 10%, and 23% respectively (16).

That being said, past efforts to improve on Lynx have seen little success. Proposals for increased taxes to subsidize public transportation have failed in the past: one in 2003, and one in 2018 (Russon). These failures have been blamed on low gas prices and less construction-related congestion, as well as public disinterest in proposals for higher taxes. However, Orange County mayor Jerry Demings has proposed a “penny tax” that will allegedly generate over $600,000,000 every year to support transportation costs, 45% of which would go towards public transit projects such as Lynx (Mills). With gas prices rising, officials hope that the penny tax will be received more favorably by voters this time. “There’s no question that, whether you’re in east Orange County, west Orange County, west City of Orlando, you should see an improvement in terms of the connectivity with our bus system,” Demings said at a special workshop with the City of Orlando Council last month (Mills). If this proposal succeeds where its predecessors did not, it could mean significant positive change for Orlando’s bus system.

“American Community Survey 1-Year Data (2005-2020).” Census.gov, US Census Bureau, 23 Nov. 2021, https://www.census.gov/data/developers/data-sets/acs-1year.html. 

Cordeiro, Monivette. “The Benefits and Struggles of Riding Central Florida’s Better-than-Nothing Public Bus System.” Orlando Weekly, Orlando Weekly, 21 June 2017, https://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/the-benefits-and-struggles-of-riding-central-floridas-better-than-nothing-public-bus-system/Content?oid=5113423. 

Deurig, Molly. “More Bus Stops Should Also Mean More Housing, Orlando Advocates Say.” Spectrum News, Spectrum News, 12 Feb. 2022, https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2022/02/11/upzoning-near-bus-stops-in-orlando. 

Giuliani, Tim. “Orlando 2030.” Orlando.org, Alliance for Regional Transportation, 2020, https://orlando.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2020/04/Transportation2030Report.pdf. 

Mills, Ashleigh. “Penny Tax Hike Plan on Display in Final Open House for Orange County Neighbors.” News 13, Spectrum News, 21 Mar. 2022, https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2022/03/20/residents-to-weigh-in-on-mayor-demings–penny-sales-tax. 

“The Most and Least Expensive Areas to Rent in Orlando, FL.” Best Neighborhood, Best Neighborhood, 2022, https://bestneighborhood.org/rent-cost-orlando-fl/. 

“Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL Economy at a Glance.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feb. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.fl_orlando_msa.htm#eag_fl_orlando_msa.f.p. 

“Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL – May 2021 OEWS Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31 Mar. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_36740.htm#35-0000. 

“Parramore (Holden) Neighborhood Profile.” City Data, City Data, 2019, https://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Parramore-Orlando-FL.html. 

Russon, Gabrielle. “Lack of Funding at Root of Orlando’s Failing Public Transit.” Governing, Governing, 12 Dec. 2019, https://www.governing.com/news/headlines/lack-of-funding-at-root-of-orlandos-failing-public-transit.html. 

Storey, Ken. “Orlando Ranks among Largest Tourism Markets in the World, but the City’s Reliance on the Industry Could Be a Problem.” Orlando Weekly, Orlando Weekly, 29 Oct. 2018, https://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/orlando-ranks-among-largest-tourism-markets-in-the-world-but-the-citys-reliance-on-the-industry-could-be-a-problem/Content?oid=20291298. 

Timmons, Matt. “Car Ownership Statistics: How Many People Own a Car in the US?” ValuePenguin, ValuePenguin, 19 Nov. 2021, https://www.valuepenguin.com/auto-insurance/car-ownership-statistics. 

“Transportation Improvement Program.” MetroPlan Orlando, MetroPlan Orlando, 2022, https://metroplanorlando.org/plans/transportation-improvement-program/. 

Witthaus, Jack. “Lynx’s Most Popular Route Shows Need for More Transit Options to Service Jobs.” Bizjournals.com, Orlando Business Journal, 30 July 2020, https://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/news/2020/07/22/what-lynx-popular-says-about-transit-needs.html. 

Wright, James D. “Transportation Issues in Central Florida: A Survey of Public Opinion 2015.” MetroPlan Orlando, UCF, June 2015, https://metroplanorlando.org/wp-content/uploads/public_opinion_research_2015.pdf. Yanes, Nadeen. “Using Central Florida Public Transportation, It Takes a Single Mother 7 Hours a Day to Get to and from Work.” WKMG, WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando, 11 Mar. 2020, https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2020/02/05/using-central-florida-public-transportation-it-takes-a-single-mother-7-hours-a-day-to-get-to-and-from-work/.