December 1, 2023 9:00am

Brightline has a bright future, Palm Beach influencers say

When it comes to the future of Brightline, Palm Beach Power Poll influencers are all aboard — even if they’re not frequent users of the high-speed train service.

Photo of Joe Capozzi
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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When it comes to the future of Brightline, Palm Beach Power Poll influencers are all aboard — even if they’re not frequent users of the high-speed train service.

Brightline, launched in 2018 between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale before expanding south to Miami later that year, saw a major boost in ridership and revenue after opening a station in Orlando two months ago.

As the Orlando Business Journal reported earlier this month, Brightline welcomed 97,264 customers through Oct. 31 over the first 40 days of operation since the service to Orlando International Airport began Sept. 22.

“Total ridership for October — including service between only the company's five South Florida stations — was at 205,745, or 101% higher than last year's total of 102,615 when there was no service to Central Florida,’’ the Journal reported. “Total revenue — which includes ticket and ancillary revenue such as food service — for the month was $12.8 million, compared to $3 million in October 2022.''

As the train service explores an extension to Tampa, Brightline has a bright future in Florida, Palm Beach Power Poll influencers said in the latest poll, which had a response rate of nearly 35 percent.

Eighty-three percent of respondents said they think Brightline will still be operating in Florida 20 years from now while just 12 percent predicted the train service will not.

And 69 percent said they think Brightline will increase the number of trains it runs between Orlando and Miami over the next five years, while 24 percent think the number of trains will stay the same as it is now.

Fifty percent of the influencers said they ride Brightline less than 10 times a year and 23 percent said they don’t use the service. Just 18 percent ride Brightline 10 to 20 times a year while just 9 percent ride it up to 50 times a year.

At least one influencer took issue with Brightlines fares. Tickets for a Miami to Orlando trip start at $79 for adults.

“Brightline must become more affordable for both individuals and families for equitable use of transportation options,’’ said Maureen Kielian, president of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates.

“While the cost of taking the Brightline is a bit high for leisure and business travel, I do enjoy taking the Brightline,’’ said Julie Seaver, executive director Compass.

Even though respondents are gung-ho about Brightline, they don’t think rail service will replace America’s love for automobiles any time soon. Sixty-six percent said they don’t think the U.S. public will ever be willing to fund rail travel as deeply as they’re willing to spend on motor vehicles and highways.

But at least one influencer was optimistic that high-speed trains like Brightline have a chance to lure more drivers out of their cars.

“As long as trains connect the right locations and offer a better experience at lower cost, rail transportation will grow significantly,’’ Dr. Jerald Feinstein Founder and Dean, Planet Startup.

“In driving from Palm Beach to the Miami Airport or just for meetings,’’ he said, “traffic jams and accidents are becoming much more frequent, so it becomes more and more difficult to stay on schedule.’’

Other influencers noted how Brightline trains, as of Oct. 1, have struck and killed 100 people since it began operation. With maximum speeds of up to 125 mph, Brightline trains have had the highest death rate in the U.S. since its Miami-West Palm operations began — about one death for every 32,000 miles its trains travel, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis of federal data that began in 2019.

“The many accidents that have occurred are not on Brightline, though,’’ Seaver said. “People should be taking more responsibility when approaching train crossings. Period.’’

Debi Murray, Chief Curator of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, agreed.

“I just don't understand the vitriol about Brightline. It's nothing new in the history of transportation,’’ she said. “The trains don't just jump off their tracks and hit cars. Everyone knows where the tracks are and everyone should take some personal responsibility for crossing them safely. At one time there were few crossings with arms or lights and one had to slow, look, and then cross. When did the individual become so dependent on others to protect themselves?’’

We purposely let the last question of our November poll go off the rails (pun intended) and away from Brightline. Nov. 22 was the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, prompting us to wonder what our Palm Beach Power Poll influencers think of those long-held conspiracy theories.

Forty percent said they think Kennedy was shot by at least two gunmen, while 37 percent said they think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. And 23 percent had no opinion.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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