Much change in store for JTA, riders

Much change in store for JTA, riders

Change is rough any time, but even more so when one is used to 30 years of the same routine. Or, in this case, the same route.

That’s what riders of the Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA) are facing as the agency moves closer and closer to its Dec. 1 launch of Route Optimization. Several public hearings over the summer revealed that bus riders, whether regular or infrequent passengers, are fearful of losing their bus stop or even their route.

Public relations manager Leigh Ann Rassler, a relative newcomer to the JTA, has been working double time to help communicate about a variety of changes that CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. has on his agenda after just 18 months on the job.

“Mr. Ford heard the concerns and started asking questions. He was not pleased with average on-time arrivals and implemented OTTO (On-Time Transit Operations) to improve the frequency of the buses,” said Rassler. “Route Optimization will look at every single route to make sure we utilize the resources as best as possible. We need to go back to the core; it’s mass transit and we need to be able to provide transportation to the masses.”

In addition to Route Optimization, the JTA is introducing a mobile and web app, NextBus, which will help riders determine how close their bus is to its stop. Riders of the Riverside/Avondale Weekend Trolley have already experienced something similar on the first weekend of each month since January using a GPS real time trolley tracker developed by software developer Dylan Phillips, an Avondale resident.

Skyway expansion, maybe
Downtown and urban core transit riders may get another Skyway station if the TIGER [Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery] Discretionary Grant for $15.1 million [57% federal/43% local share] goes through.

“If it’s approved, we’re looking forward to extending the Skyway into Brooklyn, where the new Fresh Market is going in,” said Rassler. “We expect to hear in the next 30 to 60 days. The grants are very competitive but we’re hopeful.”

Rassler did note that the Skyway, now 25 years old, has aged to the point where it’s hard to get parts for the vehicles, casting some doubt on long-term viability. “The future may not be the Skyway as we know it; it may be a hybrid and that’s what we want to look at,” she said. “Where is it the most needed? Where would it have the most ridership and contribute to economic development? We want to look at all the possible spokes off the existing Skyway.”

The JTA recently kicked off a technology study to answer those questions, but it could be up to a year before all the results are known.

Rapid transit downtown
Just last year, shortly after Nat Ford joined the JTA, Southbank residents fought a proposal to put a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane on Riverplace Blvd. Now, the JTA is looking to break ground this fall on a BRT lane Downtown. Rassler said it will have limited stops, with technology on board that directs traffic signals to “hold to green” to get traffic through much quicker so people can get to their destinations faster.

Speaking of green, the BRT buses will be “green” low-floor buses, running on compressed natural gas. The JTA expects to put 40 such buses into service over a four-year period.

New JTA offices
Following on the heels of the Route Optimization launch, the JTA is scheduled to move to a building on Atlantic Place in mid-December. The new interim headquarters will include a centralized customer service area on the ground floor, for riders to purchase bus passes or new STAR cards, apply for jobs, ask questions about routes, check for items at Lost and Found.

“We have a five-year lease with an opt-out after four years. When the new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center is built, we’ll move our interim administrative offices down to that location, which will be built just north of the Convention Center, adjacent to the Skyway,” Rassler said. “That will be the main bus hub and include Greyhound, and hopefully in the future, light commuter rail.”

The administrative offices move will make way on JTA’s operations campus for a CNG fueling and maintenance facility, and the paratransit operations will also move to the operations campus, according to Rassler.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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