The most major changes in mass transit in Jacksonville over the past 30 years are scheduled to go into effect just after Thanksgiving.
“We’re going to change the whole dynamic in a couple of months,” said Nathaniel Ford, Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO. “On Dec. 1, a lot of people’s worlds will change.”
The route and schedule changes are the first phase of JTA’s “Blueprint 2020,” a five-year plan to implement technical improvements and more closely follow trends in mass transportation.
Ford said the changes will align JTA with transportation standards and the needs of the community.
“The system we have out there today is not serving our customers as well as it could,” he said. “Our public transit system needs to do a lot more.”
One of the most noticeable changes for JTA riders taking the current 40,000 trips per day will be increased frequency of buses along routes.
Routes are being redrawn to make them more direct between destinations. JTA will operate buses more hours during the day, Ford said.
The changes are based on feedback from bus riders and potential bus riders. Some of the reasons people do not consider JTA as a mobility option include long waits between buses and long travel times between destinations.
Currently, the majority of JTA’s 30 local routes and four express routes stop Downtown at the Rosa Parks Station on the way to a suburban destination. Ford said with the new plan far fewer will be routed through Downtown.
There are no JTA routes that arrive at each stop every 15 minutes. When the new schedules go into effect, 10 routes will pick up and drop off passengers four times each hour at each stop.
Thirty minutes between buses is scheduled now on only two routes. The new plan puts 20 routes on a 30-minute frequency.
JTA was evaluated in comparison to 10 peer cities: Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Hampton Roads, Va.; Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Memphis; Orlando; Richmond, Va.; St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Like Jacksonville, the cities have prominent suburban communities and employment centers, as well as street networks that aren’t laid out in a perpendicular grid.
Compared to those cities, JTA is in last place when it comes to passengers per hour. In Jacksonville, routes average 19 riders per revenue hour, compared to 29 in Louisville, the best-performing peer city.
“We’re in last place. That’s a real concern,” said Brad Thoburn, JTA vice president of long-range planning and system
Thoburn said the concept behind the radical route changes is to improve the system and attract more riders, which will improve JTA’s financial position.
Considering driver payroll, fuel cost and other factors, operating a full bus costs the same as operating a nearly empty bus.
“We’ll totally transform the system but maintain the same operating cost,” he said.
The goal is to increase the number of passenger trips per day from 40,000 to 70,000 in the next 10 years.
By making mass transit in Jacksonville more reliable, frequent and direct, “we’ll have more passengers and more fare revenue,” said Thoburn.