Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nathaniel Ford says in the future, JTA buses will likely run on a different type of fuel, follow new routes designed for the 21st century and passengers will be able to locate their bus with a mobile device.
He gave the Rotary Club of Jacksonville a preview of the changes being considered Monday at the Omni Jacksonville.
Ford said the authority spends about $8 million each year to purchase diesel fuel and gasoline for its vehicles. Other options being considered include electric buses, hybrid vehicles and changing to a fleet that uses compressed natural gas.
By making the switch to natural gas, Ford said the annual fuel cost could be reduced as much as 40 percent.
In order to make the transition, many of the JTA's almost 200 buses would be replaced.
"We're developing a 10-year replacement plan," Ford said.
A major investment involved in using natural gas would be the construction of a fueling station. Ford said JTA is studying whether to build its own station and purchase the fuel on the open market, or enter into an agreement with a third party, which would help finance the fuel station and provide the fuel.
The route system also is under evaluation. Ford said the routes in use now were designed more than 40 years ago when Downtown was the center of activity in Jacksonville. In the past four decades, suburban development has created new residential, retail and service destinations that are not served well by the old routes.
Regional transportation planning is underway to better connect the counties in North Florida.
"Our operation in Duval County is the core of regional transportation planning. We want to be part of that process," said Ford.
JTA will begin offering in January a commuter service between a park-and-ride lot in Clay County and stops in Jacksonville. Ford said JTA is in discussion with Nassau and St. Johns counties to provide express bus service to and from Duval County destinations.
Ford, who will mark his one-year anniversary with JTA in December, said the Skyway has been a constant topic of discussion since he took over as CEO.
The equipment is obsolete and replacement parts are becoming more difficult to obtain. Ford said JTA is studying the possibility of "transitioning to new technology."
A new app for mobile devices is scheduled to debut this year that will allow customers to locate the bus they want to ride. The app will make mass transit more convenient by allowing passengers to better plan their trips and anticipate when the bus will arrive at their stop.
Ford said a rebranding of mass transit in North Florida is being considered.
"We want to change the perception of JTA. We are transitioning into the future," he said.