by Mike Sharkey
Sixteen months ago, City Council president Matt Carlucci was promised two lunchtime trolley routes for San Marco, which is part of his district. He’s still waiting. And, his patience is wearing thin.
Last March, at-large City Council member Elaine Brown discussed the creation of both a San Marco trolley route and at least one north-south trolley route, one that would stop at the Landing and City Hall before winding back to the trolley lot at the sports complex.
She, too, is still waiting. And, she, too, is frustrated with the whole process.
Since its inception in April 2000, the trolley system has remained virtually status quo. The trolley route begins at the parking lot, goes north on Bay Street, left on Laura Street, west a couple of blocks on Water Street and returns to the parking lot via Forsyth and Bay streets.
The only major difference between opening day and today is the fact that, in order to accommodate the location of the new arena, the trolley lot has been moved, expanded and rebuilt one block north of its original location. That improvement would be OK if certain assurances hadn’t been made to people like Brown and Carlucci, who is starting to pursue the issue a little more forcefully. His contention is that the Jacksonville Transportation Authority should reexamine its priorities and what it is spending money on these days.
“I think the JTA needs to be a little more serious about providing neighborhood mass transportation services, like these trolleys,” said Carlucci. “The JTA needs to be not just building roads and overpasses, but they need to be looking at how to serve the older core areas. The older core areas are filled up, very dense and there’s not much parking left. And, a trolley would do wonders in some of these older areas. It may take a little while for them to catch on, but if you don’t try, you don’t gain.”
Brown said she has been told the same thing as Carlucci: money is the driving factor in any new routes, promised or not. She said unfortunately it’s not as simple as having every other or every third trolley swing by City Hall.
Brown also said the trolley was originally created to serve Humana, who agreed to park its employees at the trolley lot in return for consistent, timely trolley service.
“It’s mostly dollars,” she said. “To really put trolleys on that would serve the general public would cost them [JTA] more money to obtain them. Right now, the contract is for transfer from the satellite parking to Humana and making sure we have that going.”
Mike Blaylock, the deputy executive director/director of mass transit for JTA, said both routes are being addressed and will be solved through JTA’s recently completed downtown mobility plan. Blaylock said he is about $50,000 short of making the San Marco route a reality. Plans are to use three trolleys at $250,000-275,000 each and the route will cost about $100,000 annually.
“Right now, I have a commitment from the DOT [Florida Department of Transportation] for $50,000 for the downtown to San Marco demo project,” said Blaylock. He said the demonstration route would last at least a year. “There are several other state programs and grants I am applying for. I am hoping to have it up and running by this summer. It depends on if we receive those grants.”
Brown added that she has spoken to Carlucci about their mutual trolley concerns and it seems both received similar answers.
“I asked Councilman Carlucci if he had made any type of effort recently to get them to talk about a San Marco trolley,” said Brown. “He said he has come to an absolute halt, also. I think what we are going to ask them for is to give us a route, show us what it would cost and and let’s look for those dollars in their budget or head up to Washington [D.C.] and lobby for the money in some way, shape or form.”
Shortly after learning in October 2000 that the merchants and restaurant owners in San Marco would be getting trolley service, Carlucci spread the word. He said his constituents were thrilled with the news and looked forward to an influx of new lunchtime customers.
They, along with Carlucci, are still waiting. And, there appear to be no new developments in the near future. Carlucci said raising the money isn’t his job.
“That’s their department,” said Carlucci of JTA. “They are the JTA, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. That’s their job to figure it out. It is our job as City Council men and women, particularly those in districts, to point out deficiencies in transportation in our districts. I have done that. Now, it is up to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to figure out how to help me solve it.
“I think they are having a hard time finding the money. But, my reply is: just go find the money. There are places to look for the money. They are the JTA. They are to provide a mixed bag of transportation in order to provide better transportation in our community. It makes no difference to me how or where they find the funding as long as it’s all legitimate and all proper. But, that’s their job.”
Carlucci said he’ll remain patient and he’ll continue to ask the merchants of San Marco to do the same.
“They have been looking forward to it for a long time,” said Carlucci. “It’s been a little disappointing to me because I thought we had an agreement reached with the JTA to have a trolley by the fall. But, I’ve also been a City Council member enough years now to know that sometimes things don’t come on line as soon as you would expect them to. I can roll with the punches as good as anybody. They said they have half the funding, so I’m willing to wait for them to come up with the other half.”
Brown, who is chair of the Transportation, Environment and Energy Council Committee, said she will take the matter up at this week’s TEE meeting in an effort to reach an agreement that will appease all parties involved. Brown is also looking a few years down the road when downtown housing developments like Berkman Plaza, the Parks at Cathedrals, The Shipyards and the Vestcor projects all have residents.
“I do not know what JTA has done, but we are going to find out,” said Brown. “I promise you that at this week’s ‘T’ meeting we will discuss this. Then, we are going to ask them [JTA] to come and give us what type of plan would provide future good trolley service for downtown people that live here and work here.
“We’ve got housing coming on and when we have residents here we don’t want them pulling their cars out of a garage every time they want to go somewhere for lunch, dinner or a business meeting. We also have the new courthouse coming on. We have so much need now for that type of transportation that will give us north, south, east and west.”
Blaylock said he understands Brown’s concern with the new residents that will be downtown and that the JTA’s mobility plan will include routes that incorporate all of the new housing developments.
“We are looking at downtown as a total piece and we are looking at the best way to make downtown more mobile,” said Blaylock. “We are trying to identify the most efficient and cost effective way to get people through downtown.”
Carlucci said the delay in getting core city mass transit issues solved revolves around the JTA’s preference to focus its resources on peripheral projects.
“I think part of JTA’s problem is they are primarily funded for capital improvement projects, like roads, and not so much on the mass transit side, which costs money for operations,” said Carlucci. “You’ve got have drivers and you’ve got to have buses. Somehow, they’ve got to get around that.”