The most sweeping change for mass transit in Jacksonville in the past 30 years begins at 3:01 a.m. Monday when the first bus begins its new route.
In fact, every Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus will be traveling a different route and arriving at new stops at new times.
The first day of JTA’s Route Optimization Initiative might be historic in terms of mass transit in America.
“We haven’t identified any system our size or larger that has implemented change on this level,” said Carl Weckenmann, JTA senior manager of system planning.
All 34 fixed routes in the system have been redesigned to expand coverage and improve service by making mass transit in Jacksonville more convenient, more direct and more reliable.
In the current system, only three routes offered buses that arrived at a given stop every 30 minutes or less. Beginning Monday, 22 routes will arrive at least every 30 minutes, and for some, every 15 minutes.
Some routes with low ridership have been discontinued, while others that are used by more passengers will have more buses to wait times.
The authority has been preparing for the transition for nearly a year.
Drivers have been driving the new routes, new maps and schedules have been printed, and customer service representatives have been at transit hubs for several weeks to answer questions about the new system.
But even with months to prepare, JTA realizes such a comprehensive overnight change is likely to create issues. It didn’t make sense to attempt to gradually introduce the transition.
“We decided instead of dragging it out, to do it all at once,” said Weckenmann. “We understand there will be concerns and issues.”
Based on an online poll conducted at jtafla.com, more than 52 percent of respondents are concerned they won’t know what bus to take on Monday.
A command center will be set up Monday at JTA headquarters before the first bus begins its new route and until the last bus finishes its run late that day.
Thirty customer service representatives trained on the new system will be at transit hubs throughout the county to assist passengers, augmented by about 80 administrative personnel, said JTA spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler.
“We are anticipating some disruption,” she said.
Also part of the transition is real-time bus information. Passengers may access bus arrival times at a specific stop using a mobile device
For the first five days of the transition, Monday-Friday, JTA is waiving fares on the fixed routes to make it more convenient for passengers and to allow drivers to concentrate on their new routes.
Rassler said the authority estimates it will waive more than $175,000 in fares those days.