Downtown will be a priority for the new Jacksonville Transportation Authority director, and that most definitely includes the much-maligned Automated Skyway Express.
“Most cities of a half-million people and more would give their eye teeth for the Skyway,” said Derek Morse in a Friday morning address to the Chamber’s Downtown Council. “I realize that there’s a negative perception, but we have to overcome that.”
And that perception, he said, will be the focus of a campaign to, as he said, “woo the ‘choice rider’” to use public transportation.
“We have to overcome the image some people have of public transportation that it’s full of poor, dirty and unsafe people,” said Morse. “If you ride our buses, you know that isn’t true. But, we have to get people on our buses and our Skyway.”
The “choice rider,” he said, is simply a person who can choose a way to travel. “Not locked in to any one thing,” he said. “This person is 98 percent of us — they have more than one way to get around, whether it’s a car, a friend or using public transportation.
“We know we can’t get that person all the time,” Morse said, “but we can get our share if we can convince that person to ride with us.”
The authority has done extensive advertising and Morse said a multi-level campaign will be developed.
“We have to reach out to everyone,” he said. “We have to act like a business in the private sector and market our products.
“We have to be realistic. It won’t happen overnight.”
On the Skyway, he had a different tone than normally heard from the JTA headquarters: that he wouldn’t expect Skyway ridership to be at a high level. When it was built, the JTA staff and board made ridership projections that turned out to be so far off that the downtown railway became the subject of derision.
“We have the ridership we should have,” said Morse, “but perhaps not what the community expects.”
He said that ridership should improve for a negative reason: the rising cost of fuel.
“We hear projections that gas will be $2 a gallon by year’s end,” Morse told about 75 at the River City Brewing Company meeting, “and that will get people thinking about alternatives.
“Parking is another issue. Downtown is growing, so parking can only get worse. We need a ‘Mobility Master Plan’ that will detail the ways to get around, but we need to make it convenient: if we’re going to use a shuttle system, we need to have it ready when you get out of your car, for instance.”
Development will bring major problems.
“The Shipyards project (a planned billion-dollar development between downtown and Alltel Stadium) has over half its parking off-site,” Morse said. “When a client visits with the idea of locating in The Shipyards, he’s going to be asking where his employees will park.
“We need to make sure he gets a good answer.”