FL: Big Improvements to JTA Bus Routes Coming Dec. 1

Aug. 28--A total rewrite of Jacksonville's mass transit system took the Jacksonville Transportation Authority just a minute to approve at its Thursday board meeting.

Now the agency has 94 days to reshape its bus system, bus stops, signs, driver uniforms and customer service system in the biggest revamp since the 1980s.

The JTA approved the redesign of 30 fixed bus routes to make them faster, more direct and better tailored to the people they serve. For instance, the redesigned bus routes will operate with specified intervals (15, 30, and 60 minutes) at more consistently spaced bus stops. There will be more frequent service in areas that need it, with fewer route-slowing detours through downtown. Bus service mostly would be directed away from neighborhood roads and onto major streets.

Even the bus driver uniforms will be changed while the buses themselves will adopt a more uniform color scheme.

Before the vote, City Councilman Johnny Gaffney, the council liaison with the JTA board, said the route expansion is "absolutely wonderful," and has been embraced by the community. Bus rider Marvin Edwards was equally pleased.

"We will finally be getting a transportation system to take care of people all over the 800 square miles of Jacksonville," he said.

Board chairwoman Donna Harper called it "a courageous plan" after the unanimous approval, while board member Edward Burr said the changes set to be made on Monday, Dec. 1 are "sorely needed."

"It will be a new JTA and a new way," Burr said. "It is monumental what will be happening in the future."

The "Route Optimization" initiative began 20 months ago with a community survey, bus route studies, public meetings and discussions with area businesses. JTA Director of Strategic Planning Brad Thoburn said JTA heard constant public complaints that the bus system needs to be "cleaned up," that trips take too long with too much time between buses.

"Too often we are forcing people to go downtown to get to where they want to go," he said. "Transfers are inconvenient. And in many cases, access to our system is often limited and there is always more desire to reach more entertainment centers. ... (Jacksonville's) workforce is not a 9-to-5 workforce, but our system sort of works that way."

To increase ridership that has stagnated at about 40,000 passenger trips a day and to reflect 30 years of change in the city, the new system will have 10 "high-frequency routes" with 15 minutes between bus arrivals. Twenty other "frequent" routes will have bus arrivals every 30 minutes at each stop. No current routes have 15-minute spacing now, and only two have 30-minute spacing.

Bus stops would be evenly spaced every eighth mile instead of every block, and every bus route will be renamed with a simpler numbering system. Covered new bus stop signs would be installed before Dec. 1, then uncovered when the changes are made.

Thoburn said 22 routes would run after 11 p.m. vs. the current 11, and 16 others would run after midnight instead of the current three. Routes would be coordinated with the same bus so riders wouldn't have to transfer. There would also be more weekend service. The efficiencies are supposed to save money.

"There are savings that can be achieved by cleaning up redundant services, eliminating the interim service and better allocating resources," Thoburn said.

Changes would be made to the customer service department to educate riders on the changes, including the addition of more part-time staff. Public school officials and volunteer groups also would be educated on the changes.

Another JTA initiative: a real-time passenger information system. It will allow passengers to check where buses are via their smartphones, laptops or a specific telephone number posted at each stop.

Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549

Copyright 2014 - The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

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