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JTA: BRT is Better! Metro Jacksonville Responds

Last week, JTA published an article proclaiming that BRT is the best solution for Jacksonville despite what others may say. Today, Metro Jacksonville responds by pointing out why JTA is mistaken in their proposal.

Published December 17, 2007 in Transit      14 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


1. Why compare BRT to Light Rail?

JTA continues to compare dedicated busways with light rail. However, Metro Jacksonville continues to suggest “Urban Commuter Rail”. "Urban Commuter Rail" is a term that has been recently coined by Capital Metro in Austin, TX. Like traditional commuter rail, trains operate on existing freight rail tracks. However, unlike traditional commuter rail, which can have stations spread out by as much as five miles, service is provided for both suburban and central city passengers with the use of self-propelled diesel multiple unit (DMU) railcars. In the future, these “existing” rail lines can be upgraded and electrified, if necessary.

This is not Light Rail. With the use of DMUs, urban oriented passenger rail service can become a realityon existing rail lines, without the need to immediately electrify. It is well documented that this type of rail line can be put into service at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated busway system.

2. In Jacksonville, BRT is the better way!

Jacksonville is one of the largest cities in America in overall land area. We are home to dense pedestrian friendly neighborhoods such as Riverside and Springfield, as well as suburban communities like Mandarin and Orange Park. Given our demographics, the one size fits all solution will not work. Every transit corridor should be looked at individually and served by transit that best integrates within the communities it will serve. In short, Jacksonville deserves a mix of transportation options. BRT should be designed to feed transit riders into a major rail trunk line from areas of our community that are not located near existing rail corridors.

3. The S-Line is inferior because it’s a circuitous route better suited to slower transit

JTA is operating under the misguided premise that it is their duty to move buses instead of people. It’s better to move at 35mph, directly connecting true destinations, as opposed to moving 60mph from point A to B, completely bypassing all potential transit riders.

Not only is the S-Line right of way already owned by the city, it gives Jacksonville’s leaders and residents the opportunity to bring widespread economic redevelopment to the Northside while, at the same time, serving as a joint transit and recreational path. Considering I-95’s path was chosen to separate and isolate urban communities, using it as a transit corridor will not allow us the opportunity to integrate transit as part of a greater solution for revitalizing the Northside. We will miss the opportunity to reduce crime, create affordable housing opportunities, and directly connecting the majority of JTA’s current transit riders directly to major destinations in Jacksonville’s urban core.

Its not uncommon for rapid railcorridors to travel in "circuitous" routes.The map above illustrates that the Capital Metrorail line in Austin is more "circuitous" than our own S-Line right-of-way.

4. FEC has no intentions of selling or leasing its tracks

It is no secret that the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) has capacity constraints. As opposed to trying to force passenger rail down FEC’s throat, Metro Jacksonville understands that freight is their main revenue source and instead suggest ways to see how passenger rail can help increase FEC’s capacity. This may mean building an additional single line of railroad track or adding an overpass at Sunbeam Road. These options are still cheaper than building a dedicated busway, and will help move vehicular traffic more efficiently. After a competent and impartial study is completed to compare these options (according to JTA’s RTS documents, urban commuter rail has never been considered) with building dedicated busways, only then can we make a determination as to whether rail should be phased along the FEC corridor or if some form of BRT is the best option.

5. Although viable, it’s too expensive to purchase or lease the CSX “A” line

As a part of the Orlando commuter rail deal, the State will purchase 61 miles of the “A” line for $150 million, or $1.5 million dollars per mile. While this certainly is not cheap, it is still $24.5 million dollars per mile cheaper than purchasing right-of-way and building infrastructure for a dedicated busway which will cost somewhere between $26 - $33 million a mile, as previously cited in JTA’s RTS Technology Assessment documents. Furthermore, once this rail investment is made, there will be no need to come back at a later date and convert the entire system to rail at an additional cost to the community, as JTA has suggested.

JTA's Technology Assessment Documentshows that the average busway system costs $26 - $33 millionper mile to construct. This same documentestimates the cost of"Urban Commuter Rail" (Regio-Sprinter), to run on average between $5 - $15 million for a dual track system.Several of our peer cities have sliced that number in half by developing"no-frills" systems with single track lines and simple station structures.

6. JaxPort’s expansion will take up available track capacity on the CSX “A” line

The major reason behind the Florida Department of Transportation’s $491 million investment in the CSX “S” line from Baldwin to Central Florida, is to reduce the volume of Central Florida bound freight on the A-Line. This will allow the CSX “A” line to serve Orlando’s commuter rail operation.

When JaxPort rail traffic increases, it will move into Central Florida via the CSX ”S” line through Baldwin or down the CSX “A” line, at night when Orlando’s commuter rail trains are not running. This means that excess capacity will exist for commuter rail operations in Jacksonville, along the “A” line. The only obstacle that stands in the way of this viable alternative is the unwillingness or inability of JTA to look at the bigger picture and take advantage of the positive effects of another commuter rail deal which has effectively eliminated the single largest hurdle in bringing commuter rail to Jacksonville.

7. Ed Castellani says the flexibility of BRT makes it ideal

If building dedicated busways were truly cheaper than urban commuter rail and we were only looking at this issue from a transit perspective, then BRT’s flexibility could be a positive factor for an organization like JTA. However, Metro Jacksonville believes that the way transit integrates with our communities and neighborhoods should create positive benefits. This is where the argument of flexibility begins to appear more negative.

BRT’s flexibility is the major reason that bus rapid transit oriented developments (BTODs) are largely unproven in the United States. They are many times more difficult to bring into reality than rail transit oriented developments (RTODs). Also, because a large portion of the BRT plan involves elevated sections, it is no more flexible than rail, yet it still comes with the negative connotation that has been associated with buses for years. This “Bus Stigma” is something that no American city has effectively found a way to resolve, and results in low ridership rates.

8. BRT can be converted into light rail when ridership increases.

So far, there has not been one BRT system in North America that has been converted into a light rail line. Most major cities avoid this ill conceived plan, because to do so would actually mean paying for two distinct transit systems. Since “dedicated busways”, of the type that JTA is proposing, cost as much as light rail to build, many cities have elected to build rail from the start, the most recent example being Houston, TX.

In Houston’s case, studies have proven that taxpayers would save over $600 million by building light rail, as opposed to building BRT and then converting those BRT lines into rail, sometime down the road. In Jacksonville’s case, 3 out of 4 BRT routes already parallel existing rail. The idea of building BRT parallel to existing rail, then possibly converting the BRT infrastructure to rail is a wasteful duplication of resources and a misuse of taxpayer dollars at best.

9. Although LRT will draw more riders, it’s more expensive than BRT

Amazingly, our transit authority admits that local riders would prefer rail over BRT. It’s no secret that LRT and BRT, using dedicated busways, can become pretty expensive. This is why Metro Jacksonville suggests following the lead of communities like Austin, TX in developing “Urban Commuter Rail” trunk line systems on existing rail corridors, where the capacity exists or where the city already owns the right of way (ROW).

In Austin’s case, this decision has led to the creation of a 31 mile/9 station, urban commuter system at a cost of $112 million, or $3.5 million per mile. Austin’s decision to go with Urban Commuter Rail came after an original proposal for a $640 million dollar, 14.6 mile/16 station light rail line died after residents voted in 2000 to not to raise taxes to fund it.

10. Not only does JTA support BRT, the Federal Transit Administration does too

JTA and the FTA also supported the Skyway’s construction 25 years ago. The FTA has supported recent rail plans in Charlotte, Norfolk, and Nashville, which all are communities just as sprawling as Jacksonville. Citizens of Jacksonville should not be held hostage to every ill conceived idea hatched by the MPO, JTA, or the FTA.

Currently, there are serious concerns with BRT’s overall effectiveness and the impact it will have on the surrounding neighborhoods which JTA has been unable or unwilling to address. There are less costly and more effective alternatives that need to be considered before the same people that brought us the Skyway make another mistake that the City of Jacksonville will be forced to live with for the next 30 years.

JTA and the FTA believed that the Skyway Express would attract as many as 56,000 riders a day. Despite the initial segment opening nearly 20 years ago, the Skyway still struggles to attract 3,000 riders on a daily basis. In an effort to prove to their opponents that rail will not work in Jacksonville, Ed Castellani points to JTA's own failures, claiming that the Skyway is "basically an elevated LRT." A scary statement coming from someone JTA relies on for transit expertise.

11. LA Gold Line LRT and Orange Line BRT as an "Apples to Apples" comparison

The Gold Line in Los Angeles was essentially constructed as a heavy rail line. The trains do not allow street level boarding, which is typical of light rail systems, so all stations must have elevated platforms. Portions of the line are elevated while other segments are completely underground. In fact, two tunnel boring machines were used on this project, raising the cost to approximately $60 million per mile. JTA claimed that this system was built at grade, which is not true. Furthermore, this system currently has a major extension under construction which will open in 2009. Ridership is expected to dramatically increase once this happens.

12. Scott Clem says BRT is the best option for Jacksonville

Scott Clem says what JTA pays him to say. He is employed by the JTA for the purpose of giving credibility to their plans. It can be stated with a high degree of certainty that if his opinion diverged significantly from JTA’s existing BRT plan, he would be looking for a new job.



December 17, 2007, 09:45:18 AM
As part of JTA's 'apples to apples' comparison between the LA Orange BRT line and the LA Rail Gold line, it was stated that the Orange line (which had greater ridership) and the Gold line both served areas that were of the same socio-economic demographic.   

I have no first or even second hand knowledge if this is true, but I would be VERY curious to find out if it is indeed true.   My guess is that the Orange line is actually serving an area less affluent than the Gold line.   In other words, the residents of the Orange line vicinity have fewer commuting options (they don't own cars) than the residents in the vicinity of the Gold line.  If so, this might explain why the BRT line has greater ridership and also further discredit the 'apples to apples' comparison.

Probably worth a look.   


December 17, 2007, 10:26:28 AM
Is it really an apples-to-apples comparison?  Would anyone in Jacksonville bother to look it up?

here's a few reasons why this is not an apples to apples comparison.

1. The orange line BRT route was built as a feeder route into LA's busy Red Line Subway.  For BRT in Jacksonville, this is precisely what we've been saying is the proper way to develop BRT.  What JTA is proposing is BRT being the Subway, not a feeder.

2. In Jacksonville, JTA has basically said that BRT is the best choice for the city, instead of being the best choice for a specific corridor.  Then they attempt to back up that flawed opinion by comparing a BRT line with a half-completed light rail line in the same city.  Somewhere, they overlooked that LA's transit system is integrated, just like we're pushing with mixing different modes of transit technology to best serve specific corridors.  In LA alone, the main spine is the Red Line, which is a subway, secondary trunk lines (light rail) and then BRT to serve as feeder routes.

3.  While the Orange Line is "at-grade", the Gold line LRT is not.  It has subway and elevated segments.  This alone eliminates the "apples-to-apples" comparison point of view between the two.  Furthermore, what's proposed locally is closer to what the Gold line would be infrastrucutre wise.  The major difference would be that instead of trains, ours would have buses.  The unknown factor is after we've paid for BRT and it then becomes time to convert to light rail in the future, how much will that cost?  If you're going to compare the two apples-to-apples, then the conversion to LRT would have to become a part of the BRT number, since the other is LRT from the start.

4. Last, but not least, we've been pushing for "urban commuter rail" using DMUs.  That's multiple times cheaper than both LRT and dedicated busways because you're using track already in place.


December 17, 2007, 11:43:55 AM
The social and economic differences in the two lines are not as important as the routes themselves. The Orange Line follows the Ventura Freeway 101, which runs M/L East-West just North of a mountain range, on the Eastern end it ties to the 134 which cuts across to Pasadena, again, just North of the mountains. Thus it follows the line of least resistance and a historical heavy travel route. It is fed on the East end by the Red Line SUBWAY, a major HEAVY RAIL system which accounts for a huge share of the Orange Lines boardings, in fact it could be considered an extension of the Red Line. Traffic on this route is "Joe Lunch Bucket", long range commuters, and visitors to the City Parks complex. The Orange-Red union is just what Jacksonville needs to do with say the CSX line to Orange Park (our "red line") and BRT connections on Kingsley or Wells to Blanding (our "orange line"). Another way to view it would be Rail to JTB and BRT to the Beach, or rail to Gateway Mall and BRT up Lem Turner.

The Arroyo Seco (dry creek) Historical Parkway or the 110 freeway, is LA's answer to Riverside, San Marco, Ortega, Avondale. It is almost completely within heavy hills and twisting canyons. Homes here are probably less working class then the Ventura "Orange" route. This is not really fed by anything, it is also not the historical travel pattern along the base of the Mountains, such as I-210, or the Pasadena Freeway. While it originates at Union Station the "Gold Line's" core are business trips, sight seeing and domestics. Apples to Apples it is not.

There WAS a apples to apples route in Southern California though, it ran from LA to Long Beach, or at least covered much of the same. The Blue line was all LRT and ran through such communities as Watts and Compton. Meanwhile over to the West the "Harbor Freeway Transitway BRT" was built along the same basic route. "113,000 persons a day would ride the BRT", claimed Los Angeles officials... NOT! The blue line LRT blew away the most critical projections, but the Harbor never got above 9,000 daily. Finally the expensive BRT was converted to HOV, and faded into the smog with the rest of the rubber tire junkies.

Oh yeah, "I WAS THERE TOO!" JTA want to try one I haven't been in? Try Omaha...



December 17, 2007, 12:14:57 PM
Re: LA's Orange Line "BRT" vs. Gold Line LRT...

"BRT" promoters like to contrast these two lines as if they had virtually identical characteristics. Baloney. The Orange Line through the San Fernando Valley was constructed almost entirely in readily available surface ROW (except for about a mile in suburban streets on the western end). In addition, it provides an essential feeder service to the North Hollywood Red Line subway station, thus funnelling thousands of commuters into center-city destinations.  Furthermore, it serves a considerably denser population base and more activity centers.

The Gold Line into Pasadena includes both subway and elevated sections (at its easter end, it goes into a tunnel to then come up in the median of the Ventura Freeway. On the western end, to get to Union Station at the edge of downtown LA, it has an extensive elevated viaduct to carry it over the broad trackage of LA's rail passenger yards, which serve both Amtrak intercity rail and Metrolink (regional rail).

There are substantial drawbacks to the Gold Line "BRT" operation compared with LRT. These are detailed in the following articles:

Rail Transit vs. "Bus Rapid Transit": Comparative Success and Potential in Attracting Ridership

LA's "Orange Line" Busway – "Just Like Rail, But Cheaper?" A Photo-Report Reality Check

Hope this helps...



December 17, 2007, 05:26:42 PM
JTA should change its name to JBA for Jacksonville Bus(way) Authority and a new agency that embraces efficient and sensible transportation should be formed.  With the majority of their focus on road building (read: sprawl), pollution and minimal cost-per-benefit BRT, JTA and the Peyton administration that seek to improve Jacksonville's quality of life continues to fail miserably.

What is the real reason JTA so adamantly pushes BRT?  It's obviously not a cost-savings measure.  The majority of our elected (not my choices) will carry themselves through their careers until we are dangerously reliant on the automobile.  Imagine Jacksonville's version of the multi-billion dollar Big Dig in the next 25-50 years.  We would undoubtedly not have access to the nation's money to mitigate the mess we continue to champion as progressive.

Who is a powerful mass transit lobbyist who can transform this grass roots campaign into one that is formidable and challenge our leaders to quit kneeling before and bending over for those tied to oil and road construction?  Occasional features in the T-U, although a nice gesture, will have little impact on the momentum we seriously need.


December 18, 2007, 10:01:54 AM
I think there is a sucessful BRT system in Brazil, in Curitiba, (in a completely different culture) however I am not aware of any such system in the US that has even begun to overcome the bus stigma problem.  LRT is no panacea either, but it does attract ridership, that's been proven.  Ridership should be Job#1 for the JTA, seems to me.  Also, the notion that a 'one size fits all' the routes needs to be dispensed early in this process.   One would think with the nearly complete failure of the local elevated people mover to attract ridership that JTA would be 'once burned twice shy' of systems whose key selling feature isn't ridership.

Secondly, all transit systems depend on density, so that in order to be sucessful Jacksonville needs to tightly coordinate zoning and land use regs with transit planning, which we've never done before.  There's no point in building transit to places where there aren't people or aren't going to be people soon - (another reason the Skyway didn't work, it didn't go from one traffic generator to another).

Any elevated solution is expensive and ugly.  We've already got way too much concrete hanging in space here.  On the ground is cheaper and though not always as fast, it usually seems to work better to attract use. The JTA can't just ignore the aesthetics of transit - to be successful there has to be a 'cool' factor, especially in Downtown.


December 18, 2007, 10:44:55 AM
Veritas, Sure the Skyway as a giant error, but given some credit to the demons behind the plan, Washington, DC did dangle this out like a "free sausage". We jumped on it and got crushed in the grinder, then the FTA came out on international new's expo on TV saying "We NEVER supported it in Jacksonville..." Duh? I guess that $200 Million came from who? Oh yes, Saint Godbold, he was out on the St. Johns River, walking on water!
Now that we have the damned thing, it should at least be completed to a state of service to the core. This will almost certainly require some extension to the Stadium, Riverside and San Marco (at least over the FEC tracks). Did you know the "City of South Jacksonville" sued for some way over those tracks back about 1920?
As for "COOL", is there anything more DISNEY or Star-Trek COOL, then our own beat down Skyway?

Light Rail? "Well I've never been to Heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma..." where a whole new era of Light Rail is in the plans. When tiny El Reno built their 1 mile system in a dead cowboy/railroad town, with dead businesses, dead streets, unemployment at record numbers, band's of gangland youth running wild at night, the Transit World laughed. Today, El Reno is a vibrant, live and fun place with as much history as Guthrie, or Dodge City, and tourist dollars to show for it. Talk about Dead men walking!

Commuter Rail here doesn't have to be 12 car trains or subways. A single Rail Diesel Car running a shuttle service would do wonders for our City. I worked out schedules around the FEC freights that with some capacity investments would still give us something like 4-6 "trains" each way daily from St. Augustine or Avenues. A City doesn't have to be Los Angeles to have Commuter Rail, and blended with our BRT on feeder routes, this City could lead rather then follow.

If this World stays in orbit, and the Sky doesn't fall in on us, this is going to be a very cool next 20 years for Jacksonville.



December 20, 2007, 10:24:59 AM
I must admit, I'm new to this whole getting-involved, and caring about what is going on around me.  I usually stay closed-off in my little world and when the city slaps me across the face with something, I'm very vocal about what a joke the entire decision was and how much better it would be if more people got involved.  Shame on me.

I have a house in Riverside and about a year ago I got a flyer in my mailbox that touched on the BRT.  I, as per usual, thought nothing of it and as long as I wasn't going to lose my house or be directly impacted in some way, it didn't matter to me.  I came across this site and article out of sheer boredom...a fleeting thought of, I-wonder-what-ever-happened-to...  Now I know and it's disheartening.

Someone mentioned (I'm paraphrasing and interjecting my own opionion as well) how the BRT is just another wonderful decision made on the behalf of the citizens of Jacksonville by the Peyton administration (sarcasm of course), and I couldn't agree more, however I am surprised (very) to see all the valid points made for rail versus BRT, with no mention of cost of fuel or C02 emmissions comparisons.

There was a brief mention regarding DMUs which are (by definition) diesel powered.  I'm curious to know how fueling those compares to a bus operating on rapid transit.  Based on all the of the information provided by both JTA and Metro Jax, I would have a hard time believing that BRT would be the most environmentally-friendly option.  Especially, given the fact (as many have pointed out) that most citizens are turned-off by the option of commuting by bus (be it rapid-transit or otherwise) and are more than likely going to fight through traffic regardless, making BRT a useless C02 emitting machine.  Isn't it bad enough that JTA is outwardly contributing to Jacksonville's lack of eco-conciousness by utilizing more land rather than repurposing land?  That point would be moot, of course, if Jax were choosing bio-diesel, but something tells me that's not the case in a city where cyclists are honked at, run off the road, cycling lanes are ignored by city maintenance crews or don't exist at all (a-hem, Baymeadows), and businesses who violate city ordinances surrounding bicycle parking are neither fined nor reprimanded.

Has anyone polled the citizens of Jax to see what they thought of this?  I mean, some organization/person besides JTA or city-council members.  It would be interesting to see how many people from various parts of town, working in different areas, would say they would use BRT or some sort of rail, if they had the choice.  I know, I know, JTA already admitted more want rail, but if they were presented with thousands of signatures saying they would actually use a rail-system and would not use BRT, wouldn't that, if nothing else, just embarass them into dissolving the idea?  Wishful thinking I suppose.


December 20, 2007, 10:54:01 AM
Hey Second_Pancake: Welcome to the battle. We are winning small victorys and the stage is set for us to push this over the top. I am NOT aginst Bus-Rapid-Transit or BRT. Just aginst it the way JTA has it planned. I don't think that BRT is really the tool for a City of 1.5 Million to base their future on. Bogota, has a "good example" of BRT, and yet it is dirty, pours sulfur and carbon into the air, and slices the City into so many little Islands. What they don't say about this World Leader BRT is that the City is the "National Joke of Colombia" and Medellin (with rail) is the model. Anyone with a cartoon about "Transito bobo" will use Bogota as their background. Now the Capital is talking about building a Metro or LRT like Medellin.  Curitiba, Brazil, is the other poster child for BRT in Latin America, and now after years of hauling transit officers from the whole World around the City, and "selling both the concept and the perfection, if not the Volvo Buses" suddenly they are building a Subway. This didn't grow (as JTA and BRT USA nut cases would have us believe) from no-transit, to BRT, to Rail. This is because in a City where the fast bus travels at a speed of about 12 mph. BRT is NOT doing the job. BTW, Curitiba is headed into Summer right now, but this City is positioned not unlike Baltimore, and SNOW is a common winter visitor. Yet they have BRT in Boston, Cleveland and Canada, and we can't blame the weather in Curitiba either. All of the "it could be just like rail," "as good as rail," or "might carry more then rail," hype are full of words such as LIKE, AS, MIGHT... Sorry no cigar.

We need a cheap, simple way to get on track here in town. Something like the old RDC cars or SPV 2000 rail cars that were built by Budd Company, and look for all the world like a self propelled "Amtrak Coach". They are! These older units are now offered completely rebuilt, with backing from the re-builders. A 20 year service life, for about a million dollars a copy. They run down the tracks we already have like any other train, we just need to build good commuter stops. Then add BRT in HOV lanes out connector roads such as Edgewood, Lem Turner, Wells, etc... to bring in the buses to feed the trains. Re-open Union Terminal as our "central station" and finish it off with electric-trolley shuttle buses, Skyway and Streetcars downtown.

Take heart, we have been asked to write such a plan to show to the City.

"Old Hippie, Transit's Abbie Hoffman, and all around class clown"


January 08, 2008, 10:34:57 PM
Has NAS ever taken a position on this. The rail would certainly be useful to them and the BRT plan to Blanding and 103rd ignors the Naval base.


August 05, 2011, 08:50:43 PM
There's no comparison between LRT and BRT when it comes to quality. Today, I've taken LA's Green (LRT) and Silver (BRT) lines back to back. You can feel every pot hole in the street on BRT. It also is subject to roadway congestion in DT LA because it shares lanes with regular traffic there. Last but not least, no TOD. However, I think Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner beats them both. I'm headed to San Diego on it now.


August 05, 2011, 11:47:21 PM
Does anyone have the ear of any NAS big wigs? It would be nice to have a statement about wether or not the Navy would like the base served by commuter rail.

Non-RedNeck Westsider

August 06, 2011, 10:45:33 AM
Out of curiosity, what would drive the necessity of rail to NAS Jax? 

Unless there is a line from the base to JIA, so the incoming/outgoing x-fers could get to the base without need of the shuttle service the Navy currently uses.


August 06, 2011, 01:45:04 PM
Not all of the people,who work on the base live there and others may want transit for other purposes from time to time. 
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