Here are ten reasons why you should have serious concerns about JTA's proposed Bus Rapid Transit system.
1. Overall Costs
Transit planners continue to dodge questions about costs, claiming it is too early to give a price range. Nevertheless, there is nothing new under the sun. The issues we are dealing with today have occurred in other communities, meaning there should be an ample supply of good and bad examples that we can learn from.
Examples of existing dedicated busway systems show that these investments tend to cost just as much as state-of-the-art light rail systems and as much as five times more than other forms of rail transit. If you think paying $400 million for a courthouse is expensive, then you havent seen anything yet. JTAs own Technology Assessment Documents state building dedicated busways could be anywhere from $26 to $33 million per mile.
For a 29 mile system, this means the real price tag for our "souped-up" busways will be somewhere between $754 million and $957 million. Given the fact that the courthouse budget has ballooned from $190 million, a few years ago, to $400 million today, is there any debate that BRT, as currently planned, wont cost at least a $1 billion when it is complete in 2025?
2. Long range implementation schedule
Its bad enough that Jacksonville is the largest American city planning its entire mass transit network around buses. It's even worse that the planned 29 mile BRT system will not be fully operational until 2025. It's criminal negligence that even when this system is finally built, it still wont stretch past 103rd Street on the Westside, Baymeadows Road on the Southside, Regency Mall to the East and Gateway Mall to the North. If this huge capital investment does not connect riders to where they really want to go, then it doesnt matter whether its bus, rail, boat or plane. Like the Skyway, it will fail.
3. The Cachet Factor
The slogan for BRT is Think Rail, Ride Bus. Transit planners acknowledge that there is a national negative stigma associated with buses, yet they believe designing a dedicated busway to mimic and look like rail will overcome an issue no other major American city has solved. However, history has shown a pig with lipstick is still a pig and that you cant trick riders with gimmicks. Whats more unfortunate is that JTA is willing to spend more to dress up buses to look like rail, then it would to just flat out to invest in rail upfront.
4. Duplication of Infrastructure
JTA consultants believe that if building dedicated busways is successful, the entire system could then be torn up and converted into light rail. As Houston recently discovered in its rejection of BRT, doing such will mean paying double for mass transit. In addition to this, three of the four BRT corridors parallel existing railroad corridors, two of which have the capacity for passenger transit. Instead of taking residents homes and businesses and spending hundreds of millions to build a system parallel to existing railroads, why not seriously attempt to find a way to use what already exists?
5. Negative impacts on Downtown
After investing hundreds of millions in trying to revitalize downtown, things have finally turned for the better with a number of retail shops and restaurants with outdoor sidewalk seating starting to open up. JTAs RTS plan will negatively impact this positive trend by removing hundreds of parallel parking spaces and hampering business accessibility by replacing them with lanes dedicated only for buses. Furthermore, planned BRT routes parallel the skyway, competing head to head with it for riders, as opposed to complementing our $184 million public investment by feeding riders into it.
6. Overlooking the Northside
The planned BRT corridor will parallel I-95, from downtown to Gateway Mall. For this to happen, miles of right-of-way will have to be purchased and a new highway for buses only will have to be built.
Unfortunately, residents dont live, work, or play on the interstate, meaning this selected route will not conveniently serve our most urban neighborhoods. On the other hand, the city already owns 5 miles of former rail corridor running just west of Downtown, within walking distance of the Farmers Market, Edward Waters College, Shands Jacksonville, Swisher International and a countless number of pedestrian friendly urban neighborhoods up to Gateway Mall.
7. Visual Blight
A dedicated busway is essentially a highway for buses only. According to BRT documents, a significant portion of this system will have to be elevated to allow buses to cross existing highways, railways, and other congestion points. Unfortunately, this system of elevated concrete highways will also slice through our historic neighborhoods, such as Murray Hill and Riverside/Avondale. Unless residents want to see a continuous flow of buses passing by their homes on elevated busways, there must be a better way for mass transit to be integrated into our communities.
8. Still subject to Vehicular Congestion
Believe it or not, after a making a billion dollar investment to get this system up and running, it will still have to mix in with regular streets for certain segments. This means that an accident or traffic congestion will hamper schedule reliability. A system that cant guarantee arrival and departure times with its riders is one that will most likely fail to attract a large amount of ridership on a continuous basis.
9. American examples
At public hearings, JTA has been unable to point to one successful American example, illustrating the exact type of bus rapid transit system it is proposing. How can JTA buy into a system that their own hired experts can not provide a single successful example of. No where in America has BRT been successful, and it is doubtful JTA will be the first to pull it off.
10. Transit Oriented Development
Much has been made about the importance of Transit Oriented Development in our community. There's only one problem. BRT has an extremely weak track record of attracting quality transit oriented development in American cities. JTA's solution to this problem is to simply twist the definition of Transit Oriented Development to encompass anything adjacent to a bus stop. This is a deceitful tactic that will quickly become apparent after the system is complete.
Prepare yourself, BRT is about to make you wish for the days when the Skyway was Jacksonville's largest transit misstep.
To learn more about JTA's planned bus rapid transit boondoggle and affordable alternative options out there, visit Metro Jacksonville's Transit section:
Next: Metro Jacksonville's Affordable Alternative