Long Day's Journey Into Plight: Stephen Dare Goes JTA

December 5, 2015 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Welcome to a summary of one of Metrojacksonville's most popular articles of all time: Originally published in 2009, when most people would agree that the beleaguered Transit Authority was at its absolute nadir (pre Nat Ford) Stephen Dare decided to give up car travel and get around depending wholly on the mass transit options provided by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. The result was often a hilarious and ultimately grisly tale and the highlights are compiled here:

Day 1

Only one day so far and already, the JTA shenanigans are a little too egregious to deal with.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn from today's first experience.  Either something is seriously wrong with me, or JTA is hiring their bus drivers solely from a pool of ex corrections officers, who largely need psychiatric attention.

It started right off the bat.  This morning, in the blazing heat I set out for downtown.  From the shady corner of 6th and Main, I caught the E-5.

After brutally offending the bus driver with a question so insulting that I felt lucky to have escaped a public flogging----, i.e. "How close do you get to Forsythe and Main?", I fumbled for the newfound wonder of my 40 dollar Month Pass.

"Here is my pass" I flashed it at him, hoping perhaps to curry back the favor I had already lost with my first question.

"You have to swipe it." he said rolling his eyes.

This was a bit of a surprise.  No one had really mentioned swiping the damned thing.  I looked around for somewhere to do the swiping.  There is a little hotel door key looking slot thing on the pay tower.  


The Busdriver, and it was not my imagination, began staring holes through me, in an attempt to drill straight through my heathen soul.  He waited until I got the card completely out of its little plastic protector and was about to attempt my first swipe.

"Is it July 1?" he asked venomously.

"No?" I responded wondering what the combination of venom and date question was about.

"Then why are you trying to use that pass?"

"Well I picked up the pass yesterday and they said it would be good for the busses"  Looking down at the pass, I did notice that the word 'July' was printed on it large as life.

"You cannot use that pass and they didnt tell you it would be good."

This last line was delivered in such a way as to question either my competence or manhood.  I decided to ignore it.

"Well what do I do?"

Apparently cash was the only option.  I grubbed around in pocket, produced bills, managed about 70 bucks in 10s and 20s.

"All I have is 10s and 20s, do you have change?"


I looked around imploringly at the, by now riveted, passengers.  With no disrespect, none of the people on the bus were likely to have change for a 10, except one pleasant woman near the front.  She didnt.

The bus slammed to a wrenching sudden stop, nearly catapulting me into the windshield and causing the pleasant looking woman to grab a panic bar to keep in her seat.

"Sir you will have to get off the bus."

This seemed a little unreasonable to me, and I interjected.  Look, I obviously have a 40 dollar month pass and plenty of cash, its clear Im not trying to defraud the JTA of a hard earned dollar.  Cant I just stay on until we get to the station?

Silence.  The driver opened the bus door.

By now the bus had travelled to the east side of springfield down 1st street.   On a Saturday Morning, there isnt an open business to get change for what seems like miles.  The bus driver knew this.  Dropping me off so far from civilization was a deliberate fuck you.

So I asked him his name.

"What do you need my name for?!"

Just curious.

"You don't need my name.!"

"Actually you are supposed to give me your name"  I peered around to look at his badge.  He manuevered his body so that I would have had to climb into his lap to see it.

"What do you need it for, then I'll tell you my name"

"Well actually Im going to make a voodoo doll for the JTA, and it helps during the burning ceremony if I can chant your name over it."

Clearly he knew a smartass when he saw one.  (By now the pleasant looking woman was shaking her head ruefully)

"You tell whoever you want to.  My name is (unintelligible) Brinson."

I got off and walked the additional 12 or so blocks, cursing the name of JTA to the skies.

I wonder how many people have had a similar experience where the customer loyalty or positive experience was tossed to the maws of the transit hellhounds for the sake of that stupid dollar?

Day 2

Starting at Main Street, I took the Talleyrand bus straight into the central station. As I arrived there, the downtown trolley arrived almost simultaneously.  I hopped on the azalea line (which is really just a dumb way of saying "The Trolley that circles East of Main Street"  It took me straight to Hemming Park, where I disembarked, got coffee, dropped in all three points of the Bermuda Triangle of Downtown Gossip (The UPS Store, Starbucks and of course the Library Book Store)

Now comes the real trick.

Finding any useful bus stops once one is away from the central station.

First a few hard cold fact and observations:

No one who works or drives for JTA knows a damned thing about any other part of JTA.

Already this weekend I have had the distinctly unpleasant experience of announcing a perfectly reasonable destination like "Art Museum Drive" or "San Marco", only to be stared at as though I had murmered something dangerous that ended with "Allah Akhbar".

Simply asking a bus driver which bus one needs to take to get to a final destination is bound to be an experience where one sits while said busdrivers gaze moodily off into a distant land and the sound of square wheels clanking brokenly in a badly designed clockwork is distinctly heard.

Invariably a rushing river of non sequitors follows in which the destination is used variously as a noun, adjective and verb in assorted sentences before one of two things happens:

1.  One is directed to a supervisor at the station (or alternately pointed in the direction of the website or customer service number)

2.  One is left to stuff the compounded information in one's pipe and smoke it.  Further questions will result in further obfuscations and sometimes the open interference and hostility of competing passenger theories, with the possibility that an argument will break out and one is left feeling part of a family melodrama.

Calling the customer assistance line is the best idea.  Indeed it is probably the safest as well.

That number is 630-3100.

Which is great if you have a cell phone with unlimited minutes (i do.)

Second thing to be aware is the curious and damnable custom unique to Jacksonville of NOT OFFERING TRANSFER SLIPS.

This is especially pernicious.  ALL routes end downtown and if one is going from say, regency to UNF, one must necessarily go downtown and switch buses.  For this little indignity one would be forced to pay an additional dollar.

Already in the course of the weekend, I have witnessed no fewer than 4 melodramas over this basic injustice.  Each time with a newly energized first time user of JTA.  In one case,  I began to suspect that we were about to witness a case of self strangulation as the bus driver (a Vogon if ever there was one) happily explained to the power tie sporting 20 something that he would have to pay another fare if he wanted to ride the second half of his fare.

I suspect that this surprise mini lynching is going to lead to a lot more people carpooling.

In any case, I am able to stand above the fray as a result of the aforementioned monthly pass.

With it, I would never need a transfer.  This does not however shield me from the anxiety caused by the absence of the small helpful sensible little tickets.

Legitimate Hieroglyphics.

wow.  im speaking to the jta.   Unbelievable.  I am a little stunned at this, but I have been thoroughly put in my place several times by the operator.

JTA doesnt 'recognize' Interstate 95 as a street in Jacksonville.  So there is no way to find out what bus gets to the intersection of 95 and St. Augustine.

Instead, we had to look up the address of Publix and get directions for there.

From the intersection of Phillips and Emerson, you have to catch the L-7 which runs every thirty minutes to and from until 8:10pm.  You will take that to FCCJ Station

Then you will take the R5 which runs every hour till 10pm which is the last return trip.

Your cost, one way is two dollars, and you will have a scheduled wait time of 20-40 minutes between your bus connection, depending on what time of day you go.

Total cost there and back (you would obviously need to be on the last L7 bus by 8:10pm) will be 4 dollars a day.

Over the week thats 20 bucks.

So you obviously should buy the 40 dollar monthly pass.

Now Im going to go have an attack of outrage over 95 not being a recognized street in Jacksonville.

Ah.  The Bus Stops.

Who the hell needs the Da Vinci Code in order to build a sense of anxiety, dread and suspense.

L7 B7 R5 E4.

Do these numbers mean anything to anyone?  Is it part of the Navahoe Code?

Im sitting here, looking at the various incomprehensible alpha numerics wondering what in the hell do they mean.  A fellow passenger is certain that they are in the right place at the right time.  They are catching the B7 to San Marco.  "B", my limitedly informed benchmate informs me, stands for Baymeadows.

This gives me a certain sense of relief, since San Marco is also my intended destination.

I stare holes in the rest of the letters trying to divine what their true inner meanings might be.

R.  R.   R........
Riverside?  dunno.  Rogero?  maybe.  Can't tell.




Eastside maybe?

Where are the schedules for any of these routes?  where do they go?

James (the fellow B-7 passenger) can only answer two things with certainty.  That b-7 goes to San Marco and "B" stands for Baymeadows.

Day 3

Getting to San Marco from Downtown.

Step 1.  Call JTA.  630-3100.
Talked to an extremely friendly and intelligent customer service agent named Justin.

This was a real highlight.

My question to Justin was how could I get from Downtown to San Marco.
Apparently there isnt a quick way to see all of that information at once on JTA's computers.

Instead he had an address of a boutique in San Marco, Anthony's I believe.

He asked me exactly where I was looking to go, and then he ran all of the possible busses.

SS-2, SS-3, L-9 and B-7 (which I already knew from a prior fellow passenger).

Finally, he let me know exactly where each of the stops would let me off and how far I would have to walk to my destination.

The Skyway, incidentally is a smooth piece of work for downtown.  I hopped on the skyway at Hemming Plaza using the 40 dollar monthly pass (there is a swiper at the turnstyle.) and was able to make the turnstyle work for the first time in months.

I was so intrigued by this, that I stepped back out and dropped 50 cents in to see if that worked as well.

It didnt. Strange.

Anyways, hopped onto the skyway, made it to the B-7 bus within 4 minutes and was in San Marco 10 minutes later.

Whoever this kid Justin is, they need to promote his ass and let him teach others how to deal with the public.

Day 4

San Marco to the beaches.

This seemingly simple trip started without a hitch.

I walked from Uncommon Grounds to the Bus stop facing the Loop making it exactly 30 seconds after the B-7 (B for Baymeadows) left the station.

I located the heiroglyph stick only the find that there are two bus routes listed.  B-7 naturally, and the iconic sounding "U-2" route.

I decided to sit it out and wait.  Within 3 minutes the mysterious U-2 whisked up and I boarded.

Naturally there was nothing resembling a schedule or a route, but I assumed that any bus so close to downtown would be going back over the river.

How wrong I was.

U-2 pulled up to the King's Avenue Station and the doors opened.

The bus driverturned to me and said 'You do know that this bus isnt going downtown don't you?"

No, in fact I didnt.

"Well it doesnt"

No big deal, I thought.  Im at the Skyway station, I can just hop on it over the river.

"Just out of curiousity, where does this bus go after here?"

"It doubles back around and goes to Regency Square."  he informed.

Hmm... good to know.  You can get from San Marco to Regency if you need to.

Here is when things began to go sadly astray, or as I like to call such situations in progress, they went 'JTA'.

I walked the half block or so to the gates of the Skyway.  Only to find them firmly gated and locked.

I walked around to the opposing side.   same thing.

What the hell?

I looked off in the back ground where the driver of the U2 was shooting the breeze with another JTA employee.

I saw a small sign.

It informed its small part of the world, provided you were up close with bifocals that this branch of the Skyway would be out of commission for a couple of weeks beginning April 17th.

Its now July.

By this point a small yuppie tribe of about 12 began leisurely walking towards me from the parking lot.

They passed the two drivers.

The matriarch of this crew aped my own discovery of the closed gates.

"What the fucking hell" she asked.

"This station is closed, apparently"  I told her.

She was obviously quick on the uptake and we stood there for a moment united in disgust with no possibility of exacting revenge.

Her husband (Im making assumptions here) said.  "Well ya know.  Maybe the drivers could have told us that before we walked all the way down here."

"Or maybe a sign in the parking lot as you come in," responded Leona (my pretend name for the matriarch)

"You'd think" I added my own acid two cents.

As a group we stalked back to the drivers.

They informed us that they thought there was a shuttle running to the next station.  No one knew how long it would take to get back around to us.

"Shit on this" Leona decided.

The yuppie tribe stomped back to the parking lot.

Having no other recourse I waited.

15 minutes later, I telephoned customer service at 630-3100.

Justin, luckily, answered.

He apologized profusely for the mixup.  He gave me a list of buses that would be coming through the station over the next thirty minutes.  Nothing would arrive for at least 15 more minutes.

I thanked him and as I got off the line with him, a bus marked 'skyway shuttle' pulled up.

Well this isnt so bad then.  As I went to board, an attractive woman in her middle years disembarked.  Following right behind her in conversation the Driver of the replacement shuttle also disembarked.   They walked away together.

I boarded the bus, assuming the driver had to take a whiz.

12 minutes is an awful long time on a bus alone with no air.

Surely no matter how dire an emergency not even the human bowel would normally take this long to  perform its necessary functions.

Perhaps he had experienced liver or heart failure and was even now expiring alone without any help.

I told myself these things to rein in the visible impatience.

As soon as I walked three steps off the bus, I caught sight of the driver, chatting the hell out of the attractive lady looking as though he hadn't a care in the world.

He immediately saw me and the cozy vignette collapsed.  She tersely said goodbye and he walked back to the bus.

We drove in stony silence together to the next skyway stop where I disembarked and caught the next tram almost immediately.

This particular car went all the way to the FCCJ Station.

Within minutes of arriving (7) the BH-1 (BH for 'Beaches") arrived.

I flashed my terribly useful bus pass went to the back of the bus and nodded off to sleep.

An hour later I woke up as the bus was driving down 3rd Street, within three blocks of our beach house.

Without incident I got off the bus and walked the remaining two blocks.

So to answer your question, Lunican.  For whatever reasons Mike might have for doing so, he told the truth about eliminating the rock em sock em fare ambush between the beaches and town.

Now to return to town.

Well I am back from the Beaches.   And I am happy to report that if there is one thing that the JTA does well (and always has, for that matter) it is the beach bus service.

Rule 1 is that you have to catch the bus either at the FCCJ Station or the Regency Square Bus(t) Station.  These are the most convenient and easiest to find stops.

BH-1 (BH for "Beaches) is the route.  It leaves roughly every thirty minutes, and the busdriver pretty much gets to haul ass down Atlantic Blvd. Once you get to the Beaches themselves it runs down A1A the entire length of the community with frequent bus stops and friendly awesome passengers.  All I had to do was flash the 40 Dollar Monthly Bus Pass, and didnt have to think about transit related issues again.

After dropping in to say howdy to my L'il Mama. I just walked back up two blocks and waited 12 minutes before I was back on a bus headed to town.  An hour later I was back at FCCJ Station.

Five minutes later I was back at the corner of 7th and Main in Springfield to drop in and feed the cats and putter around in the building.

An hour later, E-5 brought me back down Main Street to FCCJ and the Trolley dropped me off at Starbucks.  Which is where I am now.

The biggest problem I am running into right now is the vulgar lack of communication and some blisteringly bad customer service.

That and a level of beaurocratic incompetence in cross communications that is enough to boil the eyes from the sockets.

Day 5

Late Night.

From the Starbucks at 11east, I walked over the Main Street Bridge to catch a San Marco Bus.

Now a lingering design flaw of the Skyway Express is that it really only goes two places that anyone in that group called "Jacksonville Citizens" might want to actually go:  Hemming Park and FCCJ.  The rest of the goddam thing was built for tourists and out of town conventioneers who never seemed to really materialize.  If you are trying to get to the hotels and convention center, then Baby, the skyway is your choice.

Other than that its really just a convenient and super air conditioned way to get to the center of bus operations at the FCCJ Station or to Hemming Park.

They built the damned thing over the river as part of the acosta bridge, and then nonsensically circled around to King Street apparently calculating the exact number of blocks from San Marco that would make the average person think hiring a helicopter would be preferable.

Said all that to say this.  The area that hugs the river along the southbank riverwalk is a treacherous no mans land of JTA.

Im sure there is an essay that could be solely devoted to the southbank riverwalk situation, but ill struggle for brevity here.

There is NO CONNECTION between the massive skyway system and San Marco.

The Southbank is apparently lousy with corporate employees who need transportation to and from their cars in parking lots.  There are enough bus stops to accomodate the poor huddled masses of all the commuting nations of Christendom.  They are everywhere.   They are covered structures with neat little benches inside them and the ground is so thick with them that they are often facing each other across the street.

On first glance, one would assume that the southbank is a virtual nerve center of public transit.

The Skyway looms overhead and there are all these bus stops inexplicably close together along all the blocks.

But one would be tragically wrong.

None of the bus stops or stations belong to JTA.

In fact they arent available to the heathen public.

Years ago, the corporate towers apparently gave up on being able to get their employees in and out of the blocks distant parking lots in time via JTA or their parking garage/skyway combo and simply built more garages and lots and then purchased a fleet of their own minibuses.

They cut JTA out completely.

And it is very difficult to find which stops belong to JTA and which ones are prudential or Baptist employee stops.

Unless you know the routes, there isnt really any way of knowing where the JTA might have placed their stops so I made a guess that there might be a few along Mary and/or Prudential and/or San Marco Blvd.  It was after the hour which one might be able to reach JTA customer service.

I finally found a bona fide JTA stop on Mary.  SS-3 and SS- something.

There was an raucous BB rolling around in the boxcar of my mind that I was pretty sure was an ancestral memory connecting SS-3 with San Marco.

I sat there.

Prudential mini busses blew by one after another.  I began to have bus envy and anxiety.

JTA busses were also blowing by on other streets.

Some were jumping onto the expressway, others were headed down hendricks.

I thought I heard a jeer coming from one of the Prudential bitches.

That tore it.

I got up and started walking to the commonsensibly surer San Marco Blvd.

Naturally the minute I was too far away to haul ass back to the stop SS-3 blew by and headed towards the Square.

The stretch from the Museum of Science and History is a concrete wasteland of nothingness and traffic congestion.

There are plenty of decoy bus stops and one rickety JTA bench which was apparently designed to serve as a Human Rotisserie Grill.

If the JTA needs Advertising money in order to build recognizeable, comfortable bus stops, then for the love of god, give it to them.  The present situation is ri god dam diculous.

I walked further down, with bus anxiety gripping my colon.

I made it to the bus Heiroplyph Stick about a block away from the Stripper Club on San Marco.

Was it too late for any further San Marco Buses?

I called the Downtown Library which also carries every bus schedule for information.

While I was on the phone, the B-7 turned the corner.

I hopped on and was in the square in 4 minutes.

My observation in all this, is that you would think that the JTA would have obvious and visible interest in connecting Skyway stops with the bus stops to San Marco, since the Skyway System doesnt go there.

At the entrance of every Skyway Station on the Southbank, there should at least be schedules and maps of all the connecting routes.  Not just for the Skyway riders, but for all the rest of the incidental riders in the dense little area who will assume, like I did, that the most massive visible project of the JTA would naturally be a user friendly source of information.

Final note.  When going to San Marco from downtown, steer clear of the Skyway, and simply catch one of the busses that takes you to the square.   It will save anxiety and wait time.