Everyone Is Knocking at JTA. But No One is Home.

May 30, 2009 85 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The enterprising livebloggers of Metrojacksonville.com intended to bring to our readers the inner workings of the JTA Board. Our plans revolved around attending the monthly meeting of the Board of Directors. (The third Thursday of every month) in which all issues and initiatives and programs developed by the JTA are discussed and voted on for approval. After two years of being told what deadbeat dads and slow moving dinosaurs this semi mythical board is, we looked forward to documenting for ourselves the machinations of The Little Train That Can't.

In light of the No Show by JTA at one of the largest transit conferences in recent history, in which the roll out of the 8 billion dollar stimulus for rail was parsed and explained, and the fact that not only was Jacksonville not present, but also not even mentioned or included in the planning of the most important rail improvement program since the Civil War,-----oh?  You're thinking to yourself:  "Wait a minute!  I didn't hear about that!"..Don't feel bad, apparently neither did our transit authority.  more on that in a minute. We felt sure that the subject was at least going to be brought up.

And there we would be, proudly, eagerly transcribing all the action into a format for our transit intrigued readers.

Except that the meeting was canceled.

No replacement meeting has been announced.

There are extenuating circumstances to be sure.

The Executive Director of the JTA had surgery this week and could not make the meeting.

Understandable.  That's one excused absence.

What about the others?

The JTA has an operating budget ---according to their website http://www.jtaonthemove.com/AboutJTA/showPage.aspx?Sel=31 -- of about a hundred million a year.  That's not including all the projects that they oversee or participate in.

The Board meets only once a month. That's only 12 meetings to decide the fate of the entire regional transit concerns of the Northern part of the State. Not to mention the failed transit system here in Jacksonville.

That number of meetings is down to 10 this year apparently.

So, why was the meeting canceled?

Metro Jacksonville was informed about the health of the executive director. But the surgery was a planned one.  Surely there was someone else who could at least hand in the report or give the public time for comments.

The JTA cannot possibly be so understaffed can it?

Was there no business of this mammoth agency to be discussed at all?

And in 8 days, this wasn't the first COMPLETE NO SHOW from our erstwhile Transit Authority.

In fact, this is on the heels of the extremely poor Jacksonville showing last week at the Intercity Passenger Rail Workshop sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration.

A shot of a portion of the room. Transit authorities, mayors, and railroaders from all over the state.

The workshop, held on May 21, 2009, featured Karen Rae, the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; Paul Nissenbaum; Director Office of Passenger and Freight Programs;  Stephen Gardner the Vice President of Amtrak for Policy and Development; and Stephanie Kopelousos, Secretary of Florida's Department of Transportation.

In attendance was the vast majority of the state's power-brokers, including the Mayor's and their staffs of Tampa, Orlando and the South Florida cities.

The presidents of the rail companies were there and every important transit authority and transportation contractor in and out of the state.

The Workshop discussed Intercity Passenger Rail program and the processes by which Cities and States could apply for the $8 billion in the initial roll-out of the program as well as the billion dollar a year investment in all the years afterwards.

Despite the enormous import of this meeting---in which every player in the complicated transportation game was amazingly present in one room-- There was not a single representative from Jacksonville other than two members of Metrojacksonville.com.

Stephen Gardner, Amtrak at the Podium. To his left, Karen Rae and Paul Nissenbaum of the FRA.
Seated at left is the Mayor of Tampa.

The extreme thudding stupidity of this is underlined by the fact that any national system that connects to Florida would naturally have to run through Jacksonville.

Yet no one, not one living person from JTA, was at that meeting.

They missed the spirited and rousing presentation from Stephen Gardner explaining the potentials for partnerships with local and state bodies.

Imagine being able to piggy back local rail transit along the corridor improvements undertaken by Amtrak as it performs the necessary work to gear up its national system at long last.

But there was no one there to discuss that possibility.  Indeed.  There wasn't anyone there to even hear that the possibility could be fleshed out.


When we returned to Jacksonville, we set about finding out that reason.

Our phone calls went un-returned.  When we posted the material online, we finally got a response.

All the people who might have gone to the meeting were apparently escorting an expert on Transit Oriented Development around the downtown.

She apparently had a team of 7 people to discuss the ineffable mysteries of the magical TOD, including but not limited to Scott Clem, Suriya Teeple, and James Boyle of the Jacksonville Transit Authority, and Paul Crawford of the Jacksonville Economic Development Company.


Why were there three people from the JTA assigned to a discussion about development built around transit, at the expense of going to the meeting which would actually explain how to fund the Transit in question.

Did they function as a team?

Was there some trick talking that needed to happen?  Like where each one says every other word in rapid fire?

Did they have a dance routine?

Were they having to carry around the Ark of the Covenant on their backs while listening to her grueling discussion on TODs?

If so, couldn't Paul Crawford have lent a hand?  He's a big guy.  It seems unthinkable that he would have watched Ms. Teeple sweating under the heavy load of the 10 Commandments without volunteering (although his suits do tend to be on the expensive and well cut side)

Or maybe there is some kind of cellular internal security going on over at the City, where no one person is allowed to know too much. That way no one could ever infiltrate.

It would seem to us that the reasons why it took so many people to lead around a lone woman from Denver are remarkably few, and legitimate reasons to do so while passing up an important rail meeting would be even more exotic indeed.

Perhaps this woman from Denver was actually Angelina Jolie and the stylish actress was looking for a fully grown adult to adopt. One from Jacksonville.  

Preferably an orphan working in Transit.

But its alright, we were informed.  The Transit Authority is all over it.

They are apparently leaving a comment on the Federal Railroad Administrations webpage for the workshop.

That'll show em.

At any rate, we look forward to a good reason why we shouldn't be outright appalled at this.

Two times in 8 days, the mystery shoppers from Metro Jacksonville have dropped in on JTA to see how they are doing, and both times...BOTH TIMES, no one from JTA has been anywhere in sight.

Knock Knock, JTA.

Anyone home?

Article by Stephen Dare