In the Summer of 2010, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority expanded the Riverside Trolley from its then current terminus of Five Points to the Shoppes of Avondale. Prior to the relaunch, MetroJacksonville.com Board Members expressed concerns about the headways, route and service periods, and felt the service wouldn't be successful because of these issues. Wednesday, JTA announced that the Riverside Trolley would return to its previous terminus at Five Points, citing the neighborhood's failure to embrace the service.
Riverside Trolley History
May 2008 - JTA Launches the Riverside Trolley, an attempt to get choice riders (those that own a car but choose to use transit) to use their services during lunchtime from Downtown to Five Points. The service launched with 10 minute headways during the business week from 10:30am to 2:30 pm. The service is well received.
September 2010 - JTA consolidates the Riverside Trolley with the WS1 Bus Route. This change extended the operating hours from 5:00AM to 7:30PM Monday-Saturday, the headways went to 35 minutes weekdays and 70 minutes on Saturday (with 12 minute headways during the weekday lunch), and the route went to Boone Park, just past the Shoppes of Avondale.
December 2011 - Citing low ridership, JTA shortens the route back to a Five Points terminus. The headways will be "approximately 10 minutes, except for Saturdays which will have longer headways". The service hours will remain the same. JTA would not elaborate on the Saturday headways.
According to JTA, approximately 150 people use the service on a daily basis. They explained that because of the low ridership, the service was costing them just over $9 per person.
MetroJacksonville.com's critiques from the September 2010 change
- The Headways: MetroJacksonville.com cited the long headways outside of lunchtime hours. Specific examples included customers commuting, as a 35 minute headway will take a commute from Avondale to Downtown from 10 minutes by car to up to 50 minutes by trolley (considering that a person could be waiting for up to 35 minutes for a vehicle). MetroJacksonville.com recommended that if shorter headways could not be achieved, the service would be better served ending at King Street with shorter headways. JTA refused to to listen, citing the WS1 consolidation as the reason. What wasn't brought up by JTA at the time was that the WS1 was a poor performing route anyway, so the need to structure it around the existing poor-performing service was minimal.
The Riverside Trolley never attracted the employees of businesses along Riverside Avenue like JTA hoped
- The Service Times: MetroJacksonville.com cited that a 5:00AM-7:30PM was a poor choice, and that by adjusting the hours to 6:30AM-9:00PM would be better, as folks could use it for dinner during the week. Again, JTA refused to to listen, citing the WS1 consolidation as the reason which, as it turns out, wasn't really an issue.
- The Route: It was cited that Riverside Avenue wasn't a good choice because of it's southern location, and that Oak Street, just one block further north would be better. Once again, JTA did not consider these issues.
- JTA never reached out to the neighborhood when they discovered the service was not performing. Instead they dictated their service cuts to the neighborhood, as if the neighborhood folks had to use the service. JTA did not explain why they didn't reach out to the neighborhood to discuss the service's poor performance.
- When the service originally launched in 2008, the signage at stops explained the service times, the headways, and the route. When the service was altered in 2010, not only did the new stops not have the new maps/times/headways, the old maps/times/headways were left up at the old stops, confusing riders.
Not only did JTA not re-do the map and headway signs along the reconfigured trolley route in 2010, they left the old (wrong) signs up for weeks after the reconfigured service launched
- When asked if JTA considered other alternatives to scaling back the service as dramatically as they did, they said yes, however refused to elaborate as to what was considered.
Prediction for the new service
This new service might be a poorer performer than the original Riverside Trolley route. While having the early morning and evening service is nice, not actually having the service extend into the residential areas of the neighborhood could doom the service to failure. The lunchtime riders should remain, but having the same number of riders with longer service times will increase the cost per rider, thus making it a poorer performer.
It's been obvious for years that JTA has little interest in listening to the neighborhood's suggestions. This is just another example of that. For any transit agency, riders in older, pedestrian friendly urban core neighborhoods are usually a gold mine. Not only does JTA not embrace this thought, by setting the service up for failure it makes the neighborhood look transit unfriendly when campaigning for future services. JTA did the same thing with the San Marco Trolley in 2003. For those who don't remember, JTA ran a trolley in a one-direction, 30 minute loop that was poorly received. Turns out people don't always want to turn right by literally making three left turns. This made San Marco out to be a neighborhood that doesn't embrace transit.
In the mobility plan, one of the projects is a streetcar from Downtown to King Street. Will JTA cite poor trolley ridership as opposition for this new service? Perhaps the issue isn't the residents of the neighborhood, but the leadership (or lack thereof) at JTA, and their repeated failed execution of services, particularly services that attempt to attract choice riders into the network.
Update by Steve Congro