Trimming the Fat: How to reduce the cost of JTA's BRT

September 2, 2010 78 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a closer look at JTA's $25 million plan for BRT on Philips Highway and presents an affordable non-federal funding assistance seeking alternative.

About the BRT Southeast Corridor Plan

The proposed project would extend approximately 11.6 miles from downtown Jacksonville from Kings Avenue Skyway Station to a multimodal hub at Avenues Walk/Southside Boulevard.  The project will include five bus stops (stations) at Emerson Street, University Blvd., JTB Blvd., Baymeadows Rd., and Southside Blvd.  Improvements under consideration include new or enhanced stations, potential park-and-ride locations, and other near-term improvements using existing arterial roadways to provide improved bus operating efficiency and reliability.  The project is expected to cost taxpayers $25 million and is anticipated to be operational by 2014.

Purpose of the BRT Southeast Corridor Project

The purpose of the BRT Southeast Corridor Project is to provide premium transit service in the southeast corridor that:

- Maximizes existing transportation network capacity;

- Improves system linkages through service and technology;

- Provides efficient, reliable, high-capacity service to the transportation disadvantaged;

- Supports economic development efforts, such as the 2030 Mobility Vision developed by the City of Jacksonville for the Philips Highway corridor, and

- Implements local and regional plans for BRT.

The establishment of rail-based transit supported by reliable bus service, not bus rapid transit, to help facilitate economic development and urban connectivity was the major transit-based component of mobility visions and goals listed above.  JTA's decision to pursue federal funds for a parallel bus rapid transit corridor, instead of commuter rail first, creates a dilemma for our community.

This COJ Southeast Vision Plan sketch indicates how integrating rail transit with land use could help redevelop the intersection of Philips Highway and JTB with sustainable, walkable development.

Jacksonville's Dilemma

Unfortunately, BRT does not have the power to stimulate redevelopment along Philips Highway.

The concern here is that this may set commuter rail along this corridor back by a decade or more...especially if Federal funds are desired... FTA likely won't want to spend money for both BRT and commuter rail serving the same corridor.,9414.msg169655.html#msg169655

One of the major benefits of rail-based mass transit is its ability to stimulate transit oriented development, redevelopment along blighted corridors and long term job creation.  If there is a corridor in Jacksonville that could use an economic shot in the arm, Philips Highway is it.  JTA's decision to move forward with winning federal funds for BRT along Philips Highway jeopardizes this economic enhancement opportunity for Jacksonville.

Metro Jacksonville's Affordable BRT Alternative: Trimming The Fat

Metro Jacksonville's BRT alternative is an affordable solution that establishes the basic components of BRT without investing $25 million or requiring federal assistance to do so.

Metro Jacksonville believes BRT can be implemented at a significantly less cost than JTA's proposal.  Here are a few suggestion to help trim the fat.

Transit Signal Priority (TSP)

TSP along Cleveland's Health Line BRT Corridor

1. What is Transit Signal Priority

Bus priority or transit signal priority is a name for various techniques to speed up bus public transport services at intersections (or junctions) with traffic signals. Buses normally signal their impending arrival (for example via radio systems) and on their arrival at the intersection receive green lights. This is often combined with separate bus lanes, though possibly this may only apply at the intersections themselves.

Why it is not needed along Philips Highway

Transit Signal Priority techniques are best implemented along congested thoroughfares.  However, the majority of Philips Highway flows smoothly with a Level of Service (LOS) B and C.  While there are limited hot spots, such as the University/Bowden intersection, TSP may be something JTA yearns to have with federal dollars but it is not a necessity for improving bus reliability and frequency along this corridor.  In addition, the City of Jacksonville's draft of the 2030 Mobility Plan includes road infrastructure projects intended to relieve the isolated congestion points along the corridor.  It would not be a bad idea for JTA to take a step back from the FTA process and coordinate with the city's plans to ensure that the goals of both are meet within the frame of one project instead of working separately to come up with their own plan for the same corridor.

2. Real-Time Passenger Information

An enhanced bus shelter (renamed transit station BRT proponents) with Real-time information along the Kansas City MAX's route.

What is Real-Time Passenger Information?

A passenger information [display] system (PIDS) is an electronic information system which provides real-time passenger information. It may include both predictions about arrival and departure times, as well as information about the nature and causes of disruptions. It may be used both physically within a transportation hub and remotely using a web browser or mobile device.

Why it is not a necessity along Philips Highway

According to JTA's plans, buses along Philips Highway will arrive at stops every 10-15 minutes.  At that rate, the frequency of service is strong enough for riders to know that the next bus will be arriving very soon.  This makes the immediate need for real-time passenger information a desire rather than necessity.  Without real-time information, the cost of shelters can be reduced significantly.  In addition, if JTA can get their shelter advertising program worked out, the entire cost of shelters (transit stations) can be provided by the private sector, completely eliminating the burden of this expense on the taxpayer.

Recently installed JTA bus shelter at Main & Bay Streets. While enhanced bus shelters with Real-time information would be great, a bus shelter with a system map that protects riders from the sun and rain will suffice.  Considering a corridor like Philips would be attractive for advertising companies, the cost for these shelters could be financed by the private sector.

3. New Buses

New "branded" buses, as shown above, were a significant expenditure in the implementation of the Kansas City MAX BRT corridor.

The purchase of new bus vehicles could make up as much as 40% of the overall capital cost for this $25 million BRT corridor.  JTA currently conducts three system modifications a year to refine existing routes for more efficient service.  This can be done with existing routes and buses in this area of town today, instead of waiting to 2014.  

Why aren't new buses needed along Philips Highway?

While purchasing brand new buses would be nice, this is an unnecessary expenditure when it comes down to providing better, reliable and more efficient service along Philips Highway.  Remove this cost from the equation and the cost of this particular corridor immediately drop as much as $10 million.

Look familiar?  Same bus (as the Kansas City MAX BRT), different color.  Instead of spending millions for new buses to serve Philips, use what we already have.  If there is a desire to "brand" this corridor, repaint a few of these buses and call them the Jax MAX or whatever corny phrase consultants can cook up.

4. Queue Jumps

A Queue Jump is similar to a regular turn lane, expect buses use the lane to get around stacked automobile traffic at busy intersections. Image from

Queue jumps, or bypass lanes, allow buses to move to the front of the line at traffic signals.  Instead of buses lining up behind a line of cars at intersections, buses move through a bypass lane on one side of traffic.  This allows the bus to avoid any long lines of automobiles, and results in more efficient transit service and less travel delay.  On occasion, a bus-only right-lane signal may be added to allow buses to travel through the intersection before the automobiles in the adjacent lanes are permitted to proceed.

Why aren't Queue Jumps needed?

The one size fits all solution to problems works with men's tube socks, not mass transit.  Every corridor presents certain challenges.  Queue jumps would be ideal for a congested roadway such as Blanding Blvd. in Orange Park.  Philips Highway does not back up and will not be backing up anytime in the foreseeable future, making expensive Queue jumps a want instead of a true need.  

The drive on Philips Highway is a pretty smooth one.  Since there is no daily gridlock and none on the horizon, reliable frequent bus service can be established without an immediate investment in Queue Jump and Transit Signal Priority infrastructure.

5. Reliable Headways

The existing map illustrates the CT3, CT1, L9 and L7 all using significant stretches of Philips Highway and I-95 to connect Southside riders with downtown.  This sort of duplication results in higher annual operations costs with limited ability to attract additional riders.  For example, there are no bus stops on I-95 for the CT3 to serve as it guzzles gas, wears down tires, logs miles and bus driver salaries between downtown and University Blvd.  Why not eliminate corridor duplication such as this and use the cost savings to improve conditions on adjacent corridors where riders may actually exist?

JTA currently operates various fixed-route bus services (B7, CT1, CT3, L7, L9, S1, SS6, SS35, and WS91) within the southeast corridor, as well as the Mandarin Community Shuttle which provides shuttle service to Philips Highway from this community.  These routes operate infrequently (weekday frequencies in excess of 30 minutes and weekend frequencies of 60 minutes or more), serve limited travel needs, and do not connect passengers directly to the southeast corridor activity generators.  JTA would like to reduce headways along this corridor to 10-15 minutes.  JTA believes that such an improvement can only be achieved by investing $25 million.

How to provide reduces headways by modifying existing routes?

A look at JTA's current Southside bus routes indicates that several routes tend to parallel each other, providing duplicate services as they flow into downtown.  Metro Jacksonville suggests taking a look at streamlining the duplication and shifting the operational savings generated to upgrade the L7 route (DT - Avenues Mall) to 15 minute headways.  The graphic below serves as a conceptual example of how sample existing bus routes could modified provide better service to the Southside destinations.

Conceptual Graphic Only: In this illustration, the L7 is upgraded to become the high frequency bus line serving the Philips Highway corridor.  Routes like the U2 are modified to serve specific corridors (in this case University Blvd.) instead of also weaving their way into downtown.  Express services like the SS35 would also us Philips Highway on their route to their final destination.  Significant duplicate stretches of parallel lines like the CT3 and L9 are also eliminated.  Remaining Southside stretches of these lines are then combined to create a smaller loop service that connects various Southside neighborhoods and office parks with the Philips Highway bus line for service into downtown Jacksonville. While such a system would require a change in JTA's bus transfer policies (something that should be done anyway), service could be significantly improved by better utilizing money already being spent for poorly designed existing bus routes.


Like JTA, Metro Jacksonville would like to see reliable bus service implemented along several thoroughfares in Jacksonville, including Philips Highway.  However, our position is that this can be done with better utilization of existing assets, without FTA financial involvement and far less than JTA's estimates of $25 million.

This can be done by first providing Jacksonville residents with the development of a reliable no frills bus service (you can even call it BRT if you desire) along the Philips Highway corridor.  This solution will not only establish BRT for a truly affordable cost, but will do so without jeopardizing FTA assistance in establishing a rail system in Jacksonville that could be the stimulus for the economic development and jobs our city desperately needs.

Article by Ennis Davis