JTA Skyway to Remain Fare-Free for Another Year

August 31, 2012 39 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

During last year's mayoral race, Metro Jacksonville offered five affordable solutions that we believed would dramatically increase the JTA Skyway's ridership. Today, we are happy to report that one of those recommendations, which involved making the skyway fare free, has led to a 62% increase ridership.

Salvaging The Skyway

Here are the five affordable solutions to enhancing skyway operations offered by Metro Jacksonville on March 6, 2011.

1. Eliminate Bus Operations Downtown

The skyway was originally intended to serve as a downtown people mover.  Why not let it do what it was intended to do?  This can be done by eliminating all bus services within the downtown core, including the infamous downtown loops, and utilizing the skyway as a fareless urban transit spine for the entire JTA mass transit system.

Money savings in this option would come from a more efficient and streamlined bus operation.  Side benefits would be a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and diesel particulates in the urban core and a safer environment for the downtown pedestrian.

This image illustrates an example of how to better utilize the skyway in a manner that significantly increases usage while enhancing bus route efficiency.  In this scenario, the skyway (red) would become a fare free transit spine within the downtown area.  The heavy transit duplication created by the downtown loop most bus routes currently make would be eliminated.  Instead, neighborhood buses would connect at skyway terminal points before turning around and ferrying passengers back into their specific corridors of service.  Transit riders looking to transfer would have to utilize the skyway as the connection piece between routes serving different areas of the city.  Crosstown bus routes could still operate along their current routes, while only stopping at the skyway terminal points while in downtown.

2. Integrate Transportation with Downtown Development Plans

Ever wonder why transit has been successful in a sprawl bug like Charlotte, yet an abysmal failure in Jacksonville so far?  Perhaps their ability to integrate land use and transportation has something to do with it.  To date, we've treated the skyway like a red headed stepchild when discussing and implementing downtown redevelopment strategies.  

If we want to be a vibrant urban community with transit that takes people where they want to go, we need to make a concerted effort to plan and attract Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around existing station locations.  In the long run, as evidenced by cities like Charlotte, Salt Lake City, and Houston, TOD can provide even a system as short as the skyway with a built in user base.

3. Sublease Existing Station Floor Area

The Skyway's stations present another opportunity to make the system more viable. Many of the existing stations contain large amounts of underutilized space in centralized areas of downtown with decent pedestrian traffic.  Here JTA has the opportunity to potentially lease out areas to vendors who can cater to the general public as well as skyway users.  The addition of anchor tenants at skyway stations should be viewed as a revenue generator for the system.

By allowing small tenants that offer a variety of complementing services at different stations, the Skyway can become more attractive to visitors, residents, and workers that currently avoid the system.  Making each station its own unique destination brings higher awareness to the system and encourages more people to use the Skyway to directly connect to these destinations.

4/5. Station Naming Rights, Train Wrapping & Advertising As Revenue Generator

Would taxpayers object to a San Marco/Prudential Station, view news and advertising on screens above skyway platforms while waiting, board trains encased in colorful advertising, or watching TV advertising on board if it meant increased revenue to reduce the amount of subsidies being spent on the Skyway?  Several transportation authorities are either taking advantage or seriously considering advertising revenue to help sustain their systems.  We should consider the possibilities as well.

full article: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-mar-salvaging-the-skyway

On January 30, 2012, JTA finally moved forward with on of Metro Jacksonville's recommendations, which called for consolidated downtown bus routes into the Skyway, while also making it fare free.  As predicted, the results have been astounding.

August 30, 2012 JTA Press Release

Jacksonville, FL, August 30, 2012 – The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors today approved a staff recommendation to continue the Skyway as a fare-free mode of transportation. The Skyway has been fare-free since January 30, 2012, and will remain so for at least the next fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.
JTA’s latest report on the progress of the Skyway details the positive impact that the fare elimination has had on ridership. In the six-month period analyzed (February-July 2012), Skyway ridership grew by 62.7% or 480,956 boardings, compared to 295,602 boardings for the same period in 2011.
The report also found that the fare-free Skyway has supported JTA’s transit redesign efforts, including the elimination of the Beaver and Bay Street Trolleys, the truncation of bus routes into Skyway stations and the linking of additional bus routes to Skyway stations. The transfer of thousands of passengers to the Skyway to continue travel results in frequency improvements without added cost.
The Board’s decision to continue the Skyway as a fare-free transportation method was based partially on the report’s findings.
“This is a huge success for JTA and its riders,” said Michael J. Blaylock, Chief Executive Officer of the JTA. “The Skyway serves as a critical link in our transportation system and connects many modes of public transit. Keeping the Skyway fare-free will improve efficiency within the transit system, saving our customers time and money.”
Source: Jacksonville Transportation Authority

Like the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, our recommendations came free of charge.  However, once JTA finally decided to act on one, as originally predicted, the turnaround was swift.  If one of Metro Jacksonville's affordable solutions led to a 62% increase in ridership in less than seven months, imagine what would happen if the City of Jacksonville and JTA decide to implement all five!  

Article by Ennis Davis.  Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com