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After City Council Complaints, JTA Calls For More Paratransit Drivers

Ryan Benk
JTA CEO Nat Ford Monday taking questions from a group made up of community stakeholders and city council members.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority needs more drivers to provide rides for elderly and disabled customers, authority representatives said.

JTA Monday updated City Council members following an unflattering audit and a string of rider complaints.

JTA’s Connexion service helps disabled residents get to medical appointments, run errands and make social calls. According to JTA, rides are on schedule close to 90 percent of the time and customers complain just three times for every thousand rides.

But last year, acity audit found drivers at Connexion’s contractor, MV Transportation, had altered hundreds of schedules to make it look like they were on time, when they were actually late.

JTA CEO Nat Ford said those allegations are taken seriously.

“It was 1 percent, a very small percentage, but we treat it as if it’s a major failure, or fault in terms of our operation. We did not expect that type of behavior to occur,” he said.

Ford told council members JTA has increased security and made it harder for drivers to fudge the numbers. Still, as customers keep complaining of late pickups and drop-offs, Ford said it’s hard to keep up with demand as drivers are poached by other companies that pay more, like Amazon or UPS.

“Almost for a year now, we have seen and had a challenge hiring drivers to operate our Connexion service as well as our big bus, our fixed route bus service, why? Because the economy has turned in the right direction,” he said.

Ford said MV Transportation’s pay just isn’t competitive at around $9 an hour. He said he’s working on raising driver pay and aggressively trying to recruit more employees.

JTA is also testing a small group of taxi cabs to help provide rides to people who have less mobility issues and don’t require transport of a wheelchair or scooter. Currently, the contracted taxi service is only used for around 2 percent of rides, according to JTA, though authority representatives would like to see that program expanded.

Right now around 70 percent of Connexion customers don’t use wheelchairs.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.