Next Week JTA Will Launch Rapid Buses To Orange Park, On-Demand Rides In University Area
The JTA’s First Coast Flyer bus rapid transit program, offering longer-distance, limited-stop routes throughout the metro area, opens its fourth and final line, the Orange Line, next week.
Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez, who works under Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to provide financial and technical assistance to local governments, addressed the JTA board during their State of the Authority event on Tuesday.
“As this line opens, JTA First Coast Flyer will become the largest operating bus rapid transit system in the Southeast United States,” Fernandez said. “This project will help accelerate the city’s path to full employment, improve access and mobility for thousands of people traveling in the Jacksonville area, and will also help reduce carbon emissions”
The 13-mile Orange Line will act as a southwest corridor route from Downtown Jacksonville to the Orange Park Mall in Clay County. The federal DOT provided nearly $90 million in grants to Jacksonville to get the 58-mile First Coast Flyer program operational.
According to JTA CEO Nat Ford, the federal investments have helped streamline and improve services, even as COVID-19 has reduced ridership. Before the onset of the pandemic, JTA moved an average of 33,000 people per day; currently that number is down to about 17,000 daily.
“Over the past year, we've begun to start seeing our ridership begin to return. And each day many people are returning to the office or going back to in person classes on a college campus.”
JTA’s on-call shuttle service ReadiRide is also expanding, with a 12th operation zone becoming available Monday. The University Zone will be roughly bordered by Beach Boulevard on the north, Philips Highway on the west, I-295 on the east, and Butler Boulevard to the south.
“At just $2 per trip, ReadiRide will take you anywhere within a... zone on your time and directly to your destination, door to door,” Ford said.
Ford also announced JTA has enough funding to purchase a second St. Johns River Ferry. The current vessel, which provides service to and from Mayport, has periodically been out of service for repairs.
Progress also continues on upgrading all 800-plus bus stops in the JTA service area to make them accessible for people with disabilities. Just 11% of bus stops were ADA accessible in 2014, a number that rose to 35% by 2017. Ford said soon the number would be 100%.
Fernandez and the JTA expect more federal funds to be allocated for local projects as Congress deliberates over a $1 trillion infrastructure package, which includes $39 billion for public transit.
Mayor Lenny Curry gave the keynote address to the JTA Board, touting infrastructure improvements that will be possible because of the “Jobs for Jax” gas tax increase passed by the City Council earlier this year that’s estimated to bring in almost $1 billion over the next 30 years.
“For too many years, our city did not properly invest in the key infrastructure needs our community deserves due to inadequate funding. This contributed to the lack of economic development, the decline in quality of life for many neighborhoods,” Curry said.
JTA is also in the development phase of its “U2C” Ultimate Urban Circulator project, which will replace Downtown’s Skyway monorail system with a 10-mile system of autonomous vehicles that will travel down to street level. That endeavor will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.