JTA has announced the next phase of its vision to eventually replace and expand the existing Skyway with autonomous electric vehicles.
JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford said the transit authority will be converting a portion of the existing Skyway between Jefferson Street Station and its new transportation center as an elevated test track for autonomous vehicles.
He laid out the plan at JTA’s Momentum Summit and State of the Authority Luncheon on Wednesday.
That portion of the Skyway track is already closed as JTA builds the Regional Transportation Center across the street from the Prime Osborn Convention Center. It's expected to open in early 2020.
The RTC will house JTA’s headquarters and replace the Rosa Parks Transit Station as the city’s main bus hub. The 40,000-square-foot project is being built to wrap around the Prime Osborn Convention Center Skyway Station. It is expected to cost $57 million and serve more than 42,000 daily riders once completed.
Ford said the Skyway track conversion will allow JTA to test autonomous vehicles in an elevated environment and provide a road map to eventually convert the two-and-a-half-mile Skyway system for new autonomous electric vehicles.
“We are advancing whatever is the mobility or whatever the mode that fits the bill, and not just our 40-foot bus,” Ford told our News4Jax partner.
Full details haven’t been released yet but the assumption is that the autonomous vehicles would take transit riders from the new transportation center to the Jefferson Street Station, where they could then transfer to existing Skyway monorail cars to continue their journey.
Plans also call for expanding what’s currently called the Skyway to ground level, which would allow the autonomous vehicles to go the stadium area and other expansion locations.
The working name for next-generation Skyway is U2C, which stands for Ultimate Urban Circulator, according to JTA.
In phase one of testing, JTA opened its first autonomous vehicles test track near the sports complex, across from Intuition Ale Works in December and offered rides to the public during One Spark in April.
April’s test vehicle had an operator on board and could hold up to 12 people. JTA plans to rotate a new autonomous vehicle in every six months as the transit authority determines what is needed and driverless technology advances.