06 August, 2008

HOW BAD DOES JTA SMELL?

By Robert Mann

In Jacksonville for years the cry of the masses is that our "buses stink," they are dirty, filthy, smell like body odor of the unwashed masses, tattered, inept, unreliable, uncomfortable and often downright rude. A broken welfare transit system, home for the homeless, drug dealers and hookers, is certainly no place for an up and coming employee or executive.

But how true is that image? Has the transit of the masses been so neglected so as to sink into an irretrievable ninth circle of Hell?

Consider our role models, both our parents and relations. An editorial in Mass Transit Magazine last year looked at vacation season and asked if any of us had ever been on a public transit vacation? The author then took the extension to the extreme in stating that even Hollywood Movies and Recordings, avoid public transit in general, and buses in particular.

I had to say, I do remember traveling on a Greyhound Super-Scenic Cruiser sometime back in the early 1960's. As I recall, the passengers seemed to all share an obvious economic depression, but the polished driver sang all the way south. Helping little old ladies aboard, and overweight beach bums with their blankets and packs. The old route ran down Florida's scenic highway A-1-A from Jacksonville and the Beaches, to St. Augustine, Marineland, Flagler Beach to Daytona Beach. Often in easy sight of the Atlantic Ocean surf, or the many colorful shops and hotels that dotted it's route. But the whole experience had the cloud of some depressing due for the company axe, a prediction in my young mind, which turned out to be quite accurate. Almost every hamlet had it's stop, and it seemed to be well patronized in it's once daily, down and back schedule. Then one day, it simply was no more. It was as if the tides had washed it away like so many grains of beach sand. Driving the route some years later, I was listening to Harry Chapin's song "Take the Greyhound, it's a dog of a way to get around..."

A-1-A is much wider in most places today. The hotels are more grand, the restaurants are national and international chains. Even the tiny airport or two south of Jacksonville, are now regional jet ports. While Marineland and it's hotel have faded, St. Augustine and the dozen or so State and National Parks this little trip passed through sure haven't. In fact, when I made that trip, Jacksonville had a population of about 202,000 persons. Today the City is the third largest populated place in any of the east coast states.

So was it really Hollywood? Recall if you will that the "Bob Newhart," show, started and ended with stunning images of Chicago's CTA trains. Then there was Doctor "Patch Adams," who took the bus to find himself in a mental hospital. "Trains, Planes and Automobiles," and movies such as "Airplane," had us rolling on the floor laughing at the overall shortcomings of the transportation industry. Anyone remember Mr. Ralph Kramden? Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason, on the famous 1950's TV comedy, "The Honeymooners," Ralph was a bus driver for the fictional Gotham Bus Company. Though he was never seen driving a bus (except in publicity photos), but was shown multiple times at the bus depot. Ralph was frustrated by his lack of success, (apparently being a bus driver even carried a stigma in the 1950's) and often developed schemes designed to earn him and his wife a quick fortune. Ralph was very quick-tempered, and frequently resorted to insults and hollow threats of violence.

So while the Hollywood jury is still out on the bus business, our own local JTA has had a year of bad press. Bus drivers tossing passengers off the bus, fights over fares, refusal to carry passengers, complete lack of "ANY TIME" information, non-existent route maps, and now a roving Gnome who is blogging a journal of doom, "30 days with JTA," that will now be expanded to 90 days after a near fist fight with a cursing, irate, driver. The driver stopped at an unmarked stop across the street from a marked location. Perhaps the sign was simply missing, or perhaps for traffic reasons it was never placed. However JTA information told our stalwart passenger to flag down the bus. He did as he was told, and stepped aboard only to catch a full broadsides of foul language and demands that he get off the bus, walk the two miles to the next stop, or, the police would be called to eject him. As his journal has caused a constructive discourse with JTA management, he was immediately back on the cell phone to JTA information and soon talking with the supervisor.

Needless to say it got even more ugly when the driver still yelling, told him, "Oh I'm sure your talking to my boss, you can tell him to XXXX too!"

Is it an obvious case of "The Jacksonville Transportation Authority Stinks," with service boardering on the tenth circle of hell? Not at all. JTA is in transformation from a large southern city system, to an international city metro. Certainly there are bumps along the way, but managment is doing exactly what it should be doing with this case, this journal, this rider and information. It is meeting en-masse, and not just for damage control, but reaching for real solutions. Listening to what the public is saying. Sweeping changes are coming to the bus portion of JTA, and I'm confident they will be quickly followed by monorail (The Jacksonville Skyway), light rail and commuter rail, additions and improvements. Things happen for a reason, and no matter how beautiful the new Gillig BRT model buses, if the driver's attitude chases away the would-be patrons, then the bus "stinks".

Our solution is not simply that new vehicle smell on the same old machine, but a complete re-thinking of the industry. Out of the Box, and even perhaps out of the old bounds. There is that route down A-1-A just waiting for some lucky service to pick it up and market those beach side resorts. This is Florida's First Coast, home of the nations oldest city. Today all of that falls within the bounds of the Jacksonville Metro Area and the potential reach of JTA or a joint venture of JTA and another franchise, such as Trailways or a charter carrier. We are talking fare free in Jacksonville, preboarding tickets or passes, fun buses, day trips, and maybe even singing drivers. All along the booming coast we have construction, new jobs and massive port expansion. Home to more fortune 500 companies then any other two Florida Cities combined, we have a new, urban and financially powerful workforce. There is national exposure in our Arena and Arts, and our NFL Jaguars or the home of the PGA at Sawgrass, have changed our posture. No longer can we afford to operate the old bus system of the past and JTA knows it. We still have miles upon mile of untouched roadway, and untouched beach sand... I say it's time that Jacksonville and JTA build some castles in the sand. Any of you old enough to remember the Chapin Greyhound song, will recall, he ended it in reflection of his bus trip... "A thought for keeping if I could, It's got to be the going not the getting there that's good."

DON'T CONFUSE US WITH FACTS IN JACKSONVILLE!

Watch Out Jacksonville, Here it comes again... Why we MUST leave the roads...
Wouldn't Edgewood at Roosevelt look sweet with Commuter Rail?
Imagine the advantages to adding Modern Streetcars to our Monorail System Downtown...
In spite of a unified outcry from the community leadership, our politicians are still throwing up the red signals. No amount of logic seems to matter, but as if it did, I'll print some more!
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

People want transit, politicians lag behind
More evidence that people want to end the dominance of the auto....

A recent poll found that given a hypothetical $100 to invest in transportation, Americans said they would spend $62 on trains and rail, buses, bike paths, and sidewalks, and only $38 on roads. (Source: Harris Interactive poll [+/- 3 pts]). In other words, Americans want to spend 63% of transportation dollars on bicycling, walking and public transportation, nearly tripling the 22% now spent. Philadelphia Bicycle News

More From The Center for Transportation Excellence

85% of all transportation costs in the U.S. are related to private automobiles.

A $10 million investment in public transportation results in a $30 million gain in sales for local businesses (3 times the public sector investment in transit capital).

A recent study by the University of North Texas found that the new DART (LIGHT RAIL)system in the Dallas region has already generated over $800 million in development, and that the full system is projected to generate $3.7 billion in economic activity upon build out.

A recent survey by Jones Lang LaSalle in its Property Futures publication found that 77 per cent of New Economy companies rated access to mass transit as an extremely important factor in selecting corporate locations.

A regular rush-hour driver wastes an average of 99 gallons of gasoline a year due to traffic. The average cost of the time lost in rush hour traffic is $1,160 per person.

A study on U.S. government spending and its impact on worker productivity estimated that a 10-year $100 billion increase in public transport spending would boost worker output by $521 billion, compared with $237 billion for the same spending on highways.

AAA members who rely almost exclusively on automobiles for their daily transportation needs, would still opt to spend more money on public transit than on new roads, according to a recent survey.

Almost half of all Fortune 500 companies, representing over $2 trillion in annual revenue, are headquartered in America’s transit-intensive (RAIL SERVED) metropolitan areas.

America’s families spend more than 19 cents out of every dollar earned on transportation, an expense second only to housing and greater than food and health care combined.

American families spend 18% of their household budgets on transportation, making it the second largest household expenditure after housing.


Americans living in transit-intensive areas save $22 billion each year by using public transportation.

An assessment of the economic benefits of the services provided by the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) (HERITAGE STREETCARS) found a benefit-to-cost ratio of more than 13 to 1 when both direct and indirect benefits were considered.

An estimated 14 million Americans ride public transportation each weekday and an additional 25 million use it on a less frequent but regular basis.

Around Washington D.C. 40% of new building space in the 1980s, worth $3 billion, was built within walking distance of a Metro (RAIL) stop.

Between 1997 and 1999, an estimated 4,500 housing units and some 9 million square feet of commercial-office floorspace were added within walking distance of the Tasman West LRT corridor.

Building more roads isn't always the answer to this growing problem. Each of the cities in the TTI study would require an average of 37 more lane miles to keep pace with just one year of increased traffic demand.

Business output is positively affected by transit investment. A sustained program of transit capital investment will generate an increase of $2 million in business output. After 20 years, these benefits increase to $31 million.

Drivers in one-third of U.S. cities spend more than 40 hours a year (an entire work week) in traffic that is not moving.

Every dollar that U.S. taxpayers invest in public transportation generates $6 or more in economic returns.

Federal transportation grants for State and local governments totaled $4.4 billion for transit or 14% of all transportation grants in 2000. Federal transportation grants to State and local governments amounted to $26 billion or 80% of the total in 2000.

Four in five Americans believe that increased investment in public transportation strengthens the economy, creates jobs, reduces traffic congestion and air pollution, and saves energy.

If one in 10 Americans regularly used transit, U.S. reliance on foreign oil could decline by more than 40%, or nearly the amount of oil imported from Saudi Arabia each year.

In 1999, public transportation vehicles used 856 million gallons of fossil fuels and 5.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity - which is less than 1% of all energy consumed in the U.S.

In 2000, Americans took 9.4 billion trips using public transportation, an increase of 3.5% from the previous year - the equivalent of more than one million new trips each day.

In 2000, Americans took 9.4 billion trips using public transportation, an increase of 3.5% from the previous year - the equivalent of more than one million new trips each day. During the same year, ridership grew twice as fast as the U.S. population and outpaced growth in other travel modes.

In 2000, America's public transportation systems employed 350,000 workers to operate, maintain and manage all modes of transit. A full 50% of this workforce serve as operators or conductors.

In 2000, total federal spending on transit was $5.3 billion or 11% of all transportation spending.

In Los Angeles, .80 of every $1.00 spent on public transport gets recirculated in the region, translating into $3.80 in goods and services. Conversely, .85 of every $1.00 spent on gas leaves the region.

In suburban Philadelphia, the total increase in residential real estate value in neighborhoods with train service is estimated to be over $1.45 billion.

In the last five years, transit use has increased faster than any other mode of transportation.

New urban expressways cost up to $100 million per mile while rail and bike facilities cost on average $15 million and $.1 million, respectively.

Of the nation's top 50 metropolitan areas, all but (JACKSONVILLE) were planning a New Start project, adding to a existing system or have a new system under construction.

On average, a typical state/local government could realize a 4%-16% gain in revenues due to the increases in income and employment generated by investments in transit.

Public transportation customers are diverse: People age 65 or older represent 7% of riders; 18 years and younger , 10%; women, 52%; White, 45%; African-American, 31%; Hispanic, 18%; and Asian and Native American, 6%.

Public transportation is a $32 billion industry that employs more than 350,000 people.

Public transportation ridership has increased 22% in the last six years.

Since 1980, three subway systems, 68 light rail systems and 1240 bus systems have been added to U.S. communities.

The adjusted cost of congestion in the 75 areas studied by the Texas Transportation Institute has tripled in the past twenty years to $68 billion in 2000.

The amount of fuel wasted in traffic annually in the 75 major urban areas studied in TTI's Urban Mobility Study would fill 114 supertankers.

The annual cost of driving a single-occupant vehicle is between $4,826 (for a small car) and $9,685 (for a large car), depending upon mileage. The annual average cost for public transportation for one adult ranges from $200 to $2,000, depending upon services used.

The average annual income of rail commuters is more than $50,000 and most own two cars.

The National Safety Council estimates that riding the bus is over 170 times safer than automobile travel.

The poorest quintile of American households spend 36% of their budgets on transportation, while the richest fifth spend only 14%.

The value per square foot of commercial space near Metrorail stations in Northern Virginia has jumped more than 600 percent since the first station opened in 1977.

Three-quarters of Americans support the use of public funds for the expansion and improvement of public transportation.

BLOGGER NOTE: In Jacksonville, these are no longer Bus vs Rail vs Skyway arguments, with fuel prices in the stratosphere, this is now a matter of common sense and urban survival.

Thanks to; Center for Transportation Excellence

Philadelphia Bicycle News

Metro Jacksonville for Photo Help

TAKE A FREE TOUR OF THE JACKSONVILLE SKYWAY

The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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