Will Jacksonville Ever Meet the Challenge of Mass Transit?
“To be the Northeast Florida leader in providing effective,
coordinated and integrated multimodal transportation solutions.”
Mission Statement, JTA
I had a great job when I lived out west in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Traveling between Denver, my home base, and San Diego and San Francisco wasn’t a hardship, that’s for sure.
I was single with no family responsibilities, not even a pet, so life was good and I was on the road a lot. I’d fly out of Denver on Sunday and then work in one city and then the other for a couple of weeks, and then I’d head back home to check on the home office.
The amazing thing to me, Floridian that I am, was that I never had to rent a vehicle in the Bay area. I jumped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) at the airport, which took me within a block or even closer to my hotel. In the morning when it was time to go to the office in Oakland across the Bay, I’d join the throngs of people slipping tokens into the turnstiles and off we’d go. Business people with briefcases, shoppers, families, everyone surging around a geographic area over 200 miles long and 100 miles wide. No parking angst, no traffic snarls. It was a thing of beauty.
BART took us just about wherever we needed to go, all up and down the Bay area. Then, for shorter distances we could hop on the cable car or electric rail system. Taxis were plentiful and always available in a reasonable amount of time, meaning minutes, not “maybe in an hour” if you were lucky. Heck, even messengers on bicycles were available to make important deliveries around the city, darting in and out between all the other modes of transport people were hanging off or out of. Later, some of us would get together and travel to a great restaurant in another town around the Bay, and off we’d go again, BART ready take us. No one had to worry about having that extra glass of wine, since ‘ole BART was driving. I get nostalgic just thinking about it.
People who lived in the area told me that they had never owned a car. They didn’t need one. As a matter of fact, they said, it was more expensive to own one, considering parking, plus regular upkeep of a vehicle. The mass transit system had too many options, was cost effective, and could get them anywhere any time they needed to go. I checked it out again just now and they’re still right. Routes are extensive, trains (or whatever the form is that you need) run continuously for about 18 hours a day AND on weekends, and fares are reasonable. Why do it alone for more money when the city’s mass transportation system actually takes care of it for you?
Why, indeed. I returned to Florida in 1984, settling here in Jacksonville to be near family. I had an infant, no job, one car between two adults, and a desperate need to make a living. It wasn’t easy in a town with a bus system that is sketchy at best, no mass transit at all at that time, and hundreds of miles to traverse. And when is the last (or first) time you’ve seen someone standing on a curb downtown hailing a cab? Getting around this huge area to find work, shop, or recreate was then, and remains, a monumental headache.
Here’s what I know. If I decided to ditch my car and use the bus system here, I could catch a bus about 2 miles away from my house at the “nearest” bus stop and go directly downtown at 7:05 AM. Until last year, this bus stop had no cover at all. It was just a place on the ground, with a pole next to it marking the bus number. At least now there is a covered bench for about 4 people.
Several restaurants claim the parking areas on the other side of the hedges from this stop, so if I had to drive to the bus stop because it was pouring rain, where would I park my car? Plus, one of the reasons to use mass transit is to NOT use a car if you’re lucky enough to have one at all. Or someone else in the family might need to use it to get to work or go to the doctor’s office that isn’t anywhere near a bus route at all. According to the schedule listed on JTA’s website, I would arrive downtown at Rosa Parks/FCCJ Station at 7:36. Not bad, if it works that way. I think I’ll try it one day soon and let you know.
The schedules on the website are difficult to read and follow, especially if I needed to transfer from that station to go, say, to the airport. In that great job I had out west, I arrived at the airport and jumped on BART, which ran continuously, little wait time between one train and the next. The JTA bus system does offer service to and from the airport. Once an hour. Not very conducive to doing business in the 21st century, especially in a recession when every second has to be milked for a dollar.
If I lived on the Westside and worked near the Avenues Mall, I could catch a bus at 5:48 AM, which would take me downtown, where I would transfer to another bus at 6:50, with a scheduled arrival time of 7:47. But then I would need to get from the Mall to my office in one of the surrounding business centers. How? And what if the bus is late? I’d be late for my 8 AM start time, with my boss chewing me out and maybe writing me up.
Every day... until he fires me.
An effective mass transit system with multiple modes of transportation forming a network across the metropolitan area is a necessity not only for growth, but also for sustaining our city. We had an opportunity to make it so in previous decades and settled for less than that. We’re all to blame for this, taxpayers and short-sighted politicians alike, and now it’s probably too late.
ABOUT DEBORAH HANSEN: Deborah Hansen writes about education and family. Her latest book is “Broken Strings: Wisdom for Divorced and Separated Families.” She has lived on the First Coast for over 20 years and is a former member of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission.