JTA Implemented Fleet Management and Public Wi-Fi
The independent state agency has made a number of technological and other changes to enhance its transit options in recent years, including removing nearly 20 percent of its bus stops, which Ford says were making trips lag. JTA also launched the First Coast Flyer rapid transit bus network in 2015, which spans 58 miles and connects with traffic signals via fiber-optic cable.
“The bus has signal priority technology that actually tells the traffic signal to remain green,” Ford says. “So, we get an advantage going through the intersection. We have dedicated lanes that allow us to travel around traffic.”
JTA has outfitted its bus fleet with GPS devices and Wi-Fi, which lets riders connect to the internet and allows the agency to send vehicle condition data to its maintenance facility. Passengers can access real-time bus arrival information through an application, website or via digital signage at stops.
The agency is also considering adding Wi-Fi hotspots to some of its bus stops and larger transportation hubs, Ford says, as a further incentive to use the system.
“Passengers really need to know exactly when that bus is leaving and when it's going to arrive at that bus stop for them to utilize it,” he says. “They’re not going to stand and look down the street, waiting for a bus to come.”
Jacksonville has otherwise augmented its fleet of transit vehicles by adding zero-emission electric golf carts, which Ford says can navigate the city’s beachfront area more easily than a 40-foot bus, and ReadiRide, an on-call service provided by a private vendor that takes passengers from their doorstep to their destination within 15 zones.
Autonomous Vehicles to Link with Existing Infrastructure
Currently, Jacksonville is also updating its 2.5-mile, five-station elevated Skyway monorail system, which has been in use since 1989, as part of the city’s Ultimate Urban Circulator project, known as U2C.
In the first phase of the project, autonomous vehicles are slated to be put into use in a transit corridor that runs from the existing Skyway Central Station eastward to city’s sports and entertainment district. Phase two encompasses the Skyway’s full conversion into an elevated autonomous shuttle roadway.
“We have this monorail system in downtown Jacksonville that’s past its useful life,” Ford says. “We could have rebuilt the existing system, refurbished it, but we really looked at how we could leverage autonomous vehicles to not only upgrade the system, but expand it from 2.5 miles to a 10-mile system.”
The project is being paid for in part by a U.S. Department of Transportation grant, says Jeff Sheffield, executive director at the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, an independent regional agency that helps manage funding for such projects. TPO fills a federal government requirement that areas with a population of 50,000 or more have a metropolitan planning organization to coordinate expenditures.
“There aren't a lot of those projects yet in the country; in fact, this is likely the largest deployment,” Sheffield says. “Generally speaking, projects of that magnitude are going to need a mix of funds to make them happen. The initial phase is close to $50 million in federal funds through a grant; the Skyway component to it is predominantly through a local-option gas tax.”
Ford says JTA may eventually explore ways to help monetize the vehicles’ use.
“We are contemplating that going into the future,” he says. “Obviously, advertising is the low-hanging fruit; but there are opportunities to support special events because the programming of those vehicles allows us to be much more flexible in terms of origins and destinations.”