The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Gadgetbahen Hijinks in Jacksonville, Florida

From the Cabalmaster:

Yesterday ABC News carried a short story about the Jacksonville, FL "Automated Skyway Express." This 2.5 mile, 8-station system connects the center of downtown Jacksonville with peripheral parking lots.

It is a monorail with midget cars holding about 25 people maximum. Total construction costs were $182 million, or about $73 million per mile.

Original ridership projections totalled 56,000 per day, then revised downward to 30,000, and then finally to 18,000-19,000 daily. Current usage is about 3,000 per day, about 15% of the lowest projection.

Apparently the original theory was that people would drive to the peripheral parking lots and transfer to the Skyway, then walk two or three blocks to their workplace. But obviously what was actually entailed was never thought out, even $182 million later.

While people will transfer between transit lines if it makes sense, is comfortable, and convenient, the Jacksonville Skyway isn't any of these. First, the average commuter trip to downtown Jacksonville is probably no more than 8 to 10 miles, with a travel time of no more than 20-25 minutes from origin to downtown destination. But to use the Skyway, one first has to go up into the elevated station, wait for the next car, ride the car that is relatively slow even over the short distances, then descend to street level, and walk a few blocks on average, to your destination.

This whole process takes from 10-15 minutes, depending on how far one's work is from a station. Even if one must park when driving, or get off a bus two or three blocks away, the egress time would be no more than five minutes. Thus it is not surprising that the ridership estimate fell so flat on its face.

The sensible thing for Jacksonville to do would be to scrap the monorail part of the elevated guideway, and convert the entire thing into the downtown routing for a light rail system. The basic structure of the Skyway seems beefy enough for conversion to elevated LRT. Of course this would require extending all three branches, north, south, and west, at least another 5-6 miles outward into residential areas to be a useful transit facility.

Cabalmaster's educated guess is that there about 40,000-50,000 jobs in downtown Jacksonville, about the same as Edmonton in the late 1970's when LRT started up there. If only 20% of downtown employees used LRT, that translates to 35,000 to 45,000 per day, which would be excellent usage for a system less than 20 miles long (e.g., 8,000 workers X 2 for rush hour usage, double total for all-day riders midday and weekends, plus non-downtown trips. Total would triple existing JTA patronage including buses.)

Instead, the Jacksonville brains want to build busways, I guess to force-feed transfers to the Skyride. Go figure.

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