The Jacksonville Transportation Authority's board of directors on Thursday approved a staff recommendation to continue the Skyway as a fare-free mode of transportation.
The Skyway has been fare-free since Jan. 30 and will remain so for at least the next fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
JTA said its latest report on the progress of the Skyway details the positive impact that the fare elimination has had on ridership. In the six-month period analyzed from February through July, Skyway ridership grew by 62.7 percent, or 480,956 boardings, compared to 295,602 boardings for the same period in 2011.
"I'm a single mother of three kids, so it saves a lot on my pockets," Skyway rider Angela Oruamabo said.
"For me to get back and forth, it's much better for me than to have to walk all the way to the bus station," rider Alexis Lodous added.
The report also found that the fare-free Skyway has supported JTA's transit redesign efforts, including the elimination of the Beaver and Bay streets trolleys, the truncation of bus routes into Skyway stations and the linking of additional bus routes to Skyway stations. The transfer of thousands of passengers to the Skyway to continue travel results in frequency improvements without added cost.
The board said its decision to continue the Skyway as a fare-free transportation method was based partially on the report's findings.
"This is a huge success for JTA and its riders," said Michael Blaylock, chief executive officer of JTA. "The Skyway serves as a critical link in our transportation system and connects many modes of public transit. Keeping the Skyway fare-free will improve efficiency within the transit system, saving our customers time and money."
Some people may not want to ride the Skyway because with it being free, they're concerned about the safety on board. But Clinton Forbes, director of mass transit for JTA, said there's nothing to worry about.
"We have actually partnered with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to provide security on the Skyway," Forbes said.
JSO is keeping a watch during the Skyway's operating hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Forbes said JTA has audio and video surveillance, including at least 30-40 video cameras watching passengers at the various stops.
"From January to now, very glad to report there haven't been any safety or security instances of any significance," Forbes said.
State funding provided more money to JTA because of increased ridership, another way it's saving money. Fare collection was costing JTA $130,000. It is now keeping that money and is also looking into advertising opportunities to help offset the no-charge to users.
JTA will reevaluate annually whether the Skyway should remain free or not.