Santa Claus is driving you to town

Special guest driving JTA holiday bus; First Coast Flyer system launches Monday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JTA is delivering some new features this holiday season, including free bus rides and a new bus system, that will improve the experience for its riders.

A special guest was also spotted at a bus stop Friday.

Santa Claus has ditched the sleigh for a few weeks to drive a JTA holiday bus.

"It's an honor, a privilege to be JTA's Santa,” driver Kendarius Fitzpatrick said. “To see the reaction on the passengers' faces, to brighten up their day is a top honor to myself."

And the riders on Santa's bus get to ride for free. Every day Santa drives a different route to surprise JTA's patrons.

"This season is a tough season for a lot of people, and for JTA to give free rides, that's a blessing,” Fitzpatrick said.

The bus is decorated with wreaths and candy canes and the outside is covered in penguins.

"It was very festive to see,” rider Dashane Huffman said. “It was something different from what we normally see down here."

ONLINE: More on First Coast Flyer | JTA route info

But the real treat was getting a glance at Santa Claus.

"He's very friendly,” Huffman said. “He's polite; he's nice."

In addition to getting Santa Claus to drive one of its holiday buses, JTA is bringing more joy to the community this holiday season with the launch of the new First Coast Flyer system Monday.

The flyers are a fleet of new JTA buses with improved routes and features.

All of the new buses will run off compressed natural gas and have a fill-up station downtown.

"All in all better for the environment, plus we're going to save a lot of money in fuel savings by switching to compressed natural gas,” JTA representative Leigh Ann Rassler said.

The Green Line is the first route launched as part of the First Coast Flyer transit system. The buses will ride along Lem Turner Road from Interstate 295 to the Rosa Parks Station downtown.

The new system will offer a service with buses that pick up every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, speeding up travel times. Free Wi-Fi will be available at bus stops and on the new buses, and the buses have designated bus lanes.

"They feature unique stations. The stations have two shelters with the Wi-Fi,” Rassler said. “They also have totems. And something new we're also launching is mobile ticketing service."

That service allows passengers to buy and reload STAR card bus passes online.

Passengers can expect to arrive to their destinations quicker with a convenience not offered by the current system, officials said.