Jacksonville one step closer to self-driving shuttles

Jacksonville Transportation Authority to open test track, invite public

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At the Jacksonville Transportation Authority's annual review, a new test track for autonomous vehicles that will eventually replace the Skyway was announced.

JTA's State of the Authority began with a panel of transportation experts from across the country.

"People are scratching their heads," said Ted Hamer, managing director of KPMG Chicago. "What are we going to do about autonomous vehicles? What are we going to do about ride-sharing?"

JTA is including all of those services in its future planning.

"We are advancing whatever the mode that fits the bill, and not just our 40-foot bus," said JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford.

Ford announced the next phase of JTA's autonomous vehicles project will be an elevated test track that eventually will replace the Skyway, taking riders down to ground level. When new, autonomous system are up and running, the Skyway route will expand to include stops in Riverside, the Sports Complex, even the VA Clinic in Springfield.

For the next year and a half, JTA will be testing different models of these autonomous vehicles, and is encouraging citizens to come visit one of its public test track events.

Barabara Sapp is wheelchair-bound. She has to use para-transit as well as public transportation. She said having more shuttles in addition to the JTA's fleet of buses will help more people with disabilities. 

"A lot of times we're left out or left behind because they don't have enough drivers to pick us up, so if something like this is available that would help,"  Sapp said.

She does have some concerns about how it's operated and having to manually push a button to get the ramp to come down.

"It's worth trying to see how it runs and how it works. I would not put my 100 percent trust in it," Sapp said.

Although ridership with JTA has dropped nearly 4 percent from 2014 to 2017, JTA's CEO said it's nothing compared to the 11 percent drop in public transportation nationwide. With more access and convenience, including the Regional Transportation Center being built near the Convention Center in LaVilla, JTA expects more people to use its services in the future.