JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local transit advocates were thrilled when the Jacksonville Transportation Authority embarked on a mission to finally upgrade Downtown's long-suffering Skyway. But anticipation for what is being called the Ultimate Urban Circulator, or "U2C," is quickly melting as questions arise about its ability to adequately serve Urban Core neighborhoods. Is Jacksonville setting itself up for another big transit disappointment?
What's the plan?
The "U2C" plan came from discussions on what to do with the aging Skyway, considering the system's main flaws: the Skyway vehicles aren't manufactured anymore, the elevated structures are too expensive to extend, and they aren't capable of bearing the weight of light rail or modern streetcars.
And so, JTA proposes replacing the Skyway's monorail trains with autonomous vehicles -- essentially small, driverless buses. JTA's plans call for driverless vehicles that would travel the ramps and also run out into the city streets to provide access to adjacent neighborhoods. It's a bold idea, but one with red flags that need to be seriously considered and vetted locally before Jacksonville gets roped into another boondoggle.
Promotions present JTA at the vanguard of the driverless transit revolution, making much of the fact that JTA has been testing small driverless vehicles on a closed, 1/8 mile track off Bay Street. However, a deeper look shows that JTA's running behind schedule when it comes to testing autonomous transit: more than fifty cities across the globe already conduct autonomous tests, most of which involve running vehicles in traffic, not a closed track.
Cities in Michigan, Arizona, and California have huge testing grounds where companies like Google, Apple, Uber, Ford, GM, and others try out vehicles and related technology. Even Florida will have its own autonomous vehicle testing center operational soon. Cites such asAtlanta, Las Vegas, and Ann Arbor already mix their shuttle demonstrations in traffic on actual streets. If Domino's has been delivering pizzas in autonomous vehicles to the front doors of Miami households, what exactly is being learned here locally along Bay Street?
JTA simply does not employ the engineers nor software programmers sufficient to gain meaningful data from the limited demonstrations being conducted in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville needs a transit system that knows and meets our transit needs. Here are six areas of serious concern that the JTA and Jacksonville should evaluate before we get too far down the road on the "U2C."