Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Costly World of Public Transit; Ferry Fights for Survival; JTA Buses and Skyway Aren't Profitable

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Costly World of Public Transit; Ferry Fights for Survival; JTA Buses and Skyway Aren't Profitable

Article excerpt

Byline: Larry Hannan

The St. Johns River Ferry will never be profitable.

Neither will the Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus system nor the downtown Skyway.

This can safely be said because no major public transit system in America makes money. Transportation experts can't name a single major transit system that is a moneymaker in this country.

"It's not a profit-making industry," said Mantill Williams, spokesman for the American Public Transportation Association. "Usually public transit fares covers about 33 percent of their cost."

Anything that makes money is privately owned. Anything owned by a government tends to operate at a deficit but remains open because it is a public service, Williams said.

"The New York subway will never make money," Williams said. "But New York would grind to a halt without it."

Whether it's the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority that runs the subway and buses in New York, Miami-Dade Transit that operates the buses and trains in Miami or Hillsborough Area Transit that runs the bus system in the Tampa area.

All lost millions of dollars in 2011, and expect to lose millions more in 2012.

THE FERRY

And that's a challenge for the ferry, which is fighting for survival after the Jacksonville Port Authority announced it would stop funding it on Sept. 30.

In 2011, the ferry made back 58 percent of its cost, above average for public transit. But it wasn't enough.

Any government agency that tries to save it would be accepting that it will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. The ferry has been passed around like a hot potato, going from the state to the city and now to the port authority, with each government agency passing it on because it loses money.

Port spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said the decision to let the ferry go was about returning the port to its core mission.

In 2010, the authority realized it had to seriously upgrade its existing terminal just to keep the business it had. Losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on a ferry that wasn't part of the authority's mission statement didn't seem like a proper use of limited resources, Rubin said. …

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