Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JTA Buses Target Commuters

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JTA Buses Target Commuters

Article excerpt

Taking the bus makes no sense for Brenda Titus.

From her home in Arlington, she would have to ride first into downtown, then catch another bus to her job at Citibank Jacksonville in the Baymeadows area.

But if Titus could catch a bus on a route custom-designed for her, she's willing to leave her car at home to avoid the stress of driving in heavy traffic.

"Convenience and scheduling are going to be the big hitters for me," she said.

For two years, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority has been trying to revamp its bus service to attract commuters like Titus. The goal is to personalize service based on where commuters live and work.

The campaign has made scant progress. But Citibank Jacksonville -- which employs about 3,800 people and expects that to reach 4,000 by year's end -- is interested in forging a partnership with JTA.

The JTA runs a special bus between Baymeadows and downtown, providing transportation to about 20 computer programmers who are doing contract work in the BellSouth building for CSX Technology. Unlike regular buses, the commuter service runs once in the morning and again in the evening, and it makes no stops between downtown and Baymeadows, where the riders live.

The trip takes 15 minutes, compared to an hour on the regular bus, said daily rider Michael Martin.

"I get home the same time as if I drove home," he said. "The difference is, I'm stress-free."

In 1997, the JTA, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization launched a program aimed at setting up similar routes for commuters headed to jobs in the Southpoint/Baymeadows area.

The start-up has "been a lot slower than what I anticipated," said Michael Blaylock, director of mass transit for the JTA.

Tom Freeman, vice president of corporate realty for Citibank, said he thinks enough employees would take part to start some special van and bus routes. If the service is reliable and convenient, it will grow, he said.

The JTA will offer up to eight free cab rides a year for participants who need to leave work early or late so they're not stranded without a car.

"Word will get around and somebody will talk to somebody over lunch and say it's really nice to sit in the bus or van and read the newspaper or sleep and not have to fight the traffic on I-95 or Philips Highway," he said.

Employees Mari-Esther Norman, who lives on the Northside, and Gary Lambert of San Marco said they would give the service a try if it is on-time and doesn't add more than 15 minutes to the commute by car.

If it takes longer than that, "I'd rather save that 15 minutes" by driving, Norman said.

Citibank Jacksonville and the JTA have not drawn up any proposed routes. They are still putting together data on where people live.

The company does not plan to subsidize the program, Freeman said. …

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