The Jaxson asks JTA 12 questions about the U2C

Billed as a project that will take Jacksonville and downtown to the next level, the conversion of the Skyway into a one-of-a-kind autonomous transit system called the Ultimate Urban Circulator has become the talk of the town. Either people love it or they hate it. Recently, Ennis Davis of The Jaxson met with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to learn more about the agency's plans for the project and why it desires 40% of the gas tax increase proposed by Mayor Curry to fund the project.

A ride inside the autonomous shuttle service that operates in mixed traffic in Lake Nona. Founded by the international investment organization Tavistock Group and developed by Tavistock Development Company, Lake Nona is a nationally-recognized forward-thinking, smart city within the City of Orlando, located a few miles southwest of Orlando International Airport. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

1. (The Jaxson) What is the maximum capacity of the proposed U2C at buildout, compared with the existing Skyway system’s max capacity today? Why or why not, should it be lower or higher than what the Skyway can move today?

(JTA) The JTA Transit Concept and Alternatives Review (TCAR) Phase 1 study stated that the current Skyway maximum capacity was 56 passengers per train. For a fleet of six trains running at ten-minute headways, we account for 2,016 passengers per hour for both directions. If the Skyway is running 15 hours per day that is daily capacity of 30,240 passengers per day. The Bay Street Innovation Corridor proposes to operate at five-minute headways and a fleet of 12 to 15 vehicles, 10 to 15 passengers per vehicle. Thus, we estimate that the BSIC phase has the estimated max capacity of 1,440 to 2,700 passengers per hour for both directions. If operating 15 hours per day, the estimated max daily capacity could be 21,600 to 40,500 passengers per day. The study also estimates the full U2C will require 42– 56 vehicles, although that number would likely increase. You can extrapolate those estimates based on what has been estimated for BSIC, however more work will be completed as the project moves into additional phases. The U2C will have increased passenger capacity because it goes further into established neighborhoods with better origins and destinations than the current Skyway has.

Jaxson Editor’s Note: Knowing that this was not an apples to apples comparison, a follow up question was raised. Ultimately, the proposed solution would have less capacity to serve large events and crowds than the existing Skyway system, if improved to a working condition:

I’m pretty sure the Skyway was designed to accommodate a max capacity far above 2,016 passengers per hour for both directions (i.e. run more trains at lower headways…I even remember when headways were 3 to 6 minutes and know that the trainsets were designed for a middle car, if needed at the time). So what is the max pphd that the current 2.5 mile system was designed for and what would be the max pphd of the U2C (as proposed) for the same 2.5 mile path? Really what I’m after here is an apples to apples comparison.

Although the trains were designed to include a middle car, the JTA did not procure those and after many years, the original equipment manufacturer no longer manufactures any of the APM vehicles we use today. In reference to 3 - 6 minute headways, that is certainly possible as the JTA owns 10 APM cars, but due to obsolescence, and needed maintenance, that is not the case today. The JTA treats the entire U2C system as one project, and therefore ridership estimates previously provided are for the entire system.

2. Will the system operate on 100% dedicated right-of-way? If not, where will it be mixed with regular automobile traffic and what will be the vehicular Level of Service (LOS) impact (especially during special events)?

Some segments of the proposed system will need to operate in mixed traffic, like along Bay Street for Phase 1. Other segments can include dedicated lanes; work that will be solidified in the engineering and design of future phases. The vehicular level of service impact for affected segments would be analogous to bus service. The elevated sections will provide a dedicated roadway which will boost the overall system, by leveraging existing infrastructure and reducing congestion.

Jaxson Editor’s Note: It is commonly accepted that mass transit operating in dedicated lanes or right-of-way is more reliable to the end user than transit operating in mixed traffic conditions. As a result, a follow up question was raised:

Why do some segments “need to operate” in mixed traffic? Perhaps the route needs to change, a lane diet is needed or a parking solution is required as a part of the process in developing a community supported complete street? I may have missed it, but I’m not aware of any public meetings where the community has had an opportunity to be a part of the visioning process for what these corridors should look like at-grade.

Segments that need to operate in mixed traffic is not preferred by the JTA, but currently required by FDOT and DIA. Public meeting and opportunity for public engagement were provided through the TCAR process and during public JTA board meeting since the Skyway Advisory Group completed its work in 2015. We also have a repository of documents and information for the public to review, highlighting our work under the “documents” tab of the website. More opportunities for public involvement will occur as the project advances.

3. As an urban circulator system, how will the U2C be fed with riders (i.e. as the Metromover in Miami is fed riders by Metrorail)?

*The terminus of the U2C is the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center at LaVilla, and Intercity Bus Terminal, so immediate connectivity and feed from our BRT, regular, regional, paratransit and intercity bus riders is the first feed, in and out to the neighborhood extensions.

The U2C extensions will have well-thought out origins and destinations in established neighborhoods and public input and will maximizes synergies with exiting services.

These routes will connect UF Health to the north, to the Southbank medical complex, connecting two important healthcare zones. The neighborhood extensions will better connect Brooklyn, Riverside, San Marco, LaVilla, Springfield and the Sports and Entertainment Complex. These are destinations that lack connectivity through the existing Skyway today and have growing populations. These are popular dining, retail, residential and office destinations for the growing number of people who call Downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods home. The U2C routes remains flexible and will take into consideration any opportunities to integrate into transit oriented developments, like the Rosa Parks Transit Station and the JRTC at LaVilla.

4. Is this envisioned to be an autonomous vehicle pilot project or a long term mass transit solution?

This is a long term mass transit solution.

5. How does the estimated cost per mile compare with the cost per mile for no-frills approaches for BRT, LRT, modern streetcar, heritage streetcar, trams, etc., assuming these other modes can also be autonomous?

The JTA has studied the capital costs per mile for various modes in evaluating the U2C program. According to the updated JTA Skyway Life Cycle Cost Analysis developed by RS&H and Clary Consulting for the JTA, Streetcar systems are estimated to cost $28 million per mile at minimum. Light rail is approximately $100-$200 million per mile, based on several conditions. These are at-grade costs, and do not include the long-term costs associated with maintaining fixed infrastructure like rail, or the removal of the Skyway superstructure. The costs to maintain larger vehicles such as light rail or streetcars and the associated wayside systems that move them are higher - even at grade, than the flexible system being proposed through the U2C. The cost of building out the entire U2C system, including converting the existing superstructure, is $379 million or $37.15 million per mile. Fixed guideway systems with larger vehicles operating at-grade will change the flow of street traffic as opposed to rubber tire vehicles (of any size) operating above or at grade. The existing Skyway superstructure offers a way to transport and move people above grade, without interrupting traffic in the core.

Jaxson Editor’s Note: When documents are sourced as background material, we generally like to review those sources ourselves. As such we asked a followup question:

Can you send me a link to the updated JTA Skyway Life Cycle Cost Analysis developed by RS&H and Clary Consulting? I’d like to do a peer review.

The JTA Skyway Life Cycle Cost Analysis developed by RS&H and Clary Consulting can be found at the website.

Jaxson Editor’s Note: The Bay Street Innovation Corridor, the first three mile phase of the U2C project is already funded. With that in mind, we wanted to know if this $44 million phase is included in the $379 million figure or in addition, placing the actual cost of the project at $423 million.

Does the $379 million include the already funded Bay Street Innovation Corridor? How do grants received to date, play into the $379 million? Are they in addition or included? If in addition, what is the total capital costs of the U2C project? If not an addition, why is the request still $379 million?

The $379 million comprises the remaining phases of the U2C program, including the rehabilitation and conversion of the existing Skyway superstructure, neighborhood expansions and other capital costs related to the project. Phase 1 – the Bay Street Innovation Corridor ($44M) is fully funded and not part of this proposal.

Jaxson Editor’s Note: To provide further clarification on the desire for $379 million of gas tax revenues as a dedicated funding source, a follow up question about the cost of long term operations and maintenance was asked.

** Does the $379 million only account for capital costs, or does using the LOGT as a dedicated funding source also cover annual maintenance?**

The JTA plans to engage a concessionaire in an alternative delivery model – DBOM or P3– which would include ongoing operations and maintenance through the duration of that agreement.

6. In terms of equity and inclusive access, have opportunities to better connect neighborhoods like Durkeeville and Eastside been evaluated? These neighborhoods tend to have higher and more transit dependent ridership than San Marco, Springfield and Five Points. There appear to be opportunities for the U2C to also serve as a way to better connect residents in underrepresented communities to retail, services, jobs, etc., as opposed to only serving choice riders. A stop in these neighborhoods could also create transit oriented development opportunities within them.

Specific U2C stops along the routes for the initial neighborhood extensions will be solidified through a public input process which will provide better feedback and direction to the JTA on the proposed service expansion. Once the initial network is established, additional segments can be added to continue that expansion into the neighborhoods mentioned. The U2C service will be in addition to the continued investment JTA makes today through bus routes, the First Coast Flyer Green Line BRT, multiple ReadiRide zones and paratransit options in these neighborhoods.

A Skyway train pulls into the JRTC. (Ennis Davis, AICP)