It is time to re-evaluate local mass transit plans

In 1985, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) received more than $23 million from the federal government to build the Skyway Express. City Council had worked hard to get this grant.

From 2009 to 2016 Duval taxpayers subsidized the Skyway by more than $90 million. They also subsidized JTA by an additional $560 million in that same period, mostly for its bus operation.

Now, JTA wants to partner with St. Augustine to build a light rail system connecting it to Jacksonville.

On July 11, Richard Clark, director of economic development for JTA, gave a presentation to the city commissioners of St. Augustine. The presentation highlighted a light rail project to connect Jacksonville and St. Augustine with four rail station locations.

Clark cited Florida’s Sunrail and Minnesota’s Northstar as comparable lines saying they are incredibly successful. Both these rail lines have fallen short of initial ridership estimates and have been more costly than anticipated.

Which definition of success is he referring to? To gain something, the achievement of something planned or desired? If the plan is bankruptcy, he might be spot on!

Sunrail was subsidized by taxpayers for more than $39 million in 2019

Northstar is no different, Minnesota taxpayers shell out approximately $20 for every rider. Former engineering professor at the University of Minnesota David Levinson, criticized the Northstar’s initial estimates of benefit/cost as “strategic misrepresentation.”

The line has become so costly that last year Minnesota state representative Jon Koznick introduced a bill to terminate the line. However, federal dollars always come with strings; Minnesota would owe the Department of Transportation $85 million if it were terminated.

How are these ever-increasing subsidies sustainable for the taxpayer, especially taxpayers on a fixed budget?

During the presentation one of the commissioners asked Clark what the maintenance and operating costs might be. Great question, and one that all our elected officials should ask before obligating taxpayers. Clark stated the project is yet to begin, so that question cannot be answered.

We never have heard of a government plan that had no cost estimates, even though they might be preposterous.

Perhaps the commission should take a close look at the initial plans and actual outcomes for the rail lines Clark cited as successful.

Mass transit depends on population density for success. New York City has 27,000 people per square mile. Orlando, where Sunrail operates, has 2,700.

Compare that to St. Johns County, which has 455 people per square mile. Duval County has 1,305 people per square mile.

How much money spent is too much? At what point do we begin to question the billions spent annually to subsidize the transit industry? Are these subsidies sustainable?

It is called a cost/benefit ratio. Any business would make the calculation before putting a plan into effect.

Debbie Gonzalez

Researcher and Writer Debbie a native of New York became a resident of Jacksonville via the U.S. Navy. After separating from the navy she worked for both Grumman Aerospace and later Northrup-Grumman Aerospace. After almost 20 years in the aviation industry, she went back to college to change professions. Going back to school as an adult that had lived all over the United States and abroad she had experience in culture and circumstance, which created an incongruity with the material being taught. At that point she began questioning the validity of the material and made the observation that to pass her courses she had to agree, at least on paper, with the material. She graduated about the same time as the Wall Street crash of 2008 and jobs were now difficult to find. So, with time on her hand she began to look into other areas to see if the incongruity existed outside of the college curriculum as well. This is where her mission for the truth began. Since then she has worked to get facts out to the public.


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