JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- More people have been riding the Skyway than ever in the six months since it became free. Now, the JTA board has to decide whether to keep it that way.
According to Clinton Forbes, Director of Mass Transit for JTA, the ridership numbers have consistently been sixty percent higher than they were when the system cost fifty cents per ride.
"For transit, that is huge and so I think our customers and the community has, has recognized and now appreciate what a great community benefit the Skyway has become," said Forbes.
Forbes said he has heard from many people who have used the system for the first time since it became free. He said projections show that ridership would go back down if fares were reinstated.
Forbes explained that the Skyway only made about $130,000 in fares each year before the change. That amount was not very significant, considering the transportation system has a budget in the millions. He said the increase in people using the Skyway could help balance out the cost of running it because the more people who use it, the more money the state will offer JTA in grants.
"There's a formula that the state uses for the public transit systems based on increased ridership," Forbes explained. "As our ridership increases, we get more formula funding, which offsets some of that lost in revenue."
Forbes also said that JTA has saved money because they have not had to install a new fare collection system at the Skyway stations, which he estimated would cost over $1 million.
Longtime riders like Josh Calvert said they have noticed more people using the Skyway since it went free.
"It has been crowded," said Calvert.
But he said he does not mind the extra people on board because he understands what a good resource it is, especially since it became free.
"I'm sure a lot of people probably actually need the Skyway to be free," shared Calvert. "It definitely helps out with transportation for sure."
JTA numbers show that since they stopped charging riders in January, the number of people that have used the Skyway has been hovering around between sixty-five and ninety thousand dollars each month. May had the biggest jump from just 45,000 riders in 2011 to almost twice that many this year.
The Skyway will remain free at least through the end of the fiscal year in September. However, Forbes will make a presentation to the JTA board about the increase in ridership, so the board can make a final determination about whether to keep the system fare-free.
Forbes said if the board decides to reinstate a fare, JTA will give the public notice far in advance.