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'We have to do something better': JTA passengers frustrated with late buses

Public transit problems are still impacting Jacksonville commuters who claim most days of the week their buses are late. First Coast News asked JTA about it.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Public transit problems are still impacting Jacksonville commuters who claim most days of the week their buses are late.

A month ago, First Coast News reported on this, and Jacksonville Transportation Authority officials stated that issues would hopefully clear up with upcoming service changes. It's now in the third week of those service changes.

"The 19 on that particular day never showed up," JTA passenger Tiffanie Roberts said. "It's not the first time. This is not the second time. This is something that's been happening since June, and we need a voice."

"It's a lot of people that's complaining," said Mary Harris, another JTA passenger.

"A lot of people depend on these buses to get us to work on time," said a passenger who wants to remain anonymous. "Our livelihoods are at stake here."

"I did take a cab here," passenger Ken Robley said. "I've taken cabs other places when I'm running errands on weekends, because it's basically a joke trying to get a bus."

Commuters say late buses multiple times a week, mostly with Route 19 to Arlington, are costing them time and money at their jobs.

"My bus mates and I, we were like, 'We've got to do something. We're being late to work,'" said Roberts. "The month of June I think I was late to work almost 15 times for waiting on the bus."

Bus routes have changed since June, but Roberts says the problem persists.

"It's not that you're missing the buses right?" First Coast News asked Robley. "Because you've been standing there the whole time, you would've seen if one had gone by?"

"No, exactly," Robley said.

RELATED: On Your Side: Jacksonville man claims late buses put his job at risk

In emailed answers to First Coast News's questions, JTA again points to the bus driver shortage as causing problems.

They state there have been 13 missed trips on Route 19, but that 97% of trips have been fulfilled. When asked what type of solutions JTA has for consistently late buses, specifics were not named. JTA stated: "JTA employs a number of measures to minimize missed trips, delays, and other service interruptions."

"We have to do something better, to make sure that everybody's getting to work on time, everything is working adequately," Roberts said. "Sometimes we do not even have enough drivers to drive the bus."

JTA states they have 32 workers in training with additional applicants moving through the hiring process. The starting salary for an entry level bus operator is $16.43 per hour. The hiring bonus is spread over three years.

First Coast News is also hearing from viewers who have a separate issue with the bus system. A woman in the Murray Hill area says she has to walk about half a mile more to get to the bus now.

Ann Shaffer moved to the Murray Hill area because of its easy access to public transportation, but the JTA service changes mean her Route 15 is gone. It was replaced by the 14, which runs along Lennox Avenue instead of Post Street.

"They've taken easy access to pharmacies, grocery stores, physicians, hospitals, shopping, museums, beauticians," Shaffer said. "A lot of businesses were served by the 15."

While she as talking with First Coast News, passersby chimed in.

"Yes we need that bus!" they said once they were told what the interview was about.

JTA states Route 15 was discontinued because most of it either overlapped or ran parallel to Route 14 and the First Coast Flyer Orange Line.

"If I want to get the new Orange Flyer, I have to walk from here down to Park and the restaurant Orsay," Shaffer said. "Maybe 1.3 miles."

Last October through July, Route 15 averaged nine passengers, according to JTA. In September it averaged almost 480 weekday passenger trips.

JTA states they're working on the next service change scheduled for late January, for which they take customer feedback. Shaffer says she's given feedback and for now is left walking farther and wondering how others who can't walk as far will get around their city.

"Essentially all the things that I would easily do, I no longer do," Shaffer said.

Story continues below.

Read JTA's full responses to First Coast News's questions here:

Multiple people are telling us the 19 is late up to 45 minutes most days of the week in the mornings when passengers are trying to get to work. What type of solutions does JTA have in place for consistently late buses?

"Thank you for bringing these customer concerns to our attention. Since the Sept. 27 service change through Oct. 9, there have been a total of 13 missed trips on the Route 19, which represents 3 percent of all trips during that time. Ninety-seven percent of all trips have been fulfilled on Route 19.

The JTA employs a number of measures to minimize missed trips, delays and other service interruptions. Our goal is to provide the highest level of customer care along with clean, safe and reliable transportation services, even as we continue to deal with pandemic related impacts to our operations."

What is the reason for getting rid of the 15? 

"Route 15 was discontinued because most of the route either overlapped with Route 14 or ran closely parallel to Route 14 and the First Coast Flyer Orange Line. Route 15 was merged with Route 14, which was extended to the Normandy Boulevard area to cover the western portion of Route 15. Route 32 was rerouted to cover the Murray Hill area. As with all service changes, any route or stop removed today, could return after a future service change."

How many passengers were taking the 15?

"Route 15 averaged 9.02 passengers per revenue hour from October 2020 - July 2021. In September 2021, Route 15 averaged 479 weekday passenger trips."

Has there been an increase in drivers getting hired since the bonuses were added?

"Yes. In addition to the Bus Operators who have already graduated, we currently have 32 in training with additional applicants moving through the hiring process.  We offer competitive wages, advancement opportunities, great benefits and a $10,000 - $15,000 hiring bonus for new Bus Operators. New Bus Operators can start at $16.43 per hour, with annual increases and opportunities for overtime."

Are the bonuses distributed over 3 years?

"Yes. The hiring bonus is spread over three years. Payments are made when new employees reach certain milestones: after the 90-day probationary period, and after successfully completing one, two and three years of service. Starting salary for an entry level bus operator is $16.43 per hour. That doesn’t include overtime and annual increases based on seniority."

Have there been more or fewer complaints since the service changes took place?

"Like most service changes, our Customer Service team is fielding a higher call volume with requests for travel planning, information on route changes and to register customer feedback."

What is JTA's response to passengers who are frustrated by buses they claim are consistently late? What is JTA's response to passengers who feel their complaints are not being taken seriously? 

"We take every customer concern seriously, and understand their frustration when service interruptions occur. All customer concerns are documented and reviewed daily by our Customer Service Supervisors and staff. If further investigation is needed, we work directly with our subject matter experts to identify possible solutions. We welcome all feedback, as it helps us with future service changes and enhancements."

Any other solutions JTA is working on to make sure buses run smoothly?

"Our Transit Operations and Service Planning teams have already begun work on the next service change scheduled for late January. As we do with all service changes, we will take into consideration customer feedback, and a full evaluation of current service levels to enhance the customer experience and to ensure missed trips, delays and other issues are limited. Routes or stops that were removed during this service change may return during our next service change in January or later next spring.

"The JTA is also recruiting Bus Operators to address staffing shortage. We offer competitive wages, advancement opportunities, great benefits and a $10,000 - $15,000 hiring bonus for new Bus Operators. New Bus Operators can start at $16.43 per hour, with annual increases and opportunities for overtime."