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Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars

6:56 PM, Nov 9, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Raw Video: 50 Cents for the Skyway? Not Really

Video: Raw Video: At the Skyway Turnstiles

Video: Raw Video: Arriving at the Skyway

  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
  • Jacksonville's Skyway a Drain on Taxpayer Dollars
    

Update: Jacksonville Transit Authority said it's clamping down on people taking free rides on the Skyway after a First Coast News investigation.

The Skyway lost more than 7 point 1 million dollars in 2010.  Much of that comes from your tax dollars.

It continues to lose millions this year, but after our probe, JTA pledged to fix the problem.

Today, Clinton Forbes, JTA director of mass transit, it  has fixed the problems. "So we have ramped up our staff in ensuring those gates work. If you take a visit there today, you're going to see that the majority of those gates work," he said.

This afternoon at the Kings Avenue Station two turnstiles were on free spin mode and people were going through for free.

Original Story: JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The $186 million Skyway brought hope of a revitalized downtown Jacksonville, but since its first run 20 years ago, it's been a financial drain.

In 2010, the Jacksonville Transit Authority took in $345,000 in revenue from Skyway fares and parking fees. But it spent more than $5.4 million, much of it public tax dollars, to operate the Skyway. With depreciation, that meant a loss of more than $7.1 million that year.  

But with such losses, is the JTA collecting every penny possible?

MORE: Skyway revenue report from 2007-2011

At four of the eight Skyway stations, over a number of days,  person after person walked right through the gates and turnstiles - without paying. 

"I'm not going to walk through because I don't want to break the law, there are cameras watching us right here. But I'll show you, the turnstile, you can get through for absolutely no money at all," said one Skyway rider.

JTA spokeswoman Shannon Eller refused multiple phone and email requests for an on-camera interview with someone from her agency. 

In a written statement, Eller explained, "Skyway staff monitor the fare gates during service hours by video, and ask fare evaders to return to the turnstiles to pay the fare via the station speakers."

But during many visits by First Coast News, there was no apparent staff asking people to return to turnstiles and pay.

"We have a live video monitoring system to help reduce fare evasion" said Eller. "Regrettably, this process doesn't catch everyone, but to do otherwise is too expensive."

Not everyone is taking a free ride. 

The Vincent family took a trip Downtown on the Skyway, and even though other riders told them how to steal a ride, they insisted on finding a way to pay. 

"As we tried to get into the turnstiles and put our coins in, it was jammed and it wouldn't let us in," said Tammy Vincent. "We had to find another turnstile to go into, and it let one of us through, and then it was jammed."

A number of turnstiles were not working.

"At Hemming Plaza, we were not able to get our money to go in the turnstiles at all," said Vincent. "Somebody that obviously is there often, opened the handicapped gate that obviously is open all the time (and) says 'we just always walk through here, nobody has to pay',"

The Vincent family refused the offer, but many people don't.  "So they weren't getting as much money as they were supposed to," said Lydia Vincent, 7.

Even though the Skyway's hours of operation for this Downtown attendant booth are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, the booth was closed several afternoons and during rush hour. 

"Fare evasion is an issue that all transit agencies face and staffing every turnstile to enforce fare collection is cost- prohibitive and impractical," said Eller in her statement. "We still have questions why this station is closed, when the hours are clearly posted that the station should be open."

It costs 50 cents to ride the Skyway. 

FULL STATEMENT FROM ELLER:

"At JTA, we are disappointed that sometimes people evade the fare collection system on the Skyway.  Fare evasion is an issue that all transit agencies face and staffing every turnstile to enforce fare collection is cost prohibitive and impractical.  We have a live video monitoring system to help reduce fare evasion.  Skyway staff monitor the fare gates during service hours by video, and ask fare evaders to return to the turnstiles to pay the fare via the station speakers. Regrettably, this process doesn't catch everyone, but to do otherwise is too expensive."
 

First Coast News

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