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Gainesville residents contemplate people mover system

People getting on and off the bus at The Hub. The Hub is one of the largest bus stops on the UF campus. (Robert Diaz/WUFT News)
People getting on and off the bus at The Hub. The Hub is one of the largest bus stops on the UF campus. (Robert Diaz/WUFT News)
Beverly Hudson describes her experience with Gainesville's RTS bus system

Beverly Hudson rides the bus home every workday from her job at the University of Florida. When she misses her bus, she said she has to wait up to an hour for the next one to arrive.

Xiang ‘Jacob’ Yan, assistant professor of civil engineering at UF, said that he believes Gainesville would benefit from a people mover system, such as a metro rail or a streetcar. But he said the city would have to continue its current growth over the next 10 to 20 years to justify the large investment a project like that would require.

Yan said the initial capital investment for people mover projects is typically 80% funded by the federal government. The remaining 20% is funded by a combination of state, county and city governments.

The cost of maintenance and operation typically comes primarily from local funds.  This local funding is often the most challenging part of building these projects, according to Yan.

“I think that’s the most feasible system,” Yan said when asked about the viability of streetcars in Gainesville.

Streetcar routes can have high frequency, be integrated into existing rail networks and require a smaller capital investment. Yan said he thinks the streetcar route studied by the City of Gainesville in is the most feasible new form of public transportation for the city.

The City of Gainesville conducted a feasibility study in 2014 on the use of streetcars. While the study did not make a recommendation on whether a streetcar system should be pursued, it did recommend an alignment from Rosa Parks station north along Southeast Third Street, and westbound along Southwest Second Avenue with a terminal at Southwest 12th Street.

The city is also looking at increasing the frequency and operating hours of Gainesville bus routes on weekdays and weekends.

There are many benefits to implementing a more robust public transit system in Gainesville, according to Yan. Some of these benefits include a reduction in traffic congestion, enhanced transportation access and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. There are also important social benefits such as increased physical activity and more social interactions.

According to Gainesville RTS data, approximately 65% of bus riders are students. The data show that the bulk of the riders follows an academic year. Ridership goes down in the summer months but increases again in the fall months. Nonstudent Gainesville residents may not be getting access to the public services they need.

Hudson, 65, said she doesn't feel those who have the power to improve the bus service and public transportation in Gainesville are doing enough for riders on the east side of the city.
“Until it’s time to vote, they don’t care,” Hudson said. “Then they want to come out and say what they’re going to do for us and they don’t do it.”

She said that east Gainesville does not have enough bus service, and she thinks the service is too focused on UF students and ignores the other residents of Gainesville. On weekends she has to walk a mile to the nearest bus stop because the 11 bus route only has service on weekdays.

Hudson said she would support a people mover project in Gainesville. She did express some cynicism about the project and said it would only get funded if it served the needs of the students. She said that, whatever the motive is for building the people mover project, it would benefit everyone in Gainesville.

UF student Jacob Freyre, 20, said he doesn’t think many improvements could be made to public transportation. He’s not sure if he would support a people mover project in Gainesville. He does not think it would benefit him or be necessary for the city.

“Sometimes it shows a bus that’s going to come but never shows up,” said student Braxton Eisel, 19, expressing frustration with the public transportation system. He said the buses get the most crowded between 3 and 4 p.m. and all day on Friday. He also faces traffic on his daily bus route both on and off campus.

Eisel said a people mover project connecting Gainesville would be a good idea. In his opinion, it would help alleviate some of the crowding on buses. He also thinks the project would reduce his ride time by reducing congestion on roads.

“You would find metros in big cities like Toronto, New York and Los Angeles,” said Ian Dimech, 18. “I feel like Gainesville is too small of a city to have a metro.” He said the bus system works great for him.

Armaan Kalkat, 21, said he lives far from campus. “There’s one bus that comes to my apartment complex; it’s the 20," said Kalkat. “I actually just missed it as I was walking back from class.” Kalkat expressed frustration with both the wait times and ride times for the bus system.

“The funny thing is that RTS gets a lot of money from UF for funding, but somehow it seems chronically understaffed,” said Kalkat. He wants more funding and more buses running during peak hours. He said the university should encourage more students to ride the bus because parking is such a big problem.

“Here at UF a lot of people rely on cars,” said Kalkat. “That’s not good for the environment and for traffic congestion.” When asked if he would support a people mover project in Gainesville, he said that any solution someone could come up with would be better than the current system.

Jayden Hughes, 19, said he has had a positive experience with the bus system. He waits five minutes for his bus and his bus ride consistently takes 15 minutes.

“For sure I would support it, so more people use public transportation,” said Hughes when asked if he would support a people mover project in Gainesville. He said he thinks it could help bridge inequality and just help everyone move more freely throughout Gainesville.

Robert is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.