Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 27, 2018 6:15 a.m.
Michael Hays, Island Hopper Transportation Director, presented an informative and entertaining annual review of the program’s “hopperations” to the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) at the FBCC’s February 20, 2018 Regular Meeting.
Via a multi-slide PowerPoint presentation, Hays explained the extensive safety training provided to vehicle “hopperators,” which even exceeds legal requirements. The Island Hopper, a service provided by the Nassau County Council on Aging with financial support from the City of Fernandina Beach and local businesses, is the only local form of public transportation available to city residents.
The vehicle itself was provided by a corporate grant from Westrock in 2016. The vehicle is equipped with a lift to accommodate wheelchairs. Hays addressed some frequently asked questions. He said that the service runs along a rectangular route throughout the city with 8 fixed stops Thursdays thru Monday. The city has posted signs at those stops, which also include timetables and route information. He thanked Streets Manager Rex Lester and the Maintenance Department for erecting the bus stop signs.
There are benches at or near all the stops.
Hays said that people could also wave down the bus, if they did not make it to the stop in time. By the same token, drivers will drop people off in between stops as requested. Hays said that if people in need of the service live within a half-mile of the route, they could call for door-to-door service. He advised people needing rides Monday through Friday to call (904) 261-0700 or (800) 298-9122. For those needing service on the weekend, he advised them to call the bus hopperator directly at (904) 832-1218.
Island visitors ride the Hopper as well as local residents. Hays thanked Marina Manager Joe Springer for making transient boaters aware of the service. In response to requests from riders, a bike rack will be installed by the end of March.
The cost per ride remains one dollar, except for Fridays during which riders ride free.
In 2017, the Hopper provided 2,673 rides. Hays provided statistics on numbers of riders from the 8 stops during the days of service. He expressed concern that Sunday morning ridership was down. He told commissioners and the public that the Island Hopper would take people to church, if requested, and would return to take churchgoers back home following services.
Hays said that the Island Hopper would like to add another vehicle and expand hours into the evening.
Hays concluded his presentation by thanking the city for its partnership.
Council on Aging Executive Director Janice Ancrum followed Hays to offer public thanks to City Manager Dale Martin and the FBCC. She said, “[The Island Hopper] is a dream come true for us. We had the idea, but we didn’t have the funding. We had a series of meetings with Mr. Martin to come up with a way. I want to thank you, Commissioners for your annual funding of $10,000 to allow this to happen. The service has been a lifesaver for many. All of our vehicles are handicapped accessible. I can’t thank you enough not just for this, but for your year-round support.”
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.