New Jump on Express stops
In Mercato, across from Bravo! Cucina Italiana
Off Fifth Avenue South in the Marino Group Valet lot on the corner of Eighth Street South and Third Avenue South
Near Third Street South, in the attended parking lot between 12th Avenue South and 13th Avenue South
Hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
NAPLES — After a dinner at The Counter burger joint in Mercato on Thursday night, Dan Brown and Alexia Anastasia hopped on the Jump On Express to get a free ride back to their car downtown Naples.
Since learning about the free transportation service from Mercato in North Naples to Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South, the couple and their 3-year-old daughter, Piper, have taken the bus nearly every week. In December, the family honored Brown's Jewish roots with a Hanukkah celebration in Mercato, followed by Christmas on Fifth and watching "snow" fall on Third.
"It was kind of cool that we got to do all three in one night," said Anastasia, who as a Lely Resort resident would be hesitant to make the long trip in their own car.
Starting in early December, the Jump On Express has offered free rides between the three nightlife hot spots. But a Naples City Council decision to stop the service from picking up riders on public roads has halted ridership, said owner Shannon Livingston. Instead, they are picking up riders in private parking lots.
"The private stops are really hurting the ridership, so we're trying to work around it," she said. "After we were denied usage of any public property, we had to use private property as near to old stops as possible and hope people still knew where to find us. It's not that far away, but if you're in 4-inch heels, it's far. … I have to think about it from the passenger's point of view."
Livingston said there was some concern that stopping the buses on Fifth Avenue would create a traffic backup, something she doesn't believe to be true.
"Next meeting, we'll be able to go in and say, this is mass transportation," she said. "It helps traffic; it doesn't make it worse."
David Aquiar, who is one of two drivers for JOE, said although ridership has been thin, the people using the service say it cuts down on the hassle of making the 30-minute trek themselves.
"People say it's too far to drive, that they're not going to go up there (to Mercato) to go to Blue Martini then drive all the way downtown," he said.
The service is kept free for riders because area businesses have paid to advertise on the bus and sponsor the transportation costs in hopes of circulating customers who might otherwise stay put in one spot, Livingston said.
Already having the support of merchants in the three areas, Livingston has started a petition on Change.org in an attempt to show City Council the service has public support. As of Friday, the petition had 88 signatures, including those of Brown and Anastasia.
In addition to the route change, Livingston also made JOE's hours a little earlier to accommodate the early bird crowd. The service now runs from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"Moving it back an hour really gives people more time to go to dinner. People in this town eat dinner earlier," she said. "And for events that start at 6, it works better."
Brown said he can't think of a reason he and his family will stop making their weekly trips on JOE — it's free, it's on time and his daughter loves it.
"It's like a Disneyland ride for her," he said.
For information about stops and schedules, visit www.jumponexpress.com or call 239-250-2520.