JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax investigation revealed how the head of the JTA is one of the highest-paid public officials in the city with big perks while the agency’s ridership dwindles and promises for promptness fall short.
Nat Ford is the Chief Executive Officer for Jacksonville Transportation Authority. He makes more than half a million dollars and travels across the world on taxpayer’s money.
He oversees the city’s busses, the Skyway, and the St. Johns River Ferry.
But when it comes to doing business the executive rarely, if ever, uses any of them according to public records.
An Action News Jax investigation found that locals are using public transport less and less often, too. According to the American Public Transportation Association, ridership is down 43 percent since the pandemic.
Ridership Reports 2019: APTA 2019 Q2 Ridership Report
Ridership Reports 2023: APTA 2023 Q2 Ridership Report
And while ridership dwindles, Action News Jax Investigates found the man in charge is often missing, too.
We pulled Ford’s travel records. Since 2016, Ford has taken 140 trips across the globe on the public’s dime. He spent $40,051.80 on travel to Washington D.C. alone.
Travel Expense Report: August 2023 - Present
He’s been abroad at least a dozen times. So far this year, he’s gone to Berlin, Barcelona, and London. All that travel adds up to $189,573.03 -- a bill paid for by you, the taxpayer. I asked Ford for a sit-down interview to talk about his travel. He declined so we caught up with him at a press conference.
“We want to talk to you about your travel. Can you explain why you’re out of town so frequently?” I asked. Ford replied, “Well, I don’t know if ‘so frequently’ is the way to describe it.”
But not counting personal vacation or holidays, we found Ford is out of town an average of twice a month for multiple days each time.
Records show most of the travel is to conferences or transit-related events. A JTA spokesperson said that includes the Conference of Mayors and the sister cities delegation to Johannesburg, South Africa.
“I’m a high-energy individual. So, in addition to the travel and the I’d say the national associations I’m leading, I’m sitting at the table with those decision makers and those influencers that are making policy decisions around transportation,” Ford said.
And we found he is being paid well to do that.
In addition to his $189,573.03 travel tab, Ford makes $458,923 a year. That’s more than President Joe Biden’s salary of $408,000.00 per year. It is also more than the head of the Chicago Transit Authority makes, which is $376,065.60, and more than the head of New York City’s transportation, which is $365,00.
Ford’s base salary doesn’t include his upcoming year-end bonus of $91,784.6, or his annual cost of living adjustment this year of $13767.69.
It also does not include his $ 50,000-a-year deferred compensation or his $1,000-a-month allowance for personal vehicle maintenance totaling $12,000.
“I’m doing everything within my power 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support the citizens in this community. And that record is pretty clear and evident,” Ford said. We had additional questions, but Ford did not answer them.
I’ve been digging into JTA since June. Over the weekend, the agency came back with data saying ridership this year is 12% higher than last year.
That is true. Last year was down almost 47% from pre-pandemic numbers and this year is only down 43%.
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One of the main reasons we do what we do is to hold government and government officials accountable and to keep watch over taxpayer dollars and make sure they’re spent well. If you have a government entity for us to investigate, please contact me at investigates@ActionNewsJax.com.