Regional Transit Partnership briefed on regional transit vision, looming Charlottesville Area Transit route changes

Since October 2017, the Regional Transit Partnership has met as a program of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). The group consists of Charlottesville and Albemarle officials, and the University of Virginia joined the partnership by the end of 2019. The idea is to share information with an eye to having the city-owned Charlottesville Area Transit, the public service corporation Jaunt, and the University Transit System work better together. 

Last week, regional leaders got an update on the creation of a regional transit vision that the TJPDC is working on that will serve as a blueprint for a more efficient system. The next milestone is for a committee to select a firm to work on the project. Jessica Hersh-Ballering is a transportation planner with the TJPDC who spoke at March 25 RTP meeting. 

“The regional transit vision plan requires technical assistance from a consulting team and the role of the selection committee is to review proposals from those firms to the vision plan [request for proposals] and then to recommend to the Regional Transit Partnership a preferred firm to complete the vision plan,” said Hersh-Ballering. 

The committee will review the proposals in May. 

Charlottesville Area Transit Director Garland Williams gave an update on the forthcoming revision to bus routes after presenting an overview at the February RTP meeting. There will be a change to the route that travels between downtown and U.S. 29 in Albemarle County’s designated growth area.  (FY22 CAT service proposals)

“We’re doing some extensions, we’re trading some of the components of the 7 and extending it out to Wal-Mart so it will be seven days a week,” Williams said. “It looks like we’ll be able to have final iterations that we will be able to share with the public probably in a couple of weeks.” 

These are the guiding principles for the proposed service modifications (download)

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires two rounds of public input before the routes can be approved. 

Ridership demand returning for University Transit Service

One effect of the pandemic has been a reduction in demand for parking at the UVA Health System. UVA parking and transportation director Becca White said that’s coming to an end.

“We’re back up to about 90 percent of the pre-COVID demand at the hospital,” White said. “Of course, as you know we transport all those people that last mile. We intercept them in a big parking area and shuttle them to their final destination.” 

White said parking demand in the academic campus is at about 55 percent of pre-COVID levels. 

“So many of the classes are still not in person or are hybrid such that that whole class change thing isn’t really, still isn’t happening,” White said.

The last day of classes is May 6 and the last day of exams is on May 15. Graduation is on May 20, and UVA is expected to make an announcement this Friday about how what they call Final Exercises will proceed. 

Jaunt is also seeing a small return to pre-COVID traffic. Karen Davis is the interim director.

“Our ridership is starting to tick up and we’re putting more drivers out on the road,” Davis said. “More of them are able to have a full schedule although we are at reduced capacity and we’re actively keeping an eye on how COVID rules will change transit, and also reopening our main office.”  

Davis said Jaunt will soon survey riders of the Crozet Connect route which began in the summer of 2019. The service has changed due to the pandemic.

“Up until this point, we have pretty much changed our service structure to demand and so we’ll do the same in Crozet,” Davis said. “It’s such a shame because it was flourishing and growing so strong and then COVID hit and it’s just like, oh gosh!” 

After Davis’s update, Williams dropped this information.

“Karen and I, I believe, are still contemplating in our FY22 budgets operating fare-free,” Williams said. He added the idea is to use a portion of COVID relief funds to cover the cost of fares, which makes up about ten percent of the CAT budget.

“We have it in our numbers for three years,” Williams said.

Williams added study will soon get under way to see if CAT can permanently remove the farebox. The system will also soon add automated passenger counters to buses to track ridership. 

Jaunt can’t quite make that commitment, but will be fare-free in fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1.

“Especially going fare-free in this next year will really enable us to get out ridership back, up and running,” Davis said. “When you take that barrier away for passengers, the risk of trying to use transit is so low and people, why not get on the bus and see where it goes? I think it’s really exciting if we can make this work.” 

One item called for in the Regional Transit Partnership’s strategic plan is a visit to a community similar to Charlottesville to see how transit works. A possible trip to Blacksburg was put on hold a year ago when the pandemic began. Here’s Albemarle County Supervisor Diantha McKeel. 

“I just think it’s always good if we can take a look at what other communities are doing,” McKeel said. 

However, Williams said CAT is planning to work with the firm Kimley Horn on a peer review of its own. 

“That’s a necessary component for us as we start to build out and ask for more for our alternative fuel vehicles and facilities,” Williams said. “We need to see how we match up as we are starting to ask for more capital projects.” 

Williams said as part of that work, they are looking for a location for a park and ride lot on U.S. 29. Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley asked for more information.

“Garland, are you looking for your park and ride up in the area around… North Pointe?” LaPisto-Kirtley asked. “They’re really building out up there.” 

“I will just say that what we don’t want to do is give the developers a chance to grab the pieces of property from us that we are looking at,” Williams said. 

Williams said he has had conversations with Albemarle officials about the idea. And that’s where the Regional Transit Vision plan and a separate Albemarle transit plan are intended to come in. The TJPDC is also studying the North 29 Corridor in both Albemarle and Greene counties. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the April 1, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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