Council briefed on proposed transit changes

(This installment was originally posted in the June 2, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

At a work session on May 25, 2021, Charlottesville City Council was briefed on upcoming changes to the city-run bus system. Charlottesville is the sole owner and operator of Charlottesville Area Transit, and Albemarle County pays the city for service each year. Ridership on CAT has declined significantly in recent years. In 2013, ridership was at 2.4 million. By 2018, that dropped to 2.05 million. (view presentation)

Garland Williams has been director since August 2019 and previously served as director of Planning and Scheduling for the Greater Richmond Transit Company. 

Near the beginning of the pandemic, the city hired Kimley Horn to review the system to recommend changes to make it more efficient on the other side.

“This is not designed to be a total revamp of our system,” Williams said. “This was kind of stop-gap measure because as you know, over the last six year CAT’s ridership has been declining precipitously so what we’re trying to do right now is stop that, build a nice foundation, and then build from there.”

Williams said work on the CAT is happening at the same time that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is working on a planning effort for the long term.

As part of the more immediate work, the Connetics Transportation Group was directed to bring service to South First Street, bring service to the Center at Belvedere, and to restore Sunday service post pandemic. Jim Baker with Connetics Transportation explains a couple more directives.

“And getting more 30 minute or better service along some of the key corridors in the city,” Baker said. “Also there were a few routes pre-COVID that were running at worse than 60 minute frequencies so we didn’t want to have anything less than 60 minute frequencies. And then to get the trolley, which is such a key part of the CAT system, back to a 15 minute frequency. That was a route where service frequencies were reduced because of COVID.”

Routes will need to be changed in the short-term to avoid the Downtown Transit Center due to the eventual replacement of the Belmont Bridge. Under the proposal, Albemarle would for about 35 percent of service.

Route 2 would be split into two services, restoring service to Piedmont Virginia Community College and extending service to Mill Creek Drive and Monticello High School. One of the routes will also travel down Avon Street Extended in both directions. 

“That change will make it easy to access the park and ride lot that’s sitting right beside CAT headquarters,” Williams said. “So it’s another opportunity potentially to use the route for our employees, city employees, to get to and from downtown.” 

Route 3 would also be split into two, with one half traveling from Southwood to downtown and the other serving downtown and Belmont. This second route would come within walking distance of the Broadway Street corridor in Albemarle County. 

“We really wanted to get 30 minute all-day service on 5th Street all the way down to Albemarle County’s office building,” Baker said. 

Route 5 would be modified to travel between the UVA Hospital to Fashion Square Mall. Currently the northern terminus is Wal-Mart. Route 7 would be extended to the Rio Hill Shopping Center and the Wal-Mart but will no longer serve Stonefield. 

Service on Prospect Avenue would be moved from Route 6 to a new Route 8, which would now travel between Stonefield and the Willoughby Shopping Center via the UVA Hospital. 

“We thought this would be an opportunity to create a new crosstown route from south Charlottesville for residents on the south part of town to get up to the U.S. 29 corridor without having to go through downtown and without having to make a transfer,” Baker said. 

Route 9 would be revamped to be another north-south service traveling between Fashion Square Mall and downtown via the YMCA in McIntire Park. Service to UVA Hospital would be dropped as would service near Charlottesville High School. Route 10 would no longer serve Stony Point Road to save time. Route 11 would serve the Center at Belvedere. 

“That extension to the Center is an obligation that the city has to the Center so this answers that part of the agreement to provide public transportation,” Williams said. 

The route changes will have to be reviewed to see if there are any violations of what’s known as Title VI, and there will need to be a public comment period. 

Williams said CAT is also working on securing spaces at 5th Street Station for park and ride, as well as using Route 9 to access empty spaces at Fashion Square Mall for that purpose. Earlier in the work session, Council was briefed on a potential parking garage downtown.

“But we’re also working with Kimley Horn at a longer term study where we’re looking at the potential for some park and ride locations throughout the region, especially up on U.S. 29,” Williams said. 

No decisions were made at the meeting. And coming up in a future episode of the program, more on transit from the May 27 meeting of the Regional Transit Partnership. Stay tuned!

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