Charlottesville Area Transit has held the first of two public input sessions about changes to bus routes intended to boost ridership. The agency has experienced a sharp ridership decline over the past several years, and relatively new director Garland Williams has overseen some potential changes.
“It is our intention to make sure that we get feedback and make adjustments to the CAT system that [are] fruitful to everyone and make sure the system is as productive as it possibly can be,” Williams said.
During the pandemic, CAT hired Kimley-Horn and the Connetics Transportation Group to study the system to recommend changes.
“We’ve had declining ridership for the last seven years,” Williams said. “We needed to figure out how to mitigate that, turn it around, put a stop on it, and put our best foot forward to make sure that the adjustments that we’re going to put in place will allow us to be productive.”
The adjustments are the first in a series of proposed changes, as Albemarle County and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission are working on a study to expand transit regionally. The first opportunities for public input in that study are next week.
It is a fact that ridership is declining. Jim Baker of the Connetics Transportation Group knows another fact.
“Generally about 62,500 people in the Charlottesville area are within a quarter mile of a stop, a transit service,” Baker said.
Specific directives were to add service to South First Street in Charlottesville and the Center at Belvedere in Albemarle County. Capital funding from the city of Charlottesville for the Center was contingent on the new site being accessible to transit.
“But also just to get 30 minute or better service to more people in the Charlottesville area and also to make sure that no route operating worse than a 60 minute service frequency,” Baker said.
Service will be extended to Mill Creek. Route 7 will travel all the way to Wal-Mart. And there will be more options for people to move around without having to go to the Downtown Transit Station.
“We’re proposing a new crosstown service from the south Charlottesville up to the U.S. 29 corridor, so from Willoughby going through the UVA hospital complex and then up to the shops at Stonefield,” Baker said.
Five people made a public comment at the first session, which was held at noon on Friday. You can watch the whole thing on the city’s streaming meeting website.
One person said he was glad service will be extended to the Center, but also had a concern that the bus only stops there once on the route.
“Apparently there’s no return so if I get the 11 bus and ride to the Center and get off and spend my afternoon there, how do I get home?” asked Todd Cone.
Williams said the intersection of Rio Road and Belvedere Boulevard is currently unsignalized, which means making a left-hand turn very difficult.
“You do get home,” Williams said. “It’s just that there’s no, you have to ride around unfortunately because it is unsafe for us to go across an unsignalized intersection. A CAT vehicle is not a car so it’s a 35 foot bus trying to make it across six lanes of traffic. It’s not a safe way for us to go southbound towards downtown. You are able. You just have to get on the Center and ride around.”
Carmelita Wood, president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, said many of the bus stops in the area offer no protection from the elements.
“Some of the Routes, 4 and 6 on Cherry, and I think it’s Bailey Road and Fifth Street, there’s no coverage from the weather and the heat,” Wood said. “They recently put in seating in some areas, but in most of the areas there’s no coverage from the rain and the snow and the heat.”
Juwhan Lee, assistant director at CAT, said a full review of city bus stops is underway.
“What we’re trying to do is go out there and see where are stops are and what conditions they are in and what amenities they have,” Lee said. “We want to look at everything, look at the condition of the infrastructure of the location, and see what we can do improve it. Does the stop need to be here? If so, how can we make it better?”
Lee said such a study has not been conducted for over ten years.
Anthony Woodard is the manager of the McIntire Plaza off of McIntire Road just south of the interchange of the John Warner Parkway and the U.S. 250 Bypass. He noted no bus service serves the area, which will soon house more people.
“There’s a lot of employment opportunities there,” Woodard said. “A lot of nonprofits in the area. Habitat Store, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. And soon to be over 200 residents living back there as well as other neighborhoods nearby. The closest next stop is over half a mile away.”
Williams said the area is on his radar for future coverage as those housing units come online, and as CAT looks ahead to the next set of upgrades.
“It’s not off of the table but in the existing model, if we have additional funding it would be looked at it and when the additional residents get there, then we probably would look at as a recommendation to add additional service there,” Williams said.
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