Transit updates from the Regional Transit Partnership’s September meeting

We are now six days into Try Transit Month, an effort to encourage people to consider using fixed-route or on-demand service to get around the community. It has now been 13 days since the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership met on September 23 Since October 2017, the advisory body run by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District has served as a clearinghouse for different providers. 

Karen Davis is the interim director of Jaunt and she stated one of the biggest challenges facing all bus fleets.

“The driver shortage continues,” Davis said. “Jaunt is going to move to match [University Transit Service] and [Charlottesville Area Transit’s] recruiting and retaining bonus programs to try to entice more people into the door.

Jim Foley, the director of pupil transportation for Albemarle County, could not give an update at the meeting because he was driving a school bus. 

Becca White, the director of Parking and Transportation at UVA, said ridership is rebounding following the pandemic. 

“We are up to about 8,000 riders a day on our system,” White said. “Three thousand of those are employees and the rest are students.”

That’s down from pre-COVID levels of around 12,000 to 15,000 a day while school was in session.

“During the height of COVID it was 3,000 to 4,000 passengers a day.” White said. 

One of the steps UTS has taken to make efficient use of their drivers has been to eliminate bus trips on McCormick Road through the heart of Grounds during the day. White said that might be one reason numbers have not rebounded as high. 

“We need to concentrate our transit trips from the end points in given the limited resources that we have,” White said. 

The free trolley-style bus operated by Charlottesville Area Transit has returned to McCormick Road. CAT has been fare-free since the beginning of the pandemic. CAT Director Garland Williams said he is hoping to keep it that way by applying for a Transit Ridership Incentive Program grant.

“We applied for the TRIPS grant program with the state to keep CAT zero-fare for an additional three years,” Williams said.

Williams said the planned route changes will not take place until January due to the driver shortage. Under the new alignment, Route 11 will go to the Center at Belvedere and there have been requests to make that change sooner. Williams said that would present problems. 

“If we were to make the adjustment to the Center now prior to making all of the adjustments, we would run the risk of individuals who are using the 11 missing their connections because it does take longer to get to the Center and get back,” Williams said. 

Williams said the timing will be correct when the changes are made. 

On September 1, the Afton Express began operation from Staunton to Charlottesville with a month of fare-free ridership. The service is operated by Brite, the transit service in the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro They’re now charging $3 each way. For the first three weeks, the service only carried about a dozen to 18 passengers each day, according to RideShare manager Sara Pennington.

“We’re still looking to creep those numbers up but is still nice and early,” Pennington said. 

Pennington also discussed what the regional services are doing for Try Transit month. One thing is the usage of the hash tag ion Twitter #Busorbust.

Albemarle County and the TJPDC are continuing work on a transit expansion study. The latest milestone is publication of a market and service analysis FourSquare ITP and Michael Baker International. (market and service analysis)

“Ripe for service expansion, the US-29 corridor is the second busiest transit corridor in the region,” reads an overview of the study areas. “The Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2015, outlines goals for increasing the supply of affordable housing for households with incomes between zero percent and 80 percent of area median income, through rezoning and incentives to developers.” 

The study also covers Pantops and Monticello. 

There will be a stakeholder meeting on October 22 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and a public meeting on October 21st from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

“Those will be going over the new alternatives or the draft alternatives that they are working on for each of the study areas,” said Lucinda Shannon, the TJPDC’s transportation manager. 

A portion of the market and service analysis report.

The TJPDC is also conducting a regional transit vision study.  There’s a stakeholder meeting for that tomorrow at 9 a.m. The meeting can be watched live on their YouTube page. (watch)

“And that’s going to be asking people to identify community goals around Charlottesville and what the community values and what they want to see,” Shannon said. 

You can also offer your views as part of a survey that’s on the project website

Before we go, let’s look at the draft Comprehensive Plan one more time. Transit is embedded in many chapters of the plan, including the land use chapter. But take a look at Chapter 6 and goals 5 and goals 6. Williams’ attempts to help CAT become fare-free are specifically embedded in Strategy 13.2:

“Ensure that transit is  financially accessible to all residents and those  who work in the city, including low-income populations, the elderly, and those with disabilities.”

From the draft Comprehensive Plan (materials for the October 12 meeting)

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