Regional transit vision may suggest resumption of Regional Transit Authority foundation

It has been some time since I’ve had an update on transit issues and now is the time to do so. Earlier this month, the members of the Regional Transit Partnership got an informal recommendation from a consultant that it may be time to move from an advisory body into a decision-making body that can raise its own funds. 

Before we get into all of that, though, there is still time to take two surveys to get your input on the Regional Transit Vision for the Charlottesville Area. That’s a project being led by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District to “evaluate transit service” in the region in order to “establish a clear long-term vision for efficient, equitable, and effective transit service.” 

One survey is on transition visioning and the other is an interactive map that asks the question: “What are the long-term transit needs for the Charlottesville region?” 

“You’re able to kind of sort of pinpoint on a map some issues or wants or desires regarding transit,” said Tim Brulle, a project manager for the vision who works for the firm AECOM. “We are using the public survey as part of our main avenue for that public feedback right now.” 

The project is being funded by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation with additional funds from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Albemarle County is conducting its own separate study, and Charlottesville Area Transit has pending route changes that have not yet been implemented. 

On December 2, 2021, the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership got a status update on the studies, beginning with the Regional Transit Vision. As of that date, only about a hundred and thirty people had responded. (watch this meeting)

Also as part of the meeting, Scudder Wagg of the firm JWA briefed the partnership members on the fact that many other transit systems in Virginia are regional. In this community, there are three major transit systems in Jaunt, Charlottesville Area Transit and the University Transit Service. Wagg suggested a reorganization across multiple communities that could yield more funding for expansion. 

“If you are to think about a regional funding source and a regional funding agency, then you would start to need to think about this on more of a regional scale,” Wagg said. “That’s where we want to help you consider how you might address that.”

Wagg said the combined operating budgets of CAT and Jaunt are around $16 million, with about half of that funding coming from local sources. He suggested the total amount could increase if the community took steps to create an authority which can issue bonds. 

Wagg said three other regions in Virginia have managed to create authorities to expand transit and fund other transportation improvements. 

“Northern Virginia is using a combination of a sales tax, a grantor’s tax, and bond proceeds,” Wagg said. 

Legislation passed the General Assembly in 2009 to allow creation of a Regional Transit Authority, but a bill to allow a local referendum on a one-cent tax increase did not pass that year. According to the legislation, the authority could expand to include Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties. (take a look)

In the next General Assembly, Charlottesville is seeking a referendum for a one-cent sales tax for the purposes of funding the reconfiguration of the city’s schools. 

The director of Charlottesville Area Transit would encourage elected officials to pursue additional sources for funding through an authority. 

“This is an avenue we do need to explore and consider seriously to make sure that this  happens  eventually in the next three to five years,” Williams said. 

Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the point of the Regional Transit Partnership was to prepare for an eventual next step.

“When this Regional Transit Partnership, the intent was for it to be the first step in working towards an authority,” McKeel said.

Becca White, director of Parking and Transportation at UVA, said the University Transit Service serves a very small footprint as a “last mile” service to relieve congestion and to shuttle people from parking lots. However, she said there are some portions of the city covered, including Fontaine Avenue and Ivy Road. 

The members of the Partnership informally directed Wagg to base the next set of potential scenarios for expanded service based on a theoretical $30 million budget.

“We’ll have two scenarios,” Wagg said. “We’ll have maps showing where would routes go, how frequently, all of that sort of stuff. And then what would the outcomes of some of those things be in terms of how many more jobs could people in Greene County reach in an hour by transit or how many more people would have access to different kinds of transit services in different places?”

A second round of public engagement for the Regional Transit Vision will begin early next year and the study is to be completed by the summer of 2022. Want to help influence it? Fill out those surveys! 

Resources for Regional Transit Vision Plan: 

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 December 14, 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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