Partnership briefed on potential vision for regional transit

Work is nearing completion on a conceptual study for how public transport  might work better across the entirety of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Today the Board of Supervisors will get an up close look at the $350,000 Regional Transit Vision.

Last week, an appointed body consisting of elected officials and transit officials got an update on the Regional Transit Vision. 

“The project is a collaborative effort to evaluate and establish a clear long term vision for transit service in the region, and not just the urbanized area but also the rural areas surrounding Charlottesville and Albemarle County,”  said Tim Brulle of AECOM is the project manager for the vision plan. 

If you’re unfamiliar with planning, you should know that any plan needs a vision statement to provide an overarching purpose. 

“To develop, design, and provide transit in the Charlottesville area in a manner that reflects a collaborative, inclusive, and equitable process representing needs in both rural and urban areas,” Brulle said. 

The purpose is to reduce reliance on personal vehicles for multiple reasons and outcomes, and to provide a way to get around for people without access to one. But how to make that work? 

Scudder Wagg with Jarrett Walker + Associates presented one vision concept that assumed the region had access to new revenues from a transportation authority similar to one in the Richmond area. This is known the “constrained “ vision.

“So basically if you applied a similar funding structure there to your region, how many dollars and if you put most of those dollars to transit, what could it produce?” Wagg asked. “It’s about $26 million a year.”

Such an authority would take enabling authority from the General Assembly and would build off of existing services. 

Wagg also presented a vision that assumed no limits on transit funding. For instance, that would allow for expansion of demand responsive service to seven days a week, as well as fixed-route transit to places that currently don’t have it such as Scottsville, Ruckersville, Lovingston, and Palmyra. This “unconstrained” vision would come with a hefty price tag. 

“So there’s no defined limit when we were designing a network that we collectively with staff and others at the table felt would help you achieve those goals and the total annual estimate of that network is about $70 million a year to give you some sense of scale,” Wagg said. 

Most of that cost is in personnel with drivers and mechanics, as well as a additional vehicles. It takes people to run a transit system, and another way to measure one is through service hours. Wag said Charlottesville Area Transit has about 94,000 service hours a year, Jaunt operates 37,000 for a total of 131,000 service hours for the general public. 

The unconstrained vision includes potential collaboration with the University of Virginia whereas the constrained vision does not their role into account.

A screenshot from the presentation shown to the Regional Transit Partnership on May 26, 2022. (Credit: AECOM and JWA)

The partnership isn’t in charge of the purse strings, so today’s conversation before the Board of Supervisors will yield more of a sense of whether there’s an appetite to pursue additional funding and if so, where to direct it. 

Jarrett Walker + Associates helped redraw the bus system in the Greater Richmond area, and CAT Director Garland Williams was there at the time.

“The majority of the emphasis was actually put on frequency and our ridership jumped 22 percent,” Williams said. “Then the second piece was to look at once the frequent service is in, how can you readjust networks to adjust travel times.” 

Williams said that the same model could be applied here. 

A microtransit pilot in Albemarle is a year away from happening and depends on award of funding from the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

“It will be awarded and the starting of it will be acquisition, development of the program, software acquisition, things that have to happen before the actual buses are on the ground,” said Trevor Henry, the assistant county executive. 

The regional transit study is separate from a $150,000 governance study about that will suggest how to actually move forward with setting up new structures to actually run the enhanced service, be they constrained or unconstrained visions.

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 June 1, 2022 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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