Regional Transit Vision Plan nearing completion

Tonight the Board of Commissioners of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will see the final version of a plan intended to show the way for a more frequent and more reliable public transportation system. 

“The Regional Transit Vision plan is a 28-month $350,000 project supported by the [Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation], the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the [Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission],” said Lucinda Shannon, a transportation planner with TJPDC. “We used data and community engagement to establish a unified long-term vision for transit services in the Charlottesville area.” 

The work leads into another plan intended to recommend changes in governance structures. Currently the city of Charlottesville owns Charlottesville Area Transit, the University of Virginia owns the University Transit Service, and shareholders including local governments own Jaunt. 

The Regional Transit Partnership was formed in 2017 to serve as an information clearinghouse for transit issues and is attended by top officials at all three transit providers, as well as DRPT officials. The group took a look at the plan at their meeting on October 27, 2022. 

Much of that $350,000 went to either the firm AECOM or the firm Jarrett Walker and Associates. Scudder Wagg works for the latter.

“The initial chapter of the vision is describing why to think about expanding transit and one of the significant reasons why is that transportation costs are pretty high in this region,” Wagg said. “The average household in Albemarle and Charlottesville, the urbanized area, spends about 21 percent of its income on transportation which a bit higher than the 16 percent average for across the United States.” 

Wagg said the current transit system is not doing much to achieve the goal of increasing access to economic opportunity because fixed-route service is not frequent enough.

“Frequency is enormously important to how long you have to wait for the vehicle to show up, how long you have to wait when you are transferring, and therefore how much time you have to spend traveling,” Wagg said. 

As a result, Wagg said transit is not useful for most people who have a choice about how to get around. The first recommendation is to increase service and frequency. 

New route changes for Charlottesville Area Transit were reviewed last year but have been delayed due to a lack of drivers. City Council agreed earlier this fall to increase driver salaries to the highest in the region and at least 15 new applications have been received. 

Wagg said current routes don’t run often enough to be useful for many users (Credit: AECOM / JWA / TJPDC)

The vision provides two potential networks for the region, including outlying counties. One is a system of enhanced service that does not take into consideration any financial constraints. That adds up to a $70 million a year enterprise plus capital costs for a Bus Rapid Transit service similar to the Pulse operated by the Greater Richmond Transit Company as well as more crosstown routes as opposed to the current system where most routes require a downtown transfer. 

The second is a constrained network that factors in potential new sources of revenue. That would allow around $35.5 million a year. This assumes the formation of a transportation authority with taxing power. 

“That’s significantly more than the current overall budget of about $19.5 million a year between CAT and Jaunt today,” Wagg said. “Obviously you have a much smaller budget so we can’t do as much in terms of significant improvements to service. Frequency is expensive. You double the frequency of the route, you double the operating costs in effect.” 

Comments can be mailed to Lucinda Shannon through November 10 and a final plan will be ready by the end of November. I’ll have more from the Regional Transit Partnership in the next installment of the program. If you can’t wait, take a look right now: 

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 November 2, 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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