Governance study: A primer on regional transit systems

For much of the past year and a half, planners at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and hired consultants have been crafting a Regional Transit Vision intended to make public transportation be a more effective option for people to get around the broader community. 

Now, some of those consultants are working with the TJPDC on a study to recommend how to move from a system of multiple transit agencies to something more unified.  This is the second attempt to create a regional transit authority in the area.

Stephanie Amoaning-Yankson with AECOM said the study will recommend strategies to expand governance opportunities for localities in the entire region and to identify new forms of revenue. The main idea is to create a government entity similar to the Central Virginia Transportation Authority which receives tax dollars related from transportation spending. 

“This is going to be a year-long study and we kicked-off a few months ago so this will carry on through December 2023,” said Amoaning-Yankson. 

The work will involve reviewing the existing systems, reviewing what peers are doing, and reviewing what enabling legislation may exist for those new forms of revenue. 

“Once we have a good understanding of the funding piece, then we can develop some scenarios for governance and funding allocation,” Amoaning-Yankson said. 

Some of that work has already taken place. Amoaning-Yankson explained some of the history of transit in the area. 

CAT’s service in 2021 from the presentation (Credit: AECOM / TJPDC) 

For instance, Charlottesville Area Transit began as a division of the city’s public works department in 1975. In 1978, what was then called Charlottesville Transit Service began providing some service in Albemarle County on a contract basis. In 1985, the service began to handle pupil transportation as well. The rebranding to Charlottesville Area Transit took place in 2010. 

The City of Charlottesville has sole control over CAT and taxpayers are contributing over $2.5 million to the service in the current fiscal year. 

Charlottesville Area Transit has an advisory board that has not met since before the pandemic. (website)

The city’s spending for transit services is document on page 169 of the adopted FY2023 budget (read the budget)

Jaunt was formed in 1982 as a public service corporation with 100 shares of stock split between Albemarle, Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Louisa, and Nelson. There is a 12-member board made up of appointees from those localities.

“They have four each from the city and Albemarle and two each from Fluvanna, Louisa, and Nelson,” said Amoaning-Yankson.

The University Transit Service is a division of the University of Virginia’s Department of Parking and Transportation and is funded by student fees and other sources of revenue. There is no federal money involved in the UTS budget. 

“The three main transit services are very different in terms of governance structure and their organization set-up,” said Amoaning-Yankson.

Amoaning-Yankson also said there will be outreach to localities to gauge their interest in participation.  The next step is the peer review study. 

Rebecca White of UTS wanted the partnership and the audience at home to know that UVA does financially support both CAT and Jaunt. 

“We are supportive of the Jaunt Connect services,” White said. “We are interested in the work trips, supporting work trips, with the fixed-route Crozet Connect, Buckingham Connect.” 

Garland Williams, director of Charlottesville Area Transit, said new revenues will be needed to increase service in as robust a manner as called for in the Regional Transit Vision Plan. 

“The general funds from the city and the county are not going to be able to support that,” Williams said. 

The study comes at a cost of $150,000, with the Department of Rail and Public Transportation covering half the cost. Albemarle, Charlottesville, and the TJPDC are picking up the rest. 

Here are some other bits of transit information from the rest of the partnership meeting: 

  • There are other studies underway at the moment related to transit. Charlottesville Area Transit has been working on a fuel alternative study and that will enter into the stakeholder phase with completion in March. Jaunt has had a public process to go through a similar study and have met three times this year with all of the information posted online. (Jaunt Alternative Fuel Advisory Committee website)
  • Albemarle County Schools have issued a request for proposals for third party vendors to provide limited transportation services. You can learn more on the county website.
  • Charlottesville Area Transit will soon launch work on a transit strategic plan. These plans are required by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. (learn more)
  • Williams also told the partnership that the city has an additional $300,000 in additional revenue that can go to benches and shelters, but a project manager is required to make that happen.

The next meeting of the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership is on January 26, 2023. Prepare by watching the video, but the audio quality is not very good. 

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 15, 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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