Albemarle Supervisors hear from transit providers at budget work session

Budget decisions in Albemarle are supposed to follow the major tenets of the strategic plan agreed to by the Board of Supervisors on October 19, 2022. Investment in transit operations can be justified by two specific goals: 

  • 3.4 Implement long-range plans to embrace multimodal connectivity
  • 4.4 Integrate parks planning with multi-modal transportation planning across the County.

Ryan Davidson is the deputy chief of budget in Albemarle County. 

“Here in the county we don’t operate our own separate transit system but rather are part of a larger regional transit network,” Davidson said at the March 29, 2023 Albemarle Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “And while we utilize two major regional service providers, the focus of our discussion today will be on those two providers (CAT and Jaunt) but there are several other regional partners such as the Afton Express and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission which play important roles in the network as well. “

The TJPDC operates the Regional Transit Partnership which is intended to provide guidance to elected officials. Such guidance has recently taken the form of a Regional Transit Vision as well as an on-going transit governance study

At the moment, Albemarle has no direct control over decisions made by CAT but does appoint members to the Jaunt Board of Directors. 

“CAT provides the fixed route services for the county in the urban zone and will also oversee the microtransit pilot program for the county,” Davidson said. “Jaunt, as contracted by CAT, provides the mandated Americans with Disabilities Act services that are related to those fixed CAT routes, as well as providing the urban and rural on-demand services.” 

Next year’s recommended budget includes $175,000 toward the microtransit pilot. Bids are due on April 18 for firms to provide the software and other services to run it. (Planning continues for CAT to run microtransit in Albemarle County, February 14, 2023)

While this work session was about their current budget requests and not about any future structure, there is also $98,000 in funding to hire a consultant to analyze the Albemarle’s structural ability to pay for the costs of more transit.

“Transit is continuing to increase in complexity and quite frankly the county does not have one individual that is a service level subject matter expert for transit,” Davidson. “It’s spread between five or six of at the moment that have to pick up and put this down as the issues arise.” 

For fiscal year 2024, Albemarle is slated to pay $1.3 million to Charlottesville Area Transit, a $300,000 increase from the current year. Davidson said much of the increase is to make up for decreasing federal revenue as pandemic-era financing recedes. Jaunt requested more than the $2.3 million they are slated to receive in the current fiscal year, though staff set aside a $1 million reserve in the that could go back to the agency if they can justify it. 

“Staff wanted additional time to follow up and work with Jaunt and do our proper due diligence on that request,” Davidson said. 

The proposed FY24 budget for Charlottesville Area Transit. Williams said one of the biggest expenditure increases are higher salaries for CAT drivers and mechanics. (view the presentation)

When it came time to the presentations from the agencies, CAT Director Garland Williams went first. The agency is currently on reduced service and has been since the pandemic when it ran 13 routes Monday through Saturday and four routes on Sunday. 

“We did no coverage changes but in the evening service we went from ending around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. to about a 9 p.m. stop,” Williams said. “Since then in the last three months, we’ve actually increased our service time ending now to 10:30 p.m. Hopefully getting closer and closer back to the 12 a.m. time frame as we come out of COVID.” 

There’s currently no Sunday service but CAT hopes to restore it in fiscal year 2024. 

A previous round of service changes was taken through the public process in 2021 but has not yet been implemented due to ongoing driver shortages. The fiscal year 2024 budget seeks to finally put some of the route changes into place, but Williams offered no timeline to Supervisors. 

Service changes will include: 

Supervisor Donna Price said she was glad to see that service will be added to Mill Creek on Route 2 when the new system is implemented, but she made a pitch for even more service.

“Not asking for anything to change on that today but ask that you do continue, both Jaunt and CAT, to look at the increased development at Avinity, Spring Hill, and Avon south of Mill Creek with more still to come with Biscuit Run Park,” Price said. 

Next up at the meeting was the presentation from Jaunt to explain their increased request for fiscal year 2024. The agency recently had financial trouble related to the conduct of their former CEO, Brad Sheffield. Sheffield also served one term on the Board of Supervisors representing the Rio District. 

“There was a pretty alarming audit finding from the external auditor that audited Jaunt back in their Fiscal Year 2020 audit and subsequently the Department of Rail and Public Transportation did their own audit and came up with some other concerning things that were happening and much of that was related to fiduciary responsibility and the misapplication of funds,” said Nelsie Birch, Albemarle’s Chief Financial Officer. 

Birch said the use of rural funds to cover urban service masked the true cost of Jaunt service to Albemarle and that’s one reason why Jaunt’s request is higher. Albemarle now requires much more reporting from Jaunt, which is now run by CEO Ted Rieck.

“The changes in our cost have been reflected both in operations and capital and that totals out to the million dollar increase,” Rieck said. “The reasons these have gone up are numerous. First of all, we have increased demand. We’re coming out of COVID just like CAT is. We’ve had to increase our cost of labor. We gave our drivers a 20 percent increase about a year ago.” 

More on transit and the Albemarle budget in upcoming editions of the newsletters.

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 April 10, 2023 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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