A key ingredient in plans to both reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions is public transportation. In Virginia, there’s a brand new person heading up efforts to improve bus and train routes throughout the Commonwealth. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has named Zach Trogdon to be the new Chief of Public Transportation.
“Trogdon will lead the evaluation, assistance, and execution of a $4.7 billion portfolio of public transportation, commuter assistance, and congestion management programs throughout the Commonwealth,” reads a press release from the DRPT.
A shortage of bus drivers has delayed the start of new Charlottesville Area Transit routes and has lead to more students walking to the City of Charlottesville’s public schools. To help attract more workers, Charlottesville officials have announced a pay increase.
“In addition to the two recruitment and retention bonuses that was implemented with Council’s support, I am today announcing a major shift in the compensation structure for operators, transit and pupil, bus aides, transit bus technicians, transit maintenance workers as well,” said interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers. “These changes will be effective today.”
On Monday night, Charlottesville City Council heard the first of two readings on $30,000 toward a governance study being overseen by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District to determine the best way to move toward a Regional Transportation Authority. I’ll have more details on that in a future installment of the newsletter, but earlier in the meeting they got a presentation from Ted Rieck, the executive director of Jaunt.
“Our sole purpose for existing is to really empower people and give them independence in their lives,” Rieck said. “People want to have their own way of living and we think our transportation service provides people that opportunity.”
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has awarded a $1.552 million grant to Charlottesville Area Transit to operate a demonstration project for microtransit service in Albemarle County. That includes a match of $388,000 in local funds. The service could take up to a year to get underway, according to Lucinda Shannon, a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
Similar projects have been implemented at various stages across the nation. The city of Wilson, North Carolina with a population of around 50,000 people replaced its fixed route service with on-demand shuttles in September 2020.
As it seeks to find new drivers, Charlottesville Area Transit is also working to redesign its bus shelters. The agency has hired the firm Wendel Companies to come up with a customized template, and the Regional Transit Partnership got a briefing on the work last month.
“We’re really looking at how to look at transit holistically, how to encourage people to take transit,” said Jeana Stright of Wendel Companies. “Part of what makes people want to take public transportation is having a place to wait for the bus, having amenities while you are there, or having a system for what reflects their needs.”
There are 54 days until Charlottesville City Schools begin for the next academic year. The school system is seeking assistance and input on alternative methods of getting students to school as an ongoing transportation crisis continues.
“As we look to fall 2022, our school bus challenges appear to be worse, not better,” reads a website set up to provide information in advance.
Before the pandemic, Charlottesville Area Transit hired the firm Nelson Nygaard to take a look at its routes to suggest changes to optimize service. The study was done but nothing has been implemented so far. The Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership got an update at their meeting yesterday.
“CAT planned on implementing that system optimization plan last year but they’ve been dealing with driver shortages like every other transit agency in the country so that’s been postponed,” said Jim Baker of Nelson Nygaard.
The final public meeting for the development of a Regional Transit Vision will be held tonight in an online format. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is overseeing the study, which seeks to come up with an aspirational document for enhanced public transportation throughout the entire Charlottesville area including Buckingham County.
The draft document has gone before the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, as I’ve reported. But the Regional Transit Vision also has been to the outlying counties. Last week, Boards of Supervisors in both Fluvanna County and Greene County had a briefing.
“It started in the summer of 2021 with assessing the situation,” said Lucinda Shannon, a planner with the TJPDC. The $350,000 study was conducted by the firms AECOM and Jarrett Walker + Associates.
Consultants hired by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission are moving into the second phase of a community engagement effort for a $350,000 plan to create a regional transit vision to make public transportation a more attractive option.
They have developed both a constrained plan that would anticipate around $26 million funds that might be generated through becoming a regional transportation authority with taxation power, as well as one that assumed funding would be found to increase the frequency of service. That has an estimated annual price tag of $70 million.
In April, transit officials from Vermont briefed the Regional Transit Partnership on efforts in the Green Mountain State to use public transportation to get students to their schools. (read the story)
That has led to further discussion on the matter in Albemarle County. Charmane White is the new director of the transportation division for Albemarle schools and she spoke at the partnership’s meeting on May 26.
“I am having conversations now with our my supervisors and the Superintendent to look at how we would roll this out and of course we would have to get our community ready for this and parents and the administrators because this is just a different approach to what we have taken,” White said.