Keeping Richmond’s Department of Social Services easily accessible

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On November 8th, Mark Robinson at the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the City will consider moving the Department of Social Services from its current location behind City Hall to a Southside location off Commerce Road. RVA Rapid Transit is concerned that the proposed location is hard to access for Richmonders traveling on foot, bike, or by public transportation. Please take a minute to read more about the specifics of those concerns, and if you—or a nonprofit, company, or faith group you’re involved with—would like to share your perspective on potentially moving the Department of Social Services, please reply to this email.

AROUND THE REGION

GRTC systemwide ridership numbers continue to impress. Weekly ridership stands at around 169,708 (that’s the average of the three weeks from October 7th to October 27th, the most recent data available). Compared to the week before the Pulse opened, which saw 141,513 rides, that’s an almost 20% increase! A year-over-year comparison would give us a better picture of how ridership is increasing, but regardless, it’s impressive. There are very, very few cities in the United States that are seeing ridership increases on their bus systems, and, now, Richmond is one of them!

While this article in the Washington Post recapping the first year of the dynamic I-66 tolls is framed from the point of view of single-occupancy car commuters, there’s a lot of really great takeaways for how congestion pricing can change people’s behavior. From the Fairfax County Transportation Director: “There are people who are now paying and people who are turning to transit or ride-sharing. The institution of the tolls has resulted in people changing their travel patterns.”

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Why haven’t electric buses taken over the transit world? Well, in China they basically have, but in American they’re still mostly an oddity—but that’s changing! Angie Schmitt at StreetsBlog digs into some of the challenges facing electric bus service in the U.S. and how some localities are finding success with an all-electric fleet. Fingers crossed that some of the $14 million of Volkswagen Mitigation Trust money finds its way to the Richmond region for some sort of small, electric bus pilot.

Alon Levy, who’s known for their intensely nerdy thoughts on transit, has a fairly accessible post up about what part public transit can and should play in any future federal environmental / infrastructure plan. While the political will for massive transit spending may not exist at the moment, as Levy says, regional planning agencies should have some solid ideas for how to spend a bucketful of money—ideas that don’t involve building or widening roads.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: “The bus system has got to get into Chesterfield County”

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Below, you’ll find two local events—ways to get involved and get educated—to put on your calendar.

The Partnership for Smarter Growth will host a Richmond Region Roundup on Tuesday, December 11th from 6:00–8:00 PM at the Virginia War Memorial (621 S. Belvedere Street). The event will cover a wide range of topics and feature an interesting group of speakers including: Burt Pinnock from the Richmond 300 Advisory Council; Mike Sawyer, the City’s transportation engineer; Greta Harris, president and CEO of Better Housing Coalition; Steve Haasch, Chesterfield’s planning manager; Nicole Anderson Ellis, Chair of the Route 5 Corridor Coalition in Henrico; and Patti Bland, president of Hanover’s Future Committee. That’s about as regional as a group of folks can get! The event is free to attend, but you should RSVP to help give the organizers an accurate headcount. Also, a big thanks to PSG for including transit directions to the event on their website!

On Saturday, December 8th at 10:00 AM, teachers, parents, students, community organizations, and elected officials will gather at MLK Jr. Middle School (1000 Mosby Street) for the March for More to ask state legislators for more education funding. Safe and reliable transportation is one of the core underfunded needs of school districts locally and across the state. In town, Mayor Stoney has addressed a small portion of that need by funding unlimited GRTC bus passes for high school students. All students, however, deserve a safe and reliable way to get to school and to after-school programs. Again, it’s wonderful to see that this event has also included transit directions on its website.

AROUND THE REGION

The Richmond Times-Dispatch published two articles this week about the region’s public transportation momentum. First, Michael Martz writes about a new report from the folks at the Greater Washington Partnership highlighting the disparities in access to opportunity via public transportation. The article includes this surprising quote from Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell: “The bus system has got to get into Chesterfield County.” Having the region’s business leaders advocate for bus service, especially bus service into the counties, is new, different, and exciting.

Second, Mel Leonor focuses in on Chesterfield’s historical aversion to public transportation and a possible change of tune in the form of a recent study suggesting bus service on the Route 1 corridor. That particular study (PDF) recommends choosing between two options: regular ol’ fixed-route bus service that connects to the rest of GRTC’s regional bus network or a deviated-route service provided by a private company that would be limited to the immediate area. Joe McAndrew, from the aforementioned Greater Washington Partnership, explains why the latter is a bad choice for the region: “A concern that we should look out for is that those [options] are equally accessible to all residents of the region...If they don’t benefit a Richmond or Henrico resident to access jobs in Chesterfield, then it makes it challenging for employers to access the full labor pool of the region. Or, for individuals in the city or the county to access retail or other kinds of destinations.”

You can read and download the Greater Washington Partnership’s report here.

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Brendan Bartholomew, a bus driver for San Francisco’s Muni, writes a first-hand account of what it’s like to drive a bus. It’s a challenging job requiring a bunch of different skills—both “driving enormous vehicle skills” and “interacting with all sorts of people all day long” skills.

This week in transit: Proposed changes to the #4A and #4B

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GRTC has proposed a reduction in bus frequency on the #4A and #4B routes from 15-minute service to 30-minute service. These two routes both serve Fulton, connect to the Pulse at the Shockoe station, and are the only buses in and out of the neighborhood. This would be the first service reduction since the Big Route Redesign earlier this year and, according to GRTC’s presentation (PDF), would constitute a “major service change” in the context of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. If you live, work, worship, or play in Fulton and have thoughts or feelings on this proposed service change, now is the time to let GRTC know by emailing . I don’t see any more planned public meetings, and it looks like this proposed change will go live in January, so getting your comments in by email—and quickly—is probably your best bet to weigh in.

AROUND THE REGION

An annual awesome thing that GRTC and the City of Richmond do is provide free bus rides to and from the Community Thanksgiving Feast hosted by The Giving Heart. Reducing barriers for folks to get around on special occasions—remember free rides on Election Day?—is a good thing!

Metro Magazine has a great interview with GRTC’s travel trainer Kelsey Calder. Calder helps folks—people with disabilities, seniors, and everyone else—learn how to use public transportation and increase both their mobility and their independence.

Amazon is headed to Crystal City, and StreetsBlog has a look at the transportation pieces of the agreement.

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Populus dug into some of the data coming out of Washington D.C.’s docked and dockless mobility programs, and, whoa, they found some interesting things. For example, 16% of dockless users (folks using dockless bikes and scooters) are Black compared to just 6% of Capital Bikeshare users. I wonder if dockless vehicles just naturally find their way into more diverse neighborhoods in a way that planned, docked bikeshare stations cannot.

I’ve been following Albuquerque’s BRT for a long time now, and over the course of the project they’ve had a bunch of problems with their all-electric buses. So much so that this week the mayor pulled out of the contract with electric bus manufacturer BYD. Electric buses are clearly the future, but it looks like we’ve got at least a couple more years until they become a viable option in America.

This week in transit: Bus the vote!

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The most important way you can Take Action this week is to go vote! This coming Tuesday, November 6th is Election Day, and to help get out the vote, the City will offer free bus rides on local routes within the City limits. Using this cool map put together by GRTC, you can see that almost every single one of the City’s polling places (minus about a dozen or so) are a short walk from a bus stop. If you still, for some reason, haven’t ridden the bus, Tuesday would be a great opportunity to kick the tires and try it out.

After doing one of your civic duties and voting, consider volunteering as an extra in an upcoming GRTC commercial. They’re looking for a diverse group of folks of all ages to hang out and look awesome on November 14th from 1:00–8:00 PM. If you’re interested, contact Ashley Mason ().

AROUND THE REGION

Justin Mattingly from the Richmond Times-Dispatch was at the RTD’s 75th Public Square where the paper unveiled the results of a regional survey that asked folks about goals for the region. Improvements to the transportation system makes the top-10 list of things people from all over the region are looking for. As a 65-year-old Henrico resident said, “You need a good [transportation] system so you don’t need to use cars all the time.” Yes!

Jim McConnell, for the Chesterfield Observer, writes about Chesterfield County’s new (and slow but steady) progress on sidewalks. The goal is, of course, to have GRTC run local, fixed-route bus service along the County’s major corridors. Accessing that future bus service gets a lot safer and more comfortable if there’s a good network of high-quality sidewalks and paths in place. This is good work from the County and double good because the State is footing most of the bill.

RVA Rapid Transit’s quest to win top honors at the Better Housing Coalition Gingerbread House Challenge continues! This year, the theme is “Holiday Movies” and our crack team of gingerbread urban planners and gingerbread transportation analysts have put together a transit-twist on the Polar Express (see below). Stop by Hardywood today between 12:00 PM and 5:30 PM to check out the gingerbread creations and vote (for us).

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I want to quote each and every paragraph from this piece in the Atlantic at you. In it, Jarrett Walker addresses almost every reason I’ve heard folks use to suggest implementing on-demand bus service instead of regular ol’ fixed-route service. This is a particularly timely article for our region, as Chesterfield County is—at this very minute—deciding whether they should run fixed-route GRTC service on Route 1 or some sort of on-demand service provided by a private company out of Loudon County. Decision makers and county leaders! Read this article!

—Ross Catrow

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This week in transit: New ridership numbers!

AROUND THE REGION

I’ve got new GRTC ridership numbers through the week of October 7th (PDF) for you to dig into, hot off the presses! Here are some of the more interesting takeaways, but I encourage you to open up the document and see how your own bus performs!

  • The Pulse ridership continues to exceed expectations. Over the last three weeks for which data are available (September 25th–October 13th), the Pulse has seen an average of 39,319 rides per week—smashing the pre-launch goal of 22,600. The week of September 30th even broke 40,000 rides!
  • Some context for the previous numbers: The Pulse accounted for 22.6% of the entire system ridership over those three weeks.
  • For the month of September, VCU students, faculty, and staff took 45,345 local-service rides (that’s non-Pulse buses). Due to how the data are aggregated, it’s hard to tell what percentage of total ridership that is, but let’s say it’s somewhere around 10%.
  • The #1ABC, #2ABC, and #5 are some of the local-service routes with the highest ridership. Combined, the #1ABC accounts for about 15% of total system ridership!
  • The ridership on Henrico’s major routes has soared after the County extended service to Short Pump and expanded operating hours. Just look at the #19’s average rides the three weeks before the extension to Short Pump and the three weeks after: 1,519 ➡️ 4,520! That’s nearly triple!
  • Henrico’s #7 and #91 have also seen sizable ridership increases after operating hours were expanded.
  • The route with the lowest ridership? The 23x averaged just 50 rides per week over the last three weeks of available data. Yikes.

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Will autonomous vehicles magically solve congestion? Nope! In fact, they may make the traffic problems (and air-quality issues) cities see even worse.

I was just in Pittsburgh last week and was shocked to learn that it costs $1 to make a transfer in their bus network (in Richmond that costs $0.25). Even more shocking, if you’re paying in cash, there are no transfers and you have to just pay the full fare again ($2.75 compared to Richmond’s $1.50). This article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette goes into how those policies extend to their planned mobile fare-payment app and how the local transit advocacy group is pushing to make the entire fare system more equitable.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Help us with community engagement

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Exciting news: We’re hiring a handful of part-time community advocates to help us with outreach, recruitment, and community engagement for a new project we’re working on called RVA Rides. If you’re interested read more about the position and apply before October 22nd!

The annual Morton B. Gulak Lecture in Urban and Regional Planning is this Wednesday, October 17th at 7:00 PM in VCU’s University Student Commons. Majora Carter will give this year’s lecture, which sounds fascinating and is titled “Beyond Mobility: Designing Public Transit to Cultivate Communities of Opportunity”. The event is free and open to the public, although space is limited so get there early!

AROUND THE REGION

Charles Mitchell, interim CEO of GRTC, has a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about GRTC’s work towards reducing their carbon footprint and helping to create a more sustainable commonwealth. Getting more folks using public transportation is one of the ways to offset climate change. As City Lab put it this week, “The Planet Can’t Survive Our Transportation Habits.”

In micomobility news, Richmond’s dockless, shareable scooter ordinance, ORD. 2018-262, should end up in front of the City’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation committee this coming Tuesday. Scooters, deployed in an equitable way, can be an important tool to fill gaps in our existing transportation network.

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The Washington Post looks forward to a comprehensive rethinking of the D.C. region’s entire bus network. While they’ve got multiple, large systems to work on, the basics of improvement remain the same regardless of system size: “Ideally, there would be a robust network of bus lanes, frequent service 24/7, all-door entry and an electronic or off-board payment system.”

TransitCenter has a new report out about what makes a good bus stop. Richmond already does some of their recommendations, but I would like to see more movement on something like this: “Transit agencies should become experts on their bus stops, and maintain information about every stop in an interactive database that can be shared publicly.”

—Ross Catrow