This week in transit: Can you believe it? It’s been a year!

TAKE ACTION

This coming Tuesday at the ICA (601 W. Broad Street) from 8:00–9:45 AM, join us, Chamber RVA, and the folks from the Greater Washington Partnership to celebrate all of the transportation success Richmond has seen over the last 12 months. You can expect breakfast, an opportunity to have some transit chats, remarks by VCU President Rao, and a panel featuring the Mayor, Jennifer Mitchell (from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation), and Gary Armstrong (from the GRTC Board of Directors).

The event is free and open to the public, but please RSVP so we have an idea of headcount. See y’all there!

AROUND THE REGION

Can you believe it? This coming Monday is the one-year anniversary of the Pulse and the entire redesign of Richmond’s bus network. Since then we’ve seen ridership increase, VCU buy into the system, new fare payment options, bus service expansion in Henrico County, additional money for transit in the Mayor’s budget, and hints of public transportation coming to Chesterfield County. That’s a lot of transit progress, and we have a lot of transit momentum—which is great, because there’s still a ton of work left to do. You can read GRTC’s anniversary press release here which has some neat stats and facts about the Pulse one year later.

This past week, the folks who redesigned Richmond’s bus network released a memo detailing errors in methodology and calculations in a report put out by VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (PDF). The original report claimed, among other things, that after the redesign 22% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop. The new memo found that only 2% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop—and, of course, good public transportation is about more than proximity to a bus stop. In fact, the memo notes that, with the new bus network, the average resident can access 6% more jobs in 45 minutes while the average lower-income resident can access 10% more jobs in that same time period. You can read a bit more about the memo, the original report, and GRTC’s response over on the RVA Rapid Transit website.

Earlier this month, the Richmond Free Press ran a Letter to the Editor asking for all GRTC stops to have benches (and other amenities) installed (see below for some more thoughts on that!). This past week, RVA Rapid Transit boardmember Nicholas Smith wrote a follow up Letter to the Editor about how if we want more amenities at more bus stops—which, of course we do—we need to ask our elected officials across the region for more money for more bus stops.

ELSEWHERE

An analysis out of Wayne State University looked at the distribution of bus stop shelters across Detroit’s bus network and found that better placing the shelters could “roughly double the amount of time bus riders in Detroit spent in sheltered waiting environments daily, from 63,000 minutes a day to about 111,000.“ In fact, “by moving existing bus shelters to better-used stops, the Detroit Department of Transportation could increase the number of people who have access to shelters by 817 percent.” Whoa. After Richmond’s bus network redesign, I’d love to see a similar look (additionally taking into account race and income) at where bus stop amenities exist now and where they’re most needed.

—Ross Catrow

A new analysis of Richmond’s bus network redesign

Last winter, VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis put out a report about Richmond’s bus network redesign (PDF) that claimed, among other things, that after the redesign 22% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop.

Today, the folks who redesigned the bus network, Jarrett Walker + Associates, released a memo detailing errors in methodology and with calculations in that original report (PDF). In fact, following CURA’s methodology and using their data, JWA found that only 2% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop—and, of course, public transportation is about more than proximity to a bus stop. In fact, JWA notes that, with the new bus network, the average resident can access 6% more jobs in 45 minutes while the average lower-income resident can access 10% more jobs in that same time period.

From the Jarrett Walker + Associates release:

The CURA report also contains numerous calculation errors and key mistakes in its methods. For example:

  • CURA used a roadway network that excluded many potential walking paths. As a result, they calculated many walks as being longer than they actually are.
  • CURA excluded large parcels on the edge of their miscalculated walking areas entirely, even if only a small portion of the parcel was outside the walk area. For example, in their analysis of the old network, Creighton Court is fully within the ¼ mile area and all 356 dwelling units are counted in their numbers. For the new network, because less than 1% of Creighton Court is not covered by their walk area, none of the 356 dwelling units are counted.
  • CURA made manual adjustments to the results for dwelling units in low income areas but only for the old bus system and not for the new one, thus skewing the results in favor of the old network. This manual adjustment, and the other issues with their methods, lead to their erroneous result purporting to show a 22% decline in dwelling units in low income areas within ¼ mile of a bus stop. Strictly following their flawed methods would have shown only a 2% decline, without their skewed manual adjustments

And from a GRTC release:

JWA chose to review GRTC’s network changes after a December 2018 report erroneously and falsely concluded a significantly negative impact on disadvantaged populations. The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) at Virginia Commonwealth University released the report entitled “Impact of the GRTC 2018 Reroute on Richmond’s Disadvantaged Population” based on analysis mistakes, manual manipulations and incorrect data calculations, as JWA concludes.

GRTC Interim Chief Executive Officer Sheryl Adams says, “We cannot permit false assumptions to perpetuate in this community when GRTC, in partnership with local jurisdictions and quasi-governments, is committed to responding to the needs of the communities it serves. GRTC strongly endorses the conclusions of Jarrett Walker + Associates.”

This week in transit: VCU gets back on the bus

TAKE ACTION

There are two local events coming up in the next couple of weeks that you should put on your calendar:

First, June 18th is the City’s Multimodal Day. Take the opportunity today to plan how you can get around town on the 18th using your feet, a scooter, a bike, or the bus—(fake) bonus points if you combine multiple modes in a single trip! You can sign the Multimodal Day pledge here.

Second, the Greater Washington Partnership will host an event celebrating Richmond’s transportation success(es) on June 25th at the ICA from 8:00–9:45 AM. Expect some breakfast, an awards presentation, and definitely a Mayor Stoney sighting.

AROUND THE REGION

Last week VCU and GRTC signed a new, three-year agreement to extend the existing unlimited rides pilot program for all VCU, VCU Health System, and Virginia Premier students and employees. As the region’s largest employer and one of the state’s largest public universities, keeping VCU on the bus is huge and fantastic news. Additionally, VCU will pay $1.42 million for the program this coming year, up from the $1.2 million they pay currently. That amount will increase each of the subsequent years, too. Keeping the cost inline with the expected increase in VCU ridership is an important step in keeping fares—across the entire system—fair.

The scooters have landed! This past Thursday, Bolt dropped their fleet of electric scooters in Richmond. You can watch some short remarks and see a gif of the Mayor riding a scooter for the first time here. Bolt says they’ve got a fleet of 500-vehicles and that 35% of them will end up in neighborhoods with lower-incomes. They’ve also got an income-based discount program called Bolt Forward that will give folks who qualify 50% off scooter rides. If well-implemented, these equity-focused components of Bolt’s scooter program can help provided first/last-mile access to public transportation—but they need to be actually implemented. Stay tuned, and ride safe!

ELSEWHERE

This past General Assembly session saw the creation of a dedicated transportation funding stream for the I-81 corridor. While it’s mostly for road building and maintenance, it did leave the Richmond Region as the only major region in Virginia without a similar dedicated source of transportation funds. As our region’s leaders and elected officials inevitably start thinking about finding a transportation funding stream of their own, first, they must mandate a sizable chunk of that funding go toward building, maintaining, and operating regional public transportation. Building more roads will not save our region from congestion, climate-change, or the increasingly dire housing crisis. Second, they can and should learn a lot from the mistakes and missed opportunities related to Nashville’s recently-failed ballot referendum, or maybe take a look at Salt Lake City where 40% of a newly-levied sales tax will go towards public transportation.

—Ross Catrow

VCU and GRTC sign a three-year agreement

Earlier this week, VCU signed a three-year agreement with GRTC to continue their unlimited rides program for all VCU, VCU Health System, and Virginia Premier students and employees. The program, which provides unlimited rides across the entirety of GRTC’s bus network, is extremely popular:

In a recent VCU survey, 95.4% of students and employees expressed support for a continuation of the existing transportation agreement VCU and GRTC have been piloting since August 2018. Since January, VCU community members have accounted for approximately 12% of GRTC’s total ridership, averaging 87,400 trips a month.

Not only will VCU extend their agreement with GRTC through 2022, but they’ll pay more for it, too. Beginning in August, the University will pay $1.42 million for the first year, $1.57 million and $1.65 million the following two years. VCU paid $1.2 million for its first pilot year.

Keeping the region’s largest employer (and university) on the bus is a huge win for the Richmond region. Now, it’s up to other larger employers in transit-accessible locations to begin offering similar bus pass programs to their employees, too.

This week in transit: Buses could be coming to Chesterfield County!?

AROUND THE REGION

Big, big Chesterfield news, y’all! On May 22nd, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors heard an update on the (potential) pilot program to bring public transportation to Route 1. You can listen to the entire presentation over on the Board's website (skip forward to 2:08:00). Some background: Chesterfield has applied to the State's Department of Rail and Public Transportation for 80% of the operating costs of running buses along Route 1 from the city limits to John Tyler Community College. That's about $2 million, for two years, renewable for an additional third year. That level of funding makes the total pilot program pretty dang affordable for the County.

As part of the process to kick off this pilot, the County worked with SIR to survey residents along the corridor to gauge the community's interest. The results were about as pro-transit as you can get: 75% of respondents felt like public transit would benefit the corridor and 30% said they'd be likely to use it.

Chesterfield's Director of Transportation Jesse Smith said the next step is to meet with GRTC and talk through some details, and, after that, service could start as soon as spring 2020! Very exciting.

One small caveat / thing to keep an eye on! Originially, the County was considering two different transit options for Route 1: Fixed-route service provided by GRTC, and a hybrid, on-demand service provided by a private company. Survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred the GRTC option, and, after listening to the presentation, it sure seems like the County has decided to move forward with GRTC.

TAKE ACTION

Did you know that June 18th is Richmond’s Multimodal Day? Well, it is, and it’s a new initiative from the City’s Department of Public Works to encourage folks to get out of their cars while moving around the city. You’ve got a couple of weeks to plan for it, so mark June 18th on your calendar as a day to walk, bike, scoot, or take the bus to wherever you’re headed. You can sign the pledge form here.

Also, don’t forget about this week’s GRTC meetings! They’re your chance to weigh in on the City’s proposed bus service improvements on the Southside and in the East End:

  • Tuesday, June 4th, 5:30–6:30 PM; Southside Community Services Center Room A (4100 Hull Street Road)
  • Thursday, June 6th, 6:00–7:00 PM; East End Branch Library (1200 N. 25th Street)

ELSEWHERE

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog has an excellent article about the changing racial demographics of Detroit and Atlanta and how that’s having an impact on public transportation. A lot of this should sound familiar and applies to the Richmond region as well: “But Rochester Hills’s refusal to fund transit service of any kind can exert an especially brutal toll on low-income workers, like Robertson, who may need to commute into the suburb from other areas...In some of the wealthy, mostly white suburbs of Oakland County, north of Detroit, like Rochester Hills, refusing to allow transit service has a long, ugly history. Historically, a lack of transit helped maintain racial segregation.”

—Ross Catrow

Buses could come to Route 1 in Chesterfield as soon as spring of 2020

On May 22nd, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors heard an update on the (potential) pilot program to bring public transportation to Route 1. You can listen to the entire presentation over on the Board's website (skip forward to 2:08:00). Some background: Chesterfield has applied to the State's Department of Rail and Public Transportation for 80% of the operating costs of running buses along Route 1 from the city limits to John Tyler Community College. That's about $2 million, for two years, renewable for an additional third year. That level of funding makes the total pilot program pretty dang affordable for the County.

As part of the process to kick off this pilot, the County worked with SIR to survey residents along the corridor to gauge the community's interest. The results were about as pro-transit as you can get: 75% of respondents felt like public transit would be beneficial to the corridor and 30% said they'd be likely to use it.

Chesterfield's Director of Transportation Jesse Smith said the next step is to meet with GRTC and talk through some details, and, after that, service could start as soon as spring 2020! Very exciting.

One small caveat / thing to keep an eye on! Originially, the County was considering two different transit options for Route 1: Fixed-route service provided by GRTC, and a hybrid, on-demand service provided by a private company. Survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred the GRTC option, and, after listening to the presentation, it sure seems like the County has decided to move forward with GRTC.

April’s (great) GRTC ridership stats

At least week’s board meeting, GRTC released another round of ridership numbers (PDF) that showed, yet again, Richmonders continue to get on the bus.

Some highlights:

  • Since this past July, the entire GRTC system saw 7.1 million rides and, with a couple months left in the fiscal year, is just 300,000 rides from eclipsing last fiscal year’s total.

  • Across the system, ridership is up 17% compared to this time last year.

  • April was the second highest ridership month since this past October, with 772,979 rides.

  • The average weekday ridership of the Pulse has reached 7,075. This is over twice the original goal of 3,500 rides.

  • In April, VCU-affiliated folks took 102,278 rides, which made up 13.5% of the entire system ridership.

  • The data provided by GRTC doesn’t line up quite right to figure out exactly what percentage of rides on the Pulse are taken by VCU-affiliated folks, but it’s somewhere around 30%.

As you can see, Richmond continues to buck the national trend of decreasing bus ridership using a simple recipe of fast, frequent, and reliable service. The more the region continues to invest in high-quality public transportation, the more folks will ride.

You can read the press release over on GRTC’s website.

This week in transit: Another month, another ridership increase

TAKE ACTION

Just a couple weeks ago now, Richmond’s City Council passed a budget that included funding for bus service upgrades in the East End and on the Southside. In case you need a refresher: GRTC will design a new route to serve the recently-opened East End grocery store, extend the service hours on the Southside’s #86 and #87, and add Sunday service to the #2B.

Mark your calendars! The public meetings to discuss these service upgrades are on June 4th at the Southside Community Services Center, Room A (4100 Hull Street Road) from 5:30–6:30 PM and June 6th at the East End Branch Library (1200 N. 25th Street) from 6:00–7:00 PM.

These meetings are a good opportunity to get into the specifics with GRTC of how the new service upgrades will work—especially that new East End route. If you can’t make either of the meetings, you can always send an email to

AROUND THE REGION

Bus ridership in the Richmond region continues to increase in an incredible way (PDF), setting us apart from almost every other city in America. This is really stunning and something we should celebrate. As of April, with two months remaining in the fiscal year, GRTC saw almost 400,000 more rides this year than last. Not only that, but weekday Pulse ridership has doubled the original projections. Getting more folks on the bus is not a mysterious and magical thing—it just requires jurisdictions across the region to invest in faster, more frequent, and more reliable service. It’s nice to finally see some national recognition for the work being done in the Richmond region.

Despite the nationally-unique, month-after-month increase in ridership, the public narrative around GRTC in Richmond has, at least recently, seemed focused on fare evasion—despite no evidence that it’s a significant problem on the Pulse. So, acting on a directive from City Council to do something to dissuade folks from riding without paying, this past week GRTC’s board considered a pretty terrible advertising campaign to shame transit riders and threaten to “expose” them for evading fare. First, we don’t use this sort of language for people who illegally park, and we shouldn’t use it for people riding transit. Second, you can imagine a world where these ads could have simply said something like “It’s fair to pay your fare.” and totally eschewed the shame-based language. Third, King County, Washington, recently did a study on fare evasion (PDF) and found that “people experiencing homelessness or housing instability received nearly 25% of [fare evasion] citations.” If the City and GRTC still feel like spending resources on a marketing campaign to curb fare evasion (without knowing if it’s even a problem), they need to use better and more compassionate language.

As the State continues to build, renovate, and update their properties in and around the Capitol, transportation continues to feel the impact. The eastbound Pulse lane between 9th and 10th has been closed and will be closed indefinitely until the new General Assembly building is completed. Now, the State will close 9th Street and portions of Grace Street, detouring two 15-minute bus routes (the #2 and #5). They’ll also install “two new gates controlling traffic at the south end of the street at Bank Street,” which, if they’re anything like the gate on the other end of Bank Street, don’t sound particularly friendly to people on bikes.

—Ross Catrow

A look at the GRTC spring route updates

This past Sunday, May 12th, GRTC rolled out their spring route updates, which included a handful of small tweaks and a few bigger adjustments. Here are a few highlights and thoughts:

  • The two Fulton routes, the #4A and #4B have had their peak frequencies returned to 15-minutes. Credit goes to advocates for reverting some of the frequency reductions to a neighborhood that was promised quick and efficient connections to the Pulse.
  • Routes #50, #76, and #77 will now continue farther into the city on their eastbound trips, turning around on Meadow Street and serving the new Whole Foods and any future development on that site. This change comes after GRTC agreed to remove the three lines from the block bordered by Grace, Robinson, Davis, and Broad, which then forced a temporary turn around on Science Museum property.
  • The #87 Bellemeade/Hopkins route will now run until 10:00 PM. This change is separate from the new—and even later—service that the Mayor proposed and City Council recently funded in this year’s budget process.
  • The #102x Kings Dominion is up and running for this summer season. Make sure you check the timetable (PDF) as the span varies depending on the month and day of the week. This bus also stops in downtown Ashland and could make for an interesting, permanent regional route with a big of planning and a bit of funding.

This week in transit: How to make transit better in a single week

AROUND THE REGION

Chesterfield County launched a new on-demand transportation program for folks “who either have a disability, live in a low-income household, or have reached age 60.” This is a useful service to some, but, at $6 per ride and no connection into the rest of the regional bus network, it’s not something that folks can use as a day-to-day transportation option. Chesterfield County still needs to provide fixed-route bus service, run by GRTC, along its major corridors.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a neat article about the challenges and process involved in designing the landscape around the Pulse stations. Looking forward to when all of those plants start to fill out a bit!

Maritza Pechin, who’s running the Richmond 300 master planning process, was on the Building Better Communities with Transit podcast talking about the Pulse, the long-range planning process, and transit-oriented development. You can read a bit about it over on the TOD Resources blog.

ELSEWHERE

RVA Rapid Transit board member Nicholas Smith lists five steps Montreal will take in a single week to improve transit, getting around by bike, and walking: bus lanes, bike lanes, parking enforcement, more bike share, and free transit fares for disadvantaged youth. That’s some incredible work for a single week and should inspire our local leaders to get moving on some improvements in our region.

Speaking of improvements to bus systems, Muni is doing some hard work in San Francisco to support the increase in bus ridership they’ve seen. The best thing they’ve done to improve and speed up bus service? Transit-only lanes on congested roads—I’m looking at you, 14th Street.

While we don’t have scooters in Richmond (yet), Indianapolis already has several fleets and will now work on how to equitably distribute the vehicles to provide better first/last-mile connections. While scooters won’t solve every transit problem, they can definitely be part of a package of solutions.

—Ross Catrow