Three takeaways from the first three weeks of Pulse service

This week, GRTC sent out some interesting data from the first three weeks of Pulse service. Below you’ll find three quick thoughts, but feel free to download the PDF here and dig into the data yourself.

Ridership consistently exceeded goals

With a weekly goal of 22,600 rides (that’s six days of 3,500 and one Sunday of 1,600), the Pulse consistently exceeded expectations with weekly ridership totals of 56,952; 27,617; and 29,407 during the first three weeks. That huge first week definitely shows what fare-free public transit can do. Regardless, the next two weeks showed strong ridership with the third week seeing a 6.5% increase compared to the second. So ends the argument that “no one will ride the Pulse.”

The high ridership numbers shouldn’t be too surprising, though. We’ve replaced a serious chunk of the City’s east-west buses with the Pulse. If you move across the City from east to west or west to east you more than likely will use the Pulse. It is a serious workhorse bus—which was the entire point of the thing!

Lots of folks are connecting at Willow Lawn

I’m not sure there’s a better argument for expanding public transit west into Henrico County than the boarding and alighting numbers. The Willow Lawn station is, by far, the #1 spot folks get on and off the Pulse. Every day about 1,000 people get off the Pulse at Willow Lawn heading west and about 900 get on heading east. That’s a lot of folks!

The East Riverfront station sits at the very bottom of the station popularity list, which makes sense. Other than Stone Brewing, there’s not much else near this station. The low numbers for this station (especially on weekdays) compared to some others—like Government Center, Convention Center, Science Museum, and even Staples Mill—really point out that this bus’s primary job is to get people to work.

The Pulse is a fast way to get across town

If everything goes as planned, the Pulse should make its entire trip headed east in 35 minutes and in 37 minutes headed west. The crush of humanity trying to use the new BRT during the first week made those goals...hard to achieve. But, after a couple of weeks, things have settled down and the trip times are pretty dang good.

At its worst, headed east during the afternoon and into the evening, the Pulse takes about 40 minutes from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing. Headed west, the 37 minute runtime estimate looks pretty good, with trips averaging just a minute or two slower during the morning rush hour. Keep in mind the signal priority system, which will hold a green light for an incoming bus, is still gathering data and not yet operational.

These are impressive numbers, but we should still keep our eyes open for ways to further prioritize the Pulse and speed up the trip for riders—dedicated bus lanes on E. Main Street, I’m looking at you.

Goal: 100 new supporters

TAKE ACTION

Fellow transit supporters! As we move past the opening of the Pulse and the entirely redesigned bus network, RVA Rapid Transit will continue our work of advocating, educating, and organizing for frequent and far-reach public transportation in the Richmond region. If you’d like to support us in that work, now is the time! What’s next? Well, here are just a few of the things we’ll be pushing for over the next couple of months:

  • In Chesterfield County: Adding bus service from the city limits to John Tyler Community College along Route 1
  • In Henrico County: Improving bus service to the Staples Mill Train Station, the airport, and adding bus service to Virginia Center Commons and Mechanicsville
  • In Richmond City: Extending operating hours and adding bus stop amenities like benches, shelters, and trash cans to highly-used bus stops

There’s lots to do, and we need your help.

Before the end of July, we want to find 100 new supporters at any level—$5, $10, $100, whatever works for you. We’re almost there, but need a few more folks to get us over that goal. So if you’d like to partner with us on the work to bring frequent and far-reaching public transportation to the entire Richmond region, consider supporting us now.

AROUND THE REGION

GRTC’s Kelsey Calder is now a nationally certified Travel Training Instructor. This is big news, and Calder is an excellent resource for helping folks of all ability levels learn how to ride the bus through GRTC’s Travel Training Program. This program makes a ton of sense as it moves folks off of the on-demand CARE service, which is extremely limited (and expensive to run), and on to fixed-route service, which gives folks a ton more freedom to get around the region.

GRTC has also posted a time-lapse video of the construction of the Allison Street East Pulse station. If you’ve ever wondered what 17 months on Broad Street condensed down to 10 minutes looks like, here’s your answer.

ELSEWHERE

High-quality transportation investment spurs development—called Transit Oriented Development—but how do we make sure that development is equitable and doesn’t cause displacement? In King County, Washington, through new laws passed this year, the jurisdiction will donate land near rail stations for affordable housing to help address the region’s housing crisis.

Dallas now has 14 all-electric buses running a 19-mile loop. Electric buses are definitely the future, but, at the moment, they’re more expensive to buy and maintain than the compressed natural gas buses used by GRTC.


If you'd like to support RVA Rapid Transit's work to bring a truly regional transit system to Richmond, consider making a tax-deductible donation.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: 56,952!

TAKE ACTION

Here’s a quick reminder to sign up for the Pulse Pedal Pursuit, an all-day, all-modes-of-transportation scavenger hunt across the Pulse Corridor. Walk, bike, or bus your way to glory on July 21st!

AROUND THE REGION

The final Free Ride Week ridership numbers for the Pulse are in and folks took 56,952 trips, which GRTC CEO David Green says is 2.5x their goal. Whoa, that’s great! I’m still looking forward to seeing the numbers from the first non-free week (keeping in mind the mid-week federal holiday) and the overall ridership numbers for the entire system since the launch of the redesign.

D.C. might be getting in on the bus network redesign game, too, and has kicked off a study to see whether or not their future holds a “ground-up redesign”—including a rejiggering of how the system is owned and organized. Speaking of redesigns of major transportation systems, here’s Jarrett Walker on what it would take to redo the entirety of New York’s bus network.

Unlike Richmond, Northern Virginia has a regional transportation authority (the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority) that distributes funding for regional transportation projects. A lot of these projects are road-based, too many, really, but some of them are public transportation projects like the bus rapid transit planned for Richmond Highway. If and when the Richmond region gets around to putting together regional funding for transportation, we should think hard about how much of that funding ends up widening roads and constructing interchanges and how much of it goes to building a truly regional public transportation system.

ELSEWHERE

StreetsBlog has a good piece about the performance of microtransit programs throughout the country. These on-demand, low-volume services consistently serve fewer passengers at more cost than a regular ol’ bus. If you’ve got a major corridor that lacks public transportation—Jefferson Davis Highway in Chesterfield County and Route 360 out to Mechanicsville come to mind—microtransit will most likely not be the most efficient or cost effective solution to move folks around!


If you'd like to support RVA Rapid Transit's work to bring a truly regional transit system to Richmond, consider making a tax-deductible donation.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Join us for the Pulse Pedal Pursuit!

TAKE ACTION

Now that RVA Transit Week is over, it’s, sadly, time to move on. Luckily we can move right on to the Pulse Pedal Pursuit! Our friends at Sports Backers are hosting a walking, biking, and public transit scavenger hunt along the Pulse corridor on July 21st. Put together a team (or go solo) and try to score points by visiting as many location as you can on foot, RVA Bike Share, or the Pulse. Top teams will win prizes, but everyone gets a free GRTC 1-day pass and a 30-day membership to RVA Bike Share.

You can register here, and, if you’re feeling generous, chip in a couple of bucks to the event’s charity partner...RVA Rapid Transit! Looking forward to seeing y’all out there—should be a blast.

AROUND THE REGION

Alright, the week of free rides has ended. Now, if you want to ride the bus you’ll need to pay the fare. Here are some things to know:

  • A single ride cost $1.50, and, if you need to transfer to another bus, $1.75 for a One Ride Plus pass.
  • Since the new bus network is designed for easy transfers between frequent routes, it’s often best just to buy a $3.50 1-day pass and then ride as much as you want. You can do this at places like Kroger, CVS, and Walgreens. Here’s a full list of where to get passes.
  • If you’re not trying to add another errand to your life, you can use the new mobile payment app to buy your pass.
  • Once you board the bus just tap your pass to the top of the fare box or scan the QR code in the mobile app, and you’re good to go.
  • Finally, since the Pulse requires off-board fare payment (which speeds up boarding) validating your pass works a bit differently. You can watch this video from GRTC which explains it all.

On opening week, ridership on the Pulse blew projections out of the water, crushing the goal of 3,500 riders per day. Over the first three days, our new BRT saw ridership numbers easily double that goal (8,669; 7,968; and 7,877). We’ll see how that changes this coming week with the end of free fares and a mid-week holiday, but these early numbers are very impressive.

ELSEWHERE

Now that Richmond has a BRT and a redesigned bus network, what’s next? The answer: More frequent bus service to more places, connecting folks to jobs. This story about a Dallas man with a daily commute of three hours (each way!) is something folks in Richmond are dealing with today—even after our major transit upgrade.

Ann Arbor has seen their ridership increase by about 5% by spending more money (via a regional transit tax) on regular ol’ bus service—expanding routes, improving frequency, and extending hours. It’s definitely not rocket science, but it does take more money.


If you'd like to support RVA Rapid Transit's work to bring a truly regional transit system to Richmond, consider making a tax-deductible donation.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: The Pulse is here!

TAKE ACTION

It’s here! After years and years of hard work, meetings, planning, and advocacy the GRTC Pulse and entirely redesigned bus system are up and running. Today! Right now! Maybe you’re even reading this email on the Pulse or one of the new routes right now?

If not, here are a couple of things to get you started:

  • First, check out the new system map (PDF) to get a lay of the land.
  • You can plan your specific trip in a variety of ways, including Google Maps, Apple Maps, or GRTC’s newly refreshed app (available on the App Store of your choosing). Or even download PDFs of the paper schedules if you’re feeling old school.
  • Remember that most of the routes and some of the stops have changed. If you’re used to catching a certain bus at a certain stop at a certain time, make sure you check on the new state of affairs first.
  • For this week, June 24–30, all GRTC buses—including the Pulse—are free! After this week, you can pay in a variety of ways, but the one I’m most excited about is the new Mobile Pass app (also available in the App Store of your choosing). Using this app you can purchase a 1-day, 7-day, or 30-day pass.
  • If you’re looking for ways to explore the system this week, check out our RVA Transit Week suggestions. We’ve got a bunch of suggested destinations in different parts of town using different bus lines. Get out there and explore!

AROUND THE REGION

In today’s news it’s all Pulse, all the time! See what local media has to say:


If you'd like to support RVA Rapid Transit's work to bring a truly regional transit system to Richmond, consider making a tax-deductible donation.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: Just one more week!

TAKE ACTION

First, before we get to the exciting stuff about all the new bus business, an important way to get involved:

GRTC will host a public meeting tomorrow, June 18th, at 6:00 PM (2300 W. Broad Street) to discuss the removal of a bus stop at Davis & Broad and a permanent redesign of the (yet-to-launch) routes #50, #76, and #77. These sudden changes, after years of public process and just a couple of weeks before the new system opens on June 24th, come in response to nearby residents expressing concerns about the proximity of the three routes to homes on Grace Street and to the William Byrd Senior apartments.

GRTC has a temporary plan to move the stop and the routes away from this block bounded by Broad, Davis, Grace, and Robinson and, on Monday, will request feedback on a proposed permanent redesign. Bus service in Richmond operates on a fixed budget. Any additional costs incurred by removing bus service on this block could mean cuts to bus service in another part of town.

Please consider attending this public meeting to let GRTC know that whatever the plans are for this block of Grace Street, they should not negatively impact another neighborhood’s access to the bus network.

AROUND THE REGION

On to the excitement!

The Pulse and all of the totally redesigned bus routes will launch on June 24th! That’s NEXT SUNDAY!! NEXT! SUNDAY!

That week, all rides on GRTC will be free (hooray!). To celebrate we’re launching RVA Transit Week! Think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure but for riding the bus. We’ve put together a list of suggested bus trips—at least one for each day—spread throughout the city using a variety of different routes and the Pulse. We hope that these options will inspire you to get out and ride the bus—that first week and beyond.

As some added incentive to get out there and ride, we’ve got two pairs of tickets to that week’s Friday Cheers (Turnpike Troubadours with Charley Crockett) to give away. Just reply to this email by June 22nd, and I’ll randomly pick two lucky winners. Spend some time enjoying music on the river by bus—Brown’s Island is easily accessible by both the #87 and #5.

ELSEWHERE

New York City has included $106 million in their latest budget to help subsidize public transit for low-income riders. The Fair Fares program will offer half price MetroCards to New Yorkers whose income is below the federal poverty line. In Richmond, GRTC does offer reduced fares for adults over the age of 65, riders with certain disabilities, and minors, however, we don’t have a similar program for low-income riders.

This is neat: In Cincinnati, the Better Bus Coalition is making DIY benches for bus stops that have no street furniture. When all the new changes launch on June 24th we’ll have more frequent routes, which means less waiting around, but we’ve still got our own share of stops in town where folks could use a comfortable place to sit.


If you'd like to support RVA Rapid Transit's work to bring a truly regional transit system to Richmond, consider making a tax-deductible donation.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: The New vs. The Old

TAKE ACTION

Last month the Rev. Ben Campbell gave the keynote address to the 2018 Virginia Transit Association Annual Conference. This week, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch or read that keynote. He focuses on how transit agencies guard our democracies by guaranteeing the freedom of each individual, building the foundations of the urban community, and developing the framework of the modern city. Definitely worth your time!

AROUND THE REGION

GRTC has launched a new route planning tool that will let you compare and contrast today’s system with the new system that launches on June 24th. For a few examples of how the new system can make for shorter, more frequent, and more efficient trips, head on over to the @rvarapidtransit Twitter feed. Oh, also! You should follow us on Twitter, too!

Want a quick explainer about how the Pulse will work come June 24th? Check out this short, high-energy video from NBC12’s Drew Wilder. And, of course, if you have any other questions, please send them to and we’ll try our best to get them answered.

ELSEWHERE

What happens when the folks in charge of transit systems decide to use that transit system? Here’s a video about one Detroit politician who took the bus to a suburban job center 25 miles outside of the city. As you can imagine it took a loooooong, annoying amount of time to get there—but his trip is very similar to something people living off of Jeff Davis Highway in Chesterfield County do all the time. Next up, TransitCenter looks at what can happen if transit agencies put riders on their boards or if their board members regularly use the transit system they’re in charge of overseeing.

StreetsBlog has a great article about how some cities are working with their fire departments to accommodate those extra-wide fire trucks and more complete streets that include pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements.

As Charlotte moves forward with building light rail, a single sentence in the state’s budget may kill the Orange Line project—and future light rail projects in North Carolina. Not great!


If you'd like to support RVA Rapid Transit's work to bring a truly regional transit system to Richmond, consider making a tax-deductible donation.

—Ross Catrow