This week in transit: RPS high school students ride for free

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The unlimited bus pass program for RPS high school students begins on October 1st! If you’re a parent or guardian of an RPS high school student, and want them to have unlimited bus access to all our City has to offer (at no cost to you!), you’ll need to fill out this permission slip (PDF) and return it to your school’s liaison. If you have any questions about how the program works, you should read this handy FAQ, and if you’ve still got questions, shoot an email to Pass Program Administrator Kendra Norrell ().

AROUND THE REGION

One week from today GRTC will launch its next round of bus service updates which include a bus to Short Pump and expanded hours on its major lines. This is huge and exciting! You can find a list of those changes (plus all of the other changes going live on September 16th) over on GRTC’s website.

As always, if you have any questions about how you, your business, your congregation, or your bus-curious friends and family can take advantage of the new lines, please reach out and let us know! We’re happy to help.

ELSEWHERE

Today, here are a bunch of links about the connections between housing and transit:

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: See you in Henrico on September 25th

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Join us on September 25th at the Henrico Board of Supervisors in a display of support for public transportation. We’re looking for at least 40 folks to come out, wear green, and look supportive. We’ll have a couple of people signed up for public comment, and when they ask you to stand up, you stand up. That’s it! So easy. This particular meeting comes about a week after Henrico begins service on the largest expansion of public transit in the County in the last 25 years—so we’re there mostly to thank the Board for their work and encourage further expansion.

While this effort is put together by our region’s faith-based leaders, it is certainly not a strictly faith-based gathering.

AROUND THE REGION

Justin Mattingly at the Richmond Times-Dispatch spoke with Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras as we get ready to head into the new school year. Kamras talks about the challenges facing the district, equity, and his plans to address racial segregation in schools. As he considers theme-based magnet schools and district rezoning, he recognizes that “transportation becomes a huge equity issue when you try to pursue something like that, so that’s going to have to be a huge investment as we think about that going forward.” This, of course, remains true after our region’s youth move on from school and into the workforce. Richmonders should have access to the region’s jobs, regardless of whether or not they can own and drive a car.

Richmond Magazine just published their 2018 Best & Worst list—a reader survey spread across a million and one different categories. This year they asked their readers to finish this sentence: “The GRTC Pulse will...” The number one answer: ”The GRTC Pulse will be great.” Love it!

ELSEWHERE

City Lab has an extensive history of transit in the U.S. titled “How America Killed Transit.” It’s depressing, but worth your time. Here’s the gist: “What happened? Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might ‘justify’ its improvement will never materialize.”

As you know, I’m keeping an eye on cities implementing electric bus pilot programs. Rochester just launched one after winning a federal grant that allowed them to buy one bus and a charging system. Total cost of the program: $2.3 million! These things, while definitely the future, are expensive.

The 2018 Sorriest Bus Stops tournament continues, and this week it’s down to the Final Four of bad bus stops. The stop in Cincinnati is terrible, but, wow, the one in Vancouver is not a place I would ever feel safe getting on and off a bus.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: More transit arrives on September 16th

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GRTC needs extras for their new marketing campaign to promote public transportation in Henrico County. They’re looking for folks on a bunch of different days, so if you’d like to be a bus model, just send an email to . Also, I hear there’s free food!

Here are the details:

  • What: Extras needed for film and still photography to promote Henrico service changes.
  • Potential film dates: Wednesday September 5th, Thursday September 6th, Friday September 7th, and Monday September 10th. We are shooting for two days, however, we have baked in rain dates in the event the weather is not cooperative.
  • Potential still photography dates: Thursday, September 13th, Friday September 14th, Monday September 17th, and Tuesday September 18th. We are shooting for two days, however, we have baked in rain dates in the event the weather is not cooperative.
  • Contact information:
  • Tentative Schedule: 7:30 AM–5:00 PM
  • Who: 7 years old and up, all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

AROUND THE REGION

Expanded bus service in Henrico begins on September 16th, which is right around the corner! The County has put together this neat page with an explanation of the changes you should expect. The bus to Short Pump kind of steals the show, but expanded night and weekend hours is a big deal—and don’t sleep on the fact that the #19 (aka the Short Pump bus) is now a $1.50 bus instead of a $2.00 bus. This means less complicated and cheaper transfers between it and the rest of the system.

Also on September 16th, a whole slew of tweaks and updates to the rest of GRTC’s system goes live. Most exciting: The Pulse will begin service at 5:00AM and will have its frequency increased from every 15-minutes to every 10-minutes until 7:00 PM (thanks VCU!). Also exciting, in addition to all of the Henrico stuff mentioned above, the #18 will now connect the Willow Lawn Pulse station to both Libbie Mill and the Staples Mill train station.

Back in June, when the Pulse opened, I spent the day riding the bus around with Blaine Lay of the Two People Podcast. He recorded our adventure, and you can listen to it here if you’ve ever wondered what a Day in the Life of Ross is like.

ELSEWHERE

Joelle Ballam at TransitCenter rode one of New York City’s new, pilot-program electric buses, and has some thoughts about transit agencies moving all or part of their fleet to electric. Noting the obvious health and sustainability advantages of electric buses, Ballam cautions: “One potential pitfall of the declarations for all-electric fleets is that agencies may be inviting technical performance problems to go along with their other systemic issues.” That seems like wisdom.

Every year, Streets Blog hosts the Sorriest Bus Stop Tournament. Riders from around the country submit photos of the worst bus stops in their towns, folks vote, and then an eventual...champion?...is crowned. We’re in the Elite Eight at the moment, and, dang, those are some bad bus stops. Of course Richmond has its fair share of terribly unsafe and inhumane bus stops, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that “bus stop” in Cincinnati. If you frequent a local stop and think it’d be improved by a bench, trash can, or shelter, drop an email. GRTC is actively installing new bus stop amenities and would like to hear from y’all about where they’re needed most.

—Ross Catrow

Isaiah Project Speaks

The Isaiah Project organizes encouraging, broad-based showings of support for expanded public transportation during public comment period at Board of Supervisors meetings in Henrico and in Chesterfield. We go out four times a year, twice to Henrico and twice to Chesterfield. These outings are called "Isaiah Project Speaks." While communities of faith in each locality lead the way, we invite broad regional solidarity and participation.

At each meeting, we will have a few speakers during the Public Comment Period. All you have to do is show up, look encouraging, and rise together when one of our speakers invites supporters to stand. As you’re able, please wear something green (RVA Rapid Transit also has green "Ready to Ride!" t-shirts you can purchase at cost for $6 - simply contact info@rvarapidtransit). We will also have an opportunity to pray ahead of the meeting. 

So that we can get a sense of numbers, please rsvp here for Isaiah Project Speaks in Henrico on Sept 25 and here for Isaiah Project Speaks in Chesterfield on Oct 24. We are hoping to have at least 40 people of faith out at each of these meetings this fall. Your participation makes the difference!

Isaiah Project Speaks in Henrico

Henrico Board of Supervisors Meetings, 7 p.m. Tues, Sept 25

4301 East Parham Road, 23228 (Henrico Government Center Administration Building)

Isaiah Project Speaks in Chesterfield

Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Meetings, 6 p.m. Wed, Oct 24

10001 Iron Bridge Road, 23832 (Chesterfield County Public Meeting Room)

For more details or to sign up to join in a Board of Supervisor meeting, please contact isaiahproject@richmondhill.org or see rvarapidtransit.org/isaiah

This week in transit: A CEO search!

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Quick reminder! Our faith-based screening of Free to Ride is this coming Tuesday, August 21st at 1:00 PM. You can learn more and register over on Eventbrite.

Now, on to the news!

AROUND THE REGION

By now, you’ve probably heard that GRTC’s CEO David Green will resign at the end of the month. Green has a long list of achievements to take credit for during his tenure, including the Pulse, the bus network redesign, and new bus stop signage. Filling in for Green while GRTC conducts a CEO search is Charles Mitchell. Mitchell previously served as GRTC’s interim CEO, so he should be familiar with the job!

I’m also sure you heard about the arrival of Bird electric scooters in town over the past couple of days. These little guys are an excellent way to get to or from public transit, helping with the first/last-mile problem. Since the scooter company popped up without giving the City a heads up, their future in Richmond is...uncertain. For now, though, it looks like they’ll keep operating despite City complaints.

ELSEWHERE

If you’ve ever checked the real-time bus arrival information for the Pulse and seen several buses all arriving at the same time instead of evenly spaced every 15 minutes, that’s called bus bunching. It happens for a variety of small reasons that quickly compound over time resulting in a big impact on the bus schedule—like Ian Malcom said in Jurassic Park, “You see a Tyrannosaur doesn’t follow a set pattern or park schedules, the essence of chaos” (but with buses instead of dinosaurs). For an intense and math-heavy discussion of the whys and hows of bus bunching, read this post by transit genius Alon Levy. Luckily, there are some easy things that we can do to ease bus bunching: all-door boarding, bigger buses, bus-only lanes, giving the buses signal priority. Keep this in mind next time you ride the Pulse: The quicker you board, the better the buses stay on schedule—don’t be afraid to get on through the back door!

Fare capping is awesome! I hope that once GRTC rolls out their planned fare technology upgrades later this year—specifically, reloadable tap cards—they’ll consider implementing a fare-capping policy. This sort of policy allows folks who ride the most to get the benefits of the 7-day and 30-day unlimited ride passes without having to drop a ton of cash upfront. It also eliminates the need to do any sort of mental math to figure out if an unlimited ride pass is “worth it.” You just ride, ride, ride as much as you need and you’ll end up with the best deal possible.

Check out this pop-up flower bomb at a bus stop in Everett, Massachusetts. Make sure you watch a bit of the video because the photos don’t do it justice.


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: Free to Ride on August 21st

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On August 21st, the Isaiah Project (our faith-based outreach initiative) will host a screening of Free to Ride. This documentary explores the intersection of public transportation and Civil Rights in Dayton, Ohio plus raises key issues about the important role public transportation plays in our communities and the role faith groups can have in advocating for change. You can see the trailer of the film here, and you can RSVP here (but the event is free!).

Also, July’s nearly done, and RVA Rapid Transit is still on the hunt for 100 new supporters. If you’d like to donate (any amount!) to our work of advocating, educating, and organizing for a frequent and far-reaching public transportation system, you can do so over on our website.

ELSEWHERE

According to a new study, Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services (aka Transportation Network Companies or TNCs) are not reducing traffic in American cities. Keep in mind, though, this research mostly applies to large American cities. However, this makes a lot of sense wherever you live: “The main conclusion is that TNCs are bound to generate more car traffic in cities for two reasons: They mostly draw passengers who wouldn’t have otherwise used a car, and each TNC trip includes significant mileage with no passenger.”

Speaking of fixing congestion, the head of Washington DOT says the state can’t highway-build their way out of traffic. In fact, he says that the issue stems from a lack of affordable housing in the transit-rich city center, which, in turns, forces folks to live in the outlying suburbs which lack public transportation.

Cincinnati may look to an increase in sales tax to help fund its current public transportation system. Here’s a good explanation of why a regional tax for public transportation helps everyone, even if you never plan on riding the bus: “If you don’t ride the bus, this still affects you. It affects the tax rate on everything you buy in Hamilton County. And public transit, whether you use it personally or not, is key to a city’s success or failure. It affects the environment, when there are more or fewer exhaust pipes on the road. It affects the unemployment rate and investment, whether companies want to move to a city or not.”


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: Pulse ridership numbers

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Just a tiny, quick reminder that we’re quickly approaching the end of July, and RVA Rapid Transit is quickly approaching our goal of 100 new supporters before the month’s end. You can make a donation, of any amount, on our website.

AROUND THE REGION

A couple days ago, I got my hands on ridership numbers from the first three weeks of Pulse service. I went ahead and wrote up three quick takeaways from these initial numbers: 1) Ridership consistently exceeded goals, 2) Lots of folks are connecting at Willow Lawn, and 3) The Pulse is a fast way to get across town. You can download the PDF of the numbers yourself and dig in. Please let me know if you find your own interesting takeaways!

On Friday, I took part in a panel on how the Pulse and the other improvements to our public transportation network could impact tourism in the Richmond region. Turns out, when folks from out of town come to visit, they expect robust and functional public transit. Not only that, but the thousands of employees that support our local tourism industry can benefit from a frequent and far-reaching public transportation network. It’s not a zero-sum game: Building high-quality public transportation benefits everyone in the entire region.

ELSEWHERE

The Charlotte Area Transit System, headed up by once-and-former Richmonder John Lewis, has announced the details of their massive new transit plan. Better transit to the airport! Light rails! Transit tunnels! Whoa!

Albuquerque continues to face serious issues in launching their BRT, but, as they continue to push forward, they’ve implemented a $80 fine for driving in the bus-only lanes. While Richmond may have an issue with folks parking in the curbside BRT lanes, I haven’t seen a ton of people driving in our bus-only lanes. But, enforcement like this is an important part of prioritizing a bus full of people trying to get to work over a single, empty car.

Our friends at TransitCenter have released a new report focused on building an inclusive and equitable public transportation system (PDF). You can read a summary of the report over on StreetsBlog if you’d like!


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