BRT Questions and Answers


Questions and Answers

What is the state of Richmond's transit?

Richmond ranks 92nd out of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. by the percent of jobs accessible by transit by a Brookings Institute study; only 27% of jobs can be reached within 90 minutes at rush hour by transit.

Why is transit important?

People need to get where they are going and not everyone can or wants to drive.  Money, disability, age and personal choice are just a few reasons people need other options to go to work, shop and play.  Transit offers an important option for everyone.

Our city and region are growing. If we want to reduce the growth in traffic and support the continued rebirth of our city, we need modern transit to move more people and attract next generation employees and companies. When Richmond business leaders were surveyed over 80% said improving transit in the Richmond region was a top priority.

Isn't transit expensive?

Transit can make a lot of sense for your household budget.  The cost of owning and operating a car can reach $10,000 per year according to AAA, while a year of transit passes is just $720 for an adult (and Congress just passed a $3,000/year commuter tax credit for individuals in participating businesses).

Spending on roads greatly outpaces spending on transit.  Cities don't have enough space to park cars of all the people coming into it.  And transit creates far fewer smog-creating pollutants.

Isn't transit slow?

Not when it has dedicated lanes! Currently, transit in Richmond often isn't competitive time-wise compared to driving.  Buses often get stuck behind traffic.  That's why we need a rapid transit system with dedicated lanes, priority signals and faster boarding and disembarking.  That's what the BRT will bring.

What is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?

Bus Rapid Transit is a rapid, reliable, frequent bus service, like a street car with tires.  Funded with over 80% state and federal grants, the line will run from Willow Lawn along Broad through the Fan, the VCU area, Downtown, Shockoe Bottom and Church Hill to Rocketts Landing.

The Pulse BRT will have a dedicated bus lane on Broad Street from 14th St to Thompson St as well as priority signals.  It will also have dedicated stations at a few key locations, which means fewer stops and step-free boarding. Tickets will be purchased at the stations and not on the bus, which means the buses will spend less time idling and more time moving. 

How frequent and fast will it be?

The time to downtown for this BRT route is expected to be cut in half, saving people on a round trip to downtown up to 30 minutes a day (or 120 hours a year).  The buses will run every 10 minutes during rush hour and every 15 minutes at other times, morning to night 7 days a week; reduced waiting will save even more time.  The line is from Willow Lawn along Broad through the Fan, the VCU area, Downtown, Shockoe Bottom and Church Hill to Rocketts Landing.

What are the benefits of this BRT project?

* Buses every 10 minutes during rush hour and every 15 at other times, morning to night 7 days a week.
* Reduced travel time by 50% (30 minutes for a round-trip along half the route, or 120 hours a year)
* Dedicated bus lane
* Signal priority at traffic lights
* Step-free board
* Off board ticket purchase at station machines
* Good connections to other routes
* Access to many key areas of Richmond (Downtown, VCU, Arts District, Fan District, Museum District, Main Street Station, Shockoe Bottom, etc.)
* Eliminating duplication of service, which will save money that can be invested in expanding other service
* A catalyst for new housing, retail and jobs along the corridor – filling up empty lots and buildings

* Federal and state commitment of $40-million, representing over 80% of the cost

At what stage is planning for the project?

The city's Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission each approved the BRT in the second half of 2016.  The city appropriated funding in its Capital Improvement Budget in May 2015 and design work is 30% complete.  On February 8th, the City Council will vote whether to approve an agreement with VDOT to manage the project. The Council meeting will begin at 6 pm..  Showing your support in person at City Council, as well as by email to your council member beforehand, is crucial to getting the project approved.

Aren't there other buses on Broad already?

Yes, and that needs to change.  Besides the number 6 that runs the length of Broad, there are 19 other buses that duplicate service on this route.  Allowing the BRT to do the work of serving Broad and providing seemless connections to other routes at BRT stations will allow the other buses to provide more frequent service on the parts of the routes that aren't on Broad.  Some routes spend half of their time circling downtown; reassigned to the main parts of their routes they could provide double the service at the same cost.

Why put a BRT on Broad if the 6 is already GRTC's most successful route?  Shouldn't it serve other areas?

Being the busiest corridor is why the BRT is proposed for Broad.  Think of it like a subway: you build it on a route with the most current users, and then you reorganize buses to connect to it.  That's why subway lines are built in the busiest areas first, like in DC or Manhattan, then spreading to the suburbs.  The core lines are the spines that hold the system together and other routes feed it.

Why don't we fix the other bus routes?

That's the plan!  The city just announced the Comprehensive Operations Analysis of the entire system.  The firm selected to do the job is one of the most experienced in the country, redesigning Houston's system to much acclaim earlier last year.  Richmond's route structure has remained largely the same since the streetcars were ripped out over half a century ago; we need to update it for the new realities of cities in the 21st century.

Why don't we wait until the full network is analyzed before selecting the BRT route?

We know we want good service on Broad Street; it's one of the most important streets in Richmond and the region.  It has many current riders, connects many points of interest (downtown, VCU, the Fan, the Museum District, etc.) and is wide enough to support a dedicated bus lane.  Broad has been identified again and again as an obvious choice for faster bus service, and is the only two-way, uninterrupted East-West street in Richmond. 

The Broad Street corridor reaches nearly two-thirds of the city’s jobs. The neighborhoods adjoining the corridor are home to one-quarter of the city's population. Over two-thirds of the population rents and half the population is between 18 and 29 (with nearly two-thirds between 18 and 39). 

Why won't the BRT reach out to the counties?

The BRT dips its toe into Henrico at each end, and the anticipated service has prompted Henrico to look at further extensions of bus service. Like many transportation projects, whether highways or the Silver Line in Northern Virginia, the BRT will be built in stages, and Federal and state money was only secured for this high priority 7.6 mile stretch along Broad Street.  We recently won funding for a separate study of a regional network of modern transit with potential BRT routes to Short Pump, the airport, Ashland, Chester, Woodlake, Midlothian, Mechanicsville and Sandston. We are also advocating this month for service farther along Broad and Route 1, but we need country residents to demand it from their supervisors; we are working to make that happen.

Is there a plan for reaching out to the counties?

The Commonwealth's Department of Rail and Public Transportation is conducting a study on a regional vision plan for transit.  The study is well-designed and run by people who want to make Richmond better, but a strong public demand for better regional transit is how we can show elected leaders we're serious.  Comment today: .

Wouldn't delaying the project ensure we get it right?

Richmond has been studying rapid transit on Broad Street since 2003 with public meetings at various stages throughout the process and numerous technical reports completed. The city and GRTC have been responsive to remaining concerns and have made adjustments to reduce parking spaces impacted, improve pedestrian safety, find solutions for retail loading zones and more.  It's time for this project to move forward so we can study and build the next phases of regional rapid transit.

Could we do a demonstration of the project with cones?

A bus line is not like a bike lane or roundabout in which cones will show new traffic patterns.  A cone demonstration with have all the negatives without the positives: no signal priority, no step-free boarding, no ticket purchases from machines at stations, no median lane (as there are no platforms in the middle of Broad for boarding).  The City Transportation Engineer suggested a demonstration would cost in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and not even yield helpful data.

Are the finances solid?

Yes.  The finances for the project have been reviewed by the state and federal governments, who would not allocate money to the project otherwise.  VDOT, who will be managing the construction due to their experience at large construction projects in the right of way, is "extremely confident" about the proposed budget.  The state has also agreed to cover any cost overruns if they were to occur.  However, as the grant amounts are a fixed dollar amount, a delay to the project in signing a contract will increase the cost (due to inflation) but not the grant amount, meaning it will cost the city more.  We need to lock in the contract in today's dollars, not tomorrow's.

Won't it cost more to run these buses?

The BRT may actually provide better service for a similar price and much better service for only slightly more.  Eliminating duplicated service on the 20 routes on Broad will save a costs for current operations, the most expensive of which for all transit systems is employee costs.  This means that in exchange for providing faster service, GRTC may actually save money.  However, if GRTC reassigns those buses and drivers to cover other parts of the city or make other parts of current routes more frequent, it will provide much more frequent service for similar costs.  As the service will improve, more people will use it, which will create more revenues.  The smaller a system the more likely the buses will run with very few passengers, which results in tickets covering around 20% of costs. With better service and more passengers, tickets can cover 50% of expenses.  Don't forget that drivers don't come close to covering road costs; gas taxes cover less than 50% of the costs of state and federal highways and less than 10% of the costs of local roads.

Will the BRT spur more development?

Yes!  Over the next 20 years, there is expected to be $1.1-billion invested in the corridor.  These increased property values will increase the tax base enough and provide resources to cover ongoing costs of the system.  The city is studying how it can adjust land use to attract more mixed-use development along the corridor. In the study area ripe for redevelopment, nearly one-third of land is dedicated to surface parking.  As well, in the neighborhoods adjoining the corridor, which comprises one-quarter of the city's population, over two-thirds of the population rents and half the population is between 18 and 29 (with nearly two-thirds between 18 and 39).  The corridor also has nearly two-thirds of the city's jobs.

Will the buses be standard size or articulated?

The buses will be standard 40-foot buses, but the stations will be built to be able to accommodate 60-foot articulated buses when demand grows, especially as the system grows in size.  The 40-foot buses can then be used on other routes.

What about the transfer plaza?

Many of us have suggested that the transfer plaza idea should be shelved in favor of having routes connect to the BRT and transfers to take place at the 14 stations being built along the line.  This would save the millions of dollars it would cost to construct a large fixed transfer center.  Though some smaller cities with legacy transit systems have a transfer center, larger cities and those trying to expand their system don't transfer at one place but all over the city, usually implementing a grid system with transit on major streets, allowing you to get anywhere with at most one transfer but not having to go downtown.  You could go from Northside to VCU or Southside to Scott's Addition, for example, without having to go through downtown.

Are the buses running in the median or at the curb?

Each part of the route has a different situation that suggests a different solution.  From Thompson to Adams on Broad, buses will be in the median in a dedicated lane, with stations located in the median as well.  From Adams to 14th, buses will be at the curb in a dedicated bus lane, with transfers to other routes.  In other areas, the buses will run in mixed traffic like today.

Will left turns be lost in some areas on Broad?

Yes, some left turns will be removed, while others will be added.  Left turns cannot occur while the BRT light in the median is green, because it creates conflicts that often lead to crashes, which is why the BRT light and car left turn light will never be green at the same time and some left turns are being eliminated to keep the BRT from stopping as often.  Left turns are generally also more dangerous for other users, including people in cars, on bikes and walking.  Left turns will still be available about every three blocks.

Will parking be removed on the route?

About 400 spots will be removed between Thompson and 14th, out of a total of 8,000 on- and off-street spots within one block of Broad.  A comprehensive traffic study found that in most areas the on-street spots proposed to be retained on Broad itself were greater than the maximum number of spots used at any given time (and that spots on side streets in the remaining areas could accommodate the remaining users). 

What will it be like during construction?

Most of the construction will occur in the median (away from the sidewalk, businesses and residents) and at the 16 curb-side stations, meaning most adjacent property owners won't be affected.  For the few that will, the city is working with business owners and residents to make sure buildings are accessible and open during construction. The city has held several meetings with businesses.  Stations are expected to be under construction for about 3-4 months each, with some in tandem.  Other work, such as utility work, may occur at the same time.

Will there be any Park and Rides?

There are some parking areas that will be newly open to bus users, but successful bus systems are designed to allow people not to need a car.  The BRT is the spine and the other routes will feed people into the BRT.  Options such as circulators and routes along major streets will allow people to get around by public transit without needing a car at all.

What can I do to help move the project forward?

Sign up for our mailing list to learn about how you can make your voice heard.  Join us in letting council know you support the Pulse BRT.  Make sure to attend the Jan 25 City Council meeting at 6 p.m. to speak in favor of the project.  And email or call your city council member to tell them you support; we send out emails with this information, but you can also find it on the city website.

More details to certain questions that we've previously put together can be found at: