Making our low-frequency routes shine

researched and co-authored by Nicholas Smith

In our previous post we looked at GRTC’s bus ridership by revenue service hour across each route. We learned that our frequent routes (the #1ABC, #2ABC, #3ABC, and #5) are crushing it, and the City should look into extending frequent service from 7:00 PM to at least 10:00 PM. We also learned that several less-frequent routes, like the #86 on the Southside and the #12 in the East End, could benefit from more frequency throughout the day.

But what about the routes with very few rides per revenue service hour? By increasing the frequency of some of the routes serving Richmond’s Near West End and central Henrico County—plus with some creative rejiggering—trips between the two jurisdictions could be easier and quicker while still providing life-line service to folks living in less dense areas. With even these small changes, we could make real progress towards a truly regional, frequent, and far-reaching public transportation system. So! Let’s dig in and look at which routes underperform when looking at rides per revenue service hour and what GRTC and the region could do to make those routes more useful. Most of the below recommendations come straight from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan.

First, a quick refresher: Revenue service hours are a measure of how much bus service a system or individual route provides—it’s one bus picking up and dropping off passengers for one hour (not counting waiting time at the end of a line). It’s a nice way to compare routes of varying frequency and length. Here’s the chart of bus ridership by revenue service hour from June 30, 2019–August 3, 2019:

Average weekly ridership per revenue hour 4.png

What jumps out immediately is, woof, some of those hourly West End routes carry very few passengers—specifically the #18, #76, and #77. Let’s look at each one individually and see what’s going on and what could be done to make those routes more useful to more people.

#18 Henrico Government Center

  • Average weekly ridership: 658
  • Average weekly ridership per revenue service hour: 10.12
  • Route map

The #18 Henrico Government Center route has so much potential! It serves Willow Lawn, Libbie Mill, the Staples Mill train station, and, as its name suggests, the Henrico Government Center. These are all interesting, popular, and useful destinations, but unfortunately, the low frequency makes accessing these locations a real chore. A missed bus can mean a long wait with no other options—especially for folks trying to get to work further down the line, the General District Court, or other important services at the Henrico Government Center. Additionally, the one-way loop at the end of the route makes for less efficient trips along the Staples Mill corridor.


  • Increase the frequency to 30-minutes.
  • Consider eliminating the one-way loop at the end of the #18, avoiding the detour to the Henrico Government Center, and allowing the route to continue farther down Staples Mill Road. Note that this change would have serious implications to think through and plan for: It’s important to maintain connections to the Henrico Government Center and the Parham Hospital; and continue to provide access to public transportation for the handful of lower-income neighborhoods between Broad, Wistar, Staples Mill, and Glenside. To address the first set of concerns, the County could begin planning for a bus on Parham Road, stretching from the Regency Mall area in the west all the way to St. Joseph’s Villa in the north.
  • Improve sidewalks and pedestrian connections for folks traveling along Staples Mill. All bus riders are pedestrians at the beginning and end of their trips. Folks will not use any new bus service if they can’t walk to it safely.

#77 Grove

  • Average weekly ridership: 1,068
  • Average weekly ridership per revenue service hour: 6.04
  • Route map

The #77 Grove connects Willow Lawn to the Science Museum Pulse Station via Grove and Libbie Avenues. Anecdotally, the old #16 Grove bus was a popular commuter route, connecting folks living in the Near West End to jobs downtown with a one-seat ride, and, in the other direction, providing convenient access to jobs (and classes) at the University of Richmond. Those trips are less convenient now and require a transfer to the Pulse or, in the case of UR, a long, uncomfortable walk.


  • Replace the #77 with a route #5A (see map below). This would extend at least one of the #5 buses west, past Carytown, to cover today’s existing #77 route. This would recreate the one-seat ride to downtown that riders of the old #16 Grove bus lost in the recent bus network redesign, while also opening up a one-seat ride from downtown to the shops at Three Chopt and Patterson. With proper timing, the #5A could provide seamless connections to the #19, making trips further west easier, and possibly saving GRTC money in the long run, too!
  • As with the #18, the City and County should improve sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure along the western part of this route—especially to encourage walking to and from UR’s campus.

#76 Patterson

  • Average weekly ridership: 429
  • Average weekly ridership per revenue service hour: 5.14
  • Route map

The #76 Patterson connects parts of the Museum District and the Near West End to Willow Lawn in the west and the Science Museum Pulse Station in the east. With nearly no bus service south of Broad Street in the Near West End, the #76 serves as a life-line route to get folks living in this lowish-density, mostly-residential part of town to better, more-frequent bus service while also providing access to homecare jobs. Honestly, this is a great example of a coverage route that most likely won’t serve a huge number of riders but saves a bunch of folks what could be a ½ mile walk to their nearest bus stop.


  • Implement improvements to the #77 Grove, see what folks think, and learn from those changes. Possible options include a similar interlining with the #5, merging it with the #76 while upping the frequency of the combined route, or leaving it as is.

These are just a few of the ways the region could work together to make a more frequent and far-reaching bus system that’s more useful for more folks. It is not, and is not intended to be, an exhaustive list! There are many clever bus solutions out there—some more expensive than others—but most of the above recommendations come directly from the region’s Transit Vision Plan. We have a blueprint for a truly regional system (which even has a little bit of rare regional buy-in), and all that’s left is to start putting the pieces together.