#AskNicholas: Through routes?

Question: What about a bus route from Church Hill (#7) straight through Broad without stopping at the Transfer Plaza?

Nicholas: Part of the new network redesign was indeed reinstituting through service, which is more efficient for a few reasons. First, it allows a few one-seat rides through downtown, though most people will still need to transfer. But more importantly, it is a more efficient use of bus time. Through buses can continue on through without a 5-10 min layover downtown, and eliminating that layover means you no longer need to find a place for 25 buses to layover for 5 minutes each—which is good because space downtown is at a premium.

Additionally, most buses today make a big loop around downtown, so people can reach a variety of destinations both at the top and bottom of the hill. Imagine two routes, #1 and #2, with a single bus doing route #1 and then route #2, alternatingly. Say that each route spends 45 minutes outside of downtown and 15 minutes looping around downtown, for a total of two hours for one bus to do both routes. Now combine routes #1 and #2 together. You still have 45 minutes each on the outer parts of the route (for a total of 90 minutes) and yet only 15 minutes downtown, because that overlapping downtown part was being duplicated by both routes. So instead of two hours, you can do the through running route in an hour and 45 minutes. This saved time means you can extend the routes slightly or run more frequent service with fewer buses. For example, to run a bus every 15 minutes on a 2-hour cycle you need 8 buses, but on a 1 hour, 45 minute-cycle you only need 7 buses. Now all these buses can be used more efficiently to improve the system all over.

All this came together in the new system (take a look at the new maps on GRTC’s website) when they looked at which routes to combine. W. Broad Street has been combined with E. Main Street on the Pulse, and the Fairfield/Mosby bus has been combined with a new bus on W. Cary Street/Main Street. North-South buses have been combined, and a few other routes have also been combined for scheduling purposes, even if the numbers don't show it (the Randolph and Oak Grove buses, the Grove and Patterson buses).

Through running the #7 with the new #14 might be an option one day, but it would remove local service on E. Main Street and the connection with all the buses at 24th and Main, unless you make all the #7 riders detour. You could also through run it with more service into Southside at some point, which could be done as the system grows. Regardless, this is a very insightful question, and really made me think.

#AskNicholas: A regional transit system

Question: How will rapid transit in Richmond overcome opposition by the Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover Board of Supervisors?

Nicholas: Richmond has control of its own jurisdiction, so does not need to overcome any county resistance to put in rapid transit within the city limits. But, fortunately, county resistance is starting to erode. Henrico has already partnered with Richmond to build the first rapid transit line (the Pulse), and is currently working on a plan to both adjust its routes based on Richmond's new system and expand service in the near future. Just recently, a majority of the Henrico Board of Supervisors announced they were in favor of extending the Broad Street bus (the #19) to Short Pump in this budget cycle. Since the plans have already been studied and prepared for a few years at the regional and now Henrico level, there's even chance we could see a bus to Short Pump this summer! After that, expect more.

We've also heard enthusiasm from many people in Chesterfield, Hanover, and Ashland. Chesterfield Supervisor Jim Holland has talked about service on Routes 1 and 10, and Supervisor Steve Elswick has made some positive comments. Sheriff Karl Leonard thinks giving people other transportation options will help stop people who have lost their driver's license from getting incarcerated—which will save the county money. And Ashland really wants a dedicated connection to the region by bus, likely along Route 1 into the city.

Of course, the best way to impress upon elected leaders that people in the Richmond region want better transit is to literally impress upon them by speaking to them by phone, email, or in person. Letting elected officials know what you, the constituents, want is incredibly important!

#AskNicholas: Ugh, 1-hour buses

Question: How can a 1-hour frequency bus be considered as attractive transportation?

Nicholas: A 1-hour frequency bus line is not an attractive transportation option for most people, and we've talked often about how frequency is important. However, GRTC does not have the budget to run frequent service to all parts of the city, let alone all parts of the region, and their budget comes mostly from government funding. If we want better and more frequent service, we need to ask our elected officials—at all levels of government—to allocate more money to transit. Reducing service in one area to increase it another will just pit citizens in one neighborhood against another. We need more transit service everywhere, and that means more funding, so please let your elected officials know!

#AskNicholas: A north-south line?

Question: If our goal is to provide transport for low-income households, wouldn't a north-south Pulse line be more effective than east-west? What is the Value of the east-west line?

Nicholas: A north-south line would indeed be very valuable—it shouldn't be either-or, but both! The current #37 Chamberlayne is one of the most used lines in the city. It has high ridership and frequent service, which will only increase in the newly redesigned transit network. Additionally, the #32 Ginter Park and #34 Highland Park buses will get better too, and there will be more consistent service on many of north-south routes on the Southside as well. Bus lanes and signal priority, like on the Pulse corridor, would be great for other these routes too! We don't have to start with a full BRT, but just slowly upgrade street after street until more areas get quicker, more reliable service.

However, the east-west route is very useful. Broad Street currently hosts about 20 routes downtown, and nine routes on West Broad (#1, #2, #3, #4, #6, #10, #19, #21, #24). If you add up all the people on all those buses, that's way more than any other corridor in the city. All of those buses are spending a lot of time duplicating each other's service, and it's often you see two buses following each other, each half full. Combining those routes into one single route with a dedicated bus lane and signal priority will quicken many people's trips. Using all that wasted time to provide better service elsewhere in the city means that at no cost we can provide more frequent service elsewhere. Lastly, Henrico is now redesigning its system around the Pulse, and this will likely spur future expansion and service increases to many important places, including West Broad, Short Pump, Eastern Henrico, and the Airport.

#AskNicholas: Only 14 stops?

Question: Did I hear correctly that there are only 14 stops for all of Broad Street?

Nicholas: There Pulse has 10 stops on Broad Street, with the remaining four stops on or just off of E. Main Street. Stopping less often, with wider stop spacing, means more time that the bus is in motion, so quicker trips—just like a subway. When GRTC implements it's network redesign, a combination of routes will still provide local service—with more frequent stops—along the majority of Broad Street.

P.S. I'm happy to help anyone with specific questions about their routes!

#AskNicholas: Parking???

Question: What will this do to parking on Broad?

Nicholas: To answer this question, GRTC commissioned an incredibly detailed parking study (PDF). 315 parking spaces on Broad, between Thompson and 14th Street, will be removed to create the bus lanes. Before the removal, there were 5,000 on-street parking spaces on or within one block of Broad, as well as 6,500 off-street spaces. Over 97% of spaces will be retained. Further, those spaces are often not used even close to capacity. Certainly there are some cases where at some time of day a block may have no available parking spaces, but that is true today and won't change much. Most of the time, people will still be able to find a spot within a block fairly quickly. And even then, if we ask bus riders to walk a few blocks to get where they're going, it seems fair to ask people driving to do the same.

#AskNicholas: Getting the Pulse out to Short Pump

Question: When will the Pulse go out to Short Pump?

Nicholas: We want the Pulse will go to Short Pump soon, but, as an advocacy group, we can't put a date on it. However, starting when the Pulse opens, Henrico will run its Broad Street bus, the #19, from Willow Lawn to Gaskins every 30 minutes (but not on evenings and weekends).

Henrico's portion of the Transit Development Plan, while not yet finalized, is almost sure to extend that route to Short Pump and expand the hours of operation. When that plan is implemented depends on when funds are available. So, especially if you live, work, or shop in Henrico, let your supervisor know that transit funding is important to you!

#AskNicholas: Easy fare payment

Question: Do you see a payment system like Uber for buses?

Nicholas: A payment system like Uber for buses (and trains) sort of exists! In some transit systems, you can download an app and purchase your pass with a credit card as the bus arrives, then show your device to the driver or an inspector if drivers don't check fares. Milwaukee has this for buses (show the driver) and Germany has it for trains (an inspector may come by).

GRTC is testing mobile payments on its buses, which it hopes to debut to the public soon, and it will soon have tap cards, like in DC and elsewhere. Eventually, GRTC may allow you to link your tap card to your credit card so it automatically renews a monthly/weekly pass or a fixed amount (e.g. $10-$20) when you run out. And since there's no surge pricing and fares are fixed (not based on distance), you'll know exactly how much you're paying without ever having to worry about if you have enough money in your account. How easy is that?

#AskNicholas: Transit and the Amazon HQ2 RFP

Question: Amazon has made transit a critical part of the HQ2 RFP process. Do you expect this to become a trend?

Nicholas: I think it's already a trend! More and more, businesses are locating near transit: we've seen this just up the road in the DC area, with businesses requiring office space near a metro station and Tysons seeing huge development. Though not everyone will want to use transit, many people do, and while predicting this with 100% certainty is impossible, I expect this trend will only increase. Businesses are on board in the Richmond region (CoStar and Owens & Minor, for example), and the city of Richmond is seeing more people move to it than any of the region's counties—and transit is certainly a factor.

#AskNicholas: Smaller buses and stop spacing

Question: 1) Why do bus systems not use smaller buses for low-usage routes? 2) What is the optimum gap/distance between stops?

Nicholas: Using smaller buses doesn't usually reduce costs much and may actually cost more. Smaller buses are cheaper to buy but generally don't last as long, both in time and number of miles travelled, so they must be replaced more often. (If you can solve this problem, you can probably make a lot of money!) Smaller buses may use less fuel, but fuel is a minor cost compared to labor costs, including the driver and maintenance, which are usually the same regardless of the type of bus you have. Fairfax County found that the larger buses, which are about 3/4 of the buses in US public transit fleets, were cheaper over their entire lifespan.

Nicholas: Richmond recently started applying a five-stops-per-mile stop spacing policy. The main advantage of consolidating stops like this is that you eliminate much of the time a bus spends slowing down, opening doors, and accelerating. If you go from 20 stops with one person waiting at each to 10 stops with two people waiting at each, you save all that slow time and only add the extra second it takes to load the second passenger. Optimal stop spacing for buses is usually about a quarter mile, but varies depending on the street layout: Long blocks may have a stop at every cross street while short blocks at every third cross street.

However, this doesn't mean people have to walk a quarter mile extra to get to the closest bus stop! Imagine walking to Broad Street in downtown Richmond, an area with short blocks that could have stops every third cross street (at 3rd, 6th, 9th, etc). If you're coming on 3rd, 6th, or 9th, your bus stop is right there. If you're coming on 4th, 7th, or 10th, then you'll walk just one block west. If you're coming on 5th, 8th, or 11th, then you'll walk just one block east. At most you're walking one block extra, which might be just 300 ft (1/18th of a mile).

Of course, each situation is different, so if you have a large, popular destination you might want an additional stop. In areas with low ridership buses rarely stop, so stops can be more frequent.