richmond

This week in transit: Every bus rider begins and ends their trip as a pedestrian

AROUND THE REGION

This past Tuesday, a GRTC Pulse driver hit and killed, Alice E. Woodson, 32, near the intersection of Broad and Lombardy Streets. According to WTVR, “early reports indicate that Woodson was in the bus lane and that the bus had the right of way when the collision occurred.” Regardless of who was at fault, this is an incredibly awful situation for everyone involved—the victim and their family, the bus operator, bus riders, and bystanders. Every bus rider begins and ends their trip as a pedestrian, and GRTC, the City, and the State should do everything in their respective powers to keep folks safe as they move around the region, whether that’s on foot, by bike, or taking the bus.

Related to pedestrian safety in the City of Richmond, the Mayor will introduce new legislation this coming Monday to “penalize motor vehicle operators who drive distracted while using a handheld communication device.”

Wyatt Gordon at Greater Greater Washington has an interview with GRTC’s new CEO, Julie Timm. She answers a few questions on ridership, stop amenities, regional funding, and fare evasion.

This past week, RVA Rapid Transit co-hosted a Richmond 5th District City Council candidate forum. We asked each of the candidates a bunch of policy-heavy questions on a variety of topics—including transportation. If you’re a 5th District resident, or just someone interested in how the next City Councilmember feels about transportation policy, take a look at the candidates’ full responses over on the Mayorathon website.

ELSEWHERE

This week, New York City transformed 14th Street into a busway by banning cars between Third and Ninth Avenues. This means an entire street of dedicated bus lanes—not just for bus rapid transit, but for regular ol’ local service buses. It’s been a massive success. Of course this was a tremendous political lift for advocates and transit supporters and not something you could just do overnight (although, Everett, Massachusetts did exactly that).

Our friends at TransitCenter have a new report out about fare policy—thrilling stuff! GRTC has implemented a chunk of the recommendations, but there are still some good opportunities to improve the fare policy in the Richmond region (fare capping!).

—Ross Catrow

What revenue service hours can tell us about bus ridership in Richmond

researched and co-authored by Nicholas Smith

Recently, we took a look at the most recent bus ridership numbers from GRTC and saw how making a bus more useful inevitably leads to more ridership. We can also dig a bit further into those ridership numbers and get a sense of which buses are most productive and which ones...are not.

When we look out across the entire GRTC system, a few things are clear. First, a handful of buses are absolutely workhorses and should be our focus when thinking about investments in greater frequency and on-street improvements that give priority to transit. Second, a few of the region’s less-frequent routes could definitely benefit from a frequency increase. At a minimum, the City should expand its frequent, daytime service to at least 10:00 PM.

We’ll jump into the data in a bit, but, first, it’ll help to understand revenue service hours. 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). Some bus routes are longer than others, so to compare apples to apples we want to see how many people are using a vehicle for every hour it is in service picking up and dropping off passengers. A quick example: It takes one single bus one single hour to run the entirety of GRTC’s Route #86. That bus leaves Southside Plaza at 5:40 AM, arrives at Ampthill Heights at 6:00 AM, and then returns to Southside Plaza at 6:26 AM. That is one service hour. If we wanted to double the frequency of Route #86 to every 30-minutes, we’d need to add an additional bus to the route. That’d be two service hours. That’s an oversimplification of the actual #86, but you get the point. More revenue service hours on a route (or in a bus system) means more bus service for riders.

Alright, with that in mind, here’s a graph of average weekly bus ridership by route from May 12th, 2019 through August 3rd, 2019.

Average weekly ridership by route.png

Clearly the #1ABC, #2ABC, #3ABC, and #5 are popular, high-ridership routes. This makes a lot of sense as they’re the most frequent local routes in the system. Again, if you make buses more useful—in this case by making them more frequent—more folks will ride them.

If we look at ridership data from the same time period by revenue service hour, things get a little more interesting. Remember, this is the number of riders for every hour an individual bus is out there picking up and dropping folks off. Frequent routes require more buses but should serve more people. Looking at ridership by revenue service hour lets us see which routes are the most productive, accounting for the frequency factor, and which routes need more investment.

Average weekly ridership per revenue hour 4.png

Again, the system’s frequent routes are at the top of the list with some really strong numbers. Consider the #1ABC, which requires ten buses to serve the entire line. With around 30 rides on each bus per revenue service hour, the combined #1ABC serves around 300 people every hour on average across the entire route. That’s awesome, and shows that GRTC’s frequent routes are excellent investments! In fact, when looking to expand and extend the Richmond region’s bus system, a good place to start would be to run these frequent routes later into the evening and on Sundays (currently, frequent service stops around 7:00 PM).

It’s clear that lots of folks—across many demographics and geographies—are already living, working, and playing near these frequent routes and that they would benefit from even more of that frequent service. Additionally, these frequent routes provide quick connections to the system’s less frequent routes, so riders headed to destinations all across the city would benefit from improvements to the frequent routes. And, don’t forget, like we saw in Henrico, extending frequent service later into the evening and on Sundays will make new trips possible and attract new riders. The City should do all it can to give on-street priority to these bus routes, which carry hundreds of people per hour, including more transit-only lanes, transit signal priority, and removing parking to install bus-boarding islands. Then, as ridership grows along these already-strong routes, we should start planning for increasing the frequency even further to 10-minutes—especially on the #1ABC and #5.

The next thing that jumps out is the strong performance of the #86. This hourly route serves a large portion of the city’s Southside, including parts of both the 8th and 9th City Council districts. It’s an area with a significant number of individuals living in poverty, a large Latinx and Black population, and a part of town that’s seeing a decrease in property values. It’s also a large area that’s only served by a handful of buses, leaving large gaps—sometimes almost spanning two miles—between routes. The #86 punches above its weight (or, rather, punches above its frequency) in terms of ridership per revenue service hour. It is the top candidate for a frequency increase from once an hour to twice an hour. Similarly, the East End’s #12, which serves multiple public housing neighborhoods and the new grocery store, would be a good place to consider an increase from 30-minute service to 15-minute service.

Express buses, which were not included on the above graphs are an entirely different situation because of their peak-only, inconsistent schedules. We’ll dig in more to the region’s express buses (and a bunch of other fascinating stuff) in the future. Stay tuned.

The Richmond region has seen a year’s worth of changes and improvements to its bus network—but we’re not done yet! There are easy wins to be had by giving on-street priority to our strongest bus routes and increasing the frequency of some less frequent routes that show strong potential. By far, the easiest, most beneficial change, would be to run today’s frequent service until at least 10:00 PM. This would give more folks more access to more opportunities for work or play, make new types of trips possible, and, ultimately, increase ridership.

A new analysis of Richmond’s bus network redesign

Last winter, VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis put out a report about Richmond’s bus network redesign (PDF) that claimed, among other things, that after the redesign 22% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop.

Today, the folks who redesigned the bus network, Jarrett Walker + Associates, released a memo detailing errors in methodology and with calculations in that original report (PDF). In fact, following CURA’s methodology and using their data, JWA found that only 2% fewer lower-income dwelling units were within 1/4 mile of a bus stop—and, of course, public transportation is about more than proximity to a bus stop. In fact, JWA notes that, with the new bus network, the average resident can access 6% more jobs in 45 minutes while the average lower-income resident can access 10% more jobs in that same time period.

From the Jarrett Walker + Associates release:

The CURA report also contains numerous calculation errors and key mistakes in its methods. For example:

  • CURA used a roadway network that excluded many potential walking paths. As a result, they calculated many walks as being longer than they actually are.
  • CURA excluded large parcels on the edge of their miscalculated walking areas entirely, even if only a small portion of the parcel was outside the walk area. For example, in their analysis of the old network, Creighton Court is fully within the ¼ mile area and all 356 dwelling units are counted in their numbers. For the new network, because less than 1% of Creighton Court is not covered by their walk area, none of the 356 dwelling units are counted.
  • CURA made manual adjustments to the results for dwelling units in low income areas but only for the old bus system and not for the new one, thus skewing the results in favor of the old network. This manual adjustment, and the other issues with their methods, lead to their erroneous result purporting to show a 22% decline in dwelling units in low income areas within ¼ mile of a bus stop. Strictly following their flawed methods would have shown only a 2% decline, without their skewed manual adjustments

And from a GRTC release:

JWA chose to review GRTC’s network changes after a December 2018 report erroneously and falsely concluded a significantly negative impact on disadvantaged populations. The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) at Virginia Commonwealth University released the report entitled “Impact of the GRTC 2018 Reroute on Richmond’s Disadvantaged Population” based on analysis mistakes, manual manipulations and incorrect data calculations, as JWA concludes.

GRTC Interim Chief Executive Officer Sheryl Adams says, “We cannot permit false assumptions to perpetuate in this community when GRTC, in partnership with local jurisdictions and quasi-governments, is committed to responding to the needs of the communities it serves. GRTC strongly endorses the conclusions of Jarrett Walker + Associates.”

VCU and GRTC sign a three-year agreement

Earlier this week, VCU signed a three-year agreement with GRTC to continue their unlimited rides program for all VCU, VCU Health System, and Virginia Premier students and employees. The program, which provides unlimited rides across the entirety of GRTC’s bus network, is extremely popular:

In a recent VCU survey, 95.4% of students and employees expressed support for a continuation of the existing transportation agreement VCU and GRTC have been piloting since August 2018. Since January, VCU community members have accounted for approximately 12% of GRTC’s total ridership, averaging 87,400 trips a month.

Not only will VCU extend their agreement with GRTC through 2022, but they’ll pay more for it, too. Beginning in August, the University will pay $1.42 million for the first year, $1.57 million and $1.65 million the following two years. VCU paid $1.2 million for its first pilot year.

Keeping the region’s largest employer (and university) on the bus is a huge win for the Richmond region. Now, it’s up to other larger employers in transit-accessible locations to begin offering similar bus pass programs to their employees, too.

A look at the GRTC spring route updates

This past Sunday, May 12th, GRTC rolled out their spring route updates, which included a handful of small tweaks and a few bigger adjustments. Here are a few highlights and thoughts:

  • The two Fulton routes, the #4A and #4B have had their peak frequencies returned to 15-minutes. Credit goes to advocates for reverting some of the frequency reductions to a neighborhood that was promised quick and efficient connections to the Pulse.
  • Routes #50, #76, and #77 will now continue farther into the city on their eastbound trips, turning around on Meadow Street and serving the new Whole Foods and any future development on that site. This change comes after GRTC agreed to remove the three lines from the block bordered by Grace, Robinson, Davis, and Broad, which then forced a temporary turn around on Science Museum property.
  • The #87 Bellemeade/Hopkins route will now run until 10:00 PM. This change is separate from the new—and even later—service that the Mayor proposed and City Council recently funded in this year’s budget process.
  • The #102x Kings Dominion is up and running for this summer season. Make sure you check the timetable (PDF) as the span varies depending on the month and day of the week. This bus also stops in downtown Ashland and could make for an interesting, permanent regional route with a big of planning and a bit of funding.

This week in transit: Contact your local legislators

TAKE ACTION

If you’re a Richmond City or Henrico County resident, please take two minutes of your day and email your representative in support of the funding for public transportation included in each locality’s budget. To recap:

  • In Richmond, the Mayor has proposed $965,000 in new funding for GRTC for “increased service and route frequency to those communities that need it the most.”
  • In Henrico, the County Manager has proposed $465,000 to preserve and continue the new service that they launched this past September.

Both of these are worthy investments by our region and should be encouraged! You can find contact information for the Richmond City Council here and contact information for the Henrico Board of Supervisors here. If you’re stuck on what your email should say, keep it simple! Something along the lines of: “I’m a constituent, and I’m happy to see more funding for GRTC in this year’s budget. Please support this much needed investment in our regional public transportation system.”

AROUND THE REGION

At a recent meeting, the GRTC Board of Directors voted to restore some of the frequent, 15-minute service to Fulton’s #4A and #4B bus routes. This peak-only restoration of service will allow folks to get in and out of Fulton—on the way to and from work—much more efficiently and will cut the average wait for folks transferring from the Pulse in half. As our region scrapes together the pieces of the skeletal beginnings of a regional public transportation system, it’s important to remember that even with the influx of funding mentioned above, the Richmond region still spends less on transit per capita than almost any of its peer cities.

ELSEWHERE

This past week, Gwinnett County voters went to the polls and, unfortunately, rejected a 1% sales tax increase to expand public transportation into their region. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board says that “the changing politics and demographics of Gwinnett seem to guarantee that MARTA will eventually arrive.” Also in the AJC, a demographic breakdown of the vote and five takeaways from their quick analysis of the turnout.

—Ross Catrow

This week in transit: GRTC looking for Fulton feedback

TAKE ACTION

On February 20th from 7:00–8:00 PM, GRTC will host a public meeting at the Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton to “solicit feedback from Greater Fulton residents, businesses and riders about bus routes serving this area.” This meeting will take place about a month after the two 15-minute routes connecting folks living in Fulton to the Pulse had their frequencies halved. If those changes impacted your commute, this would be the time and place to share those concerns with GRTC. Also, if your favorite Fulton bus stop needs benches, lights, a trash can, or a concrete pad you can and should bring those issues up at this meeting as well.

Also! Don’t forget about Chesterfield’s Route 1 public transportation survey! If you live, work, play, worship, or learn on the corridor please fill out this survey—and send it to other folks who do as well. It’s far past time Route 1 had dedicated, fixed-route public transportation service provided by GRTC!

AROUND THE REGION

GRTC will celebrate Black History month by continuing its tradition of honoring local Black history-makers. You can check out this year’s honorees over on the GRTC website.

The Nation has a long piece about how bad bus service and extreme commutes impact people’s lives in the Washington D.C. region. You should read through this piece with an eye toward Richmond, because, at least on a smaller scale, you can find most of the concerns raised right here in town. For example, this sentence but sub in Chesterfield and Henrico: “A lot of these workers in low-wage jobs—they either have to [move] to Prince George’s County, Maryland, or Alexandria, Virginia, and the transportation network has not changed to meet the changing demand”

ELSEWHERE

The link between the increase in use of transportation network companies (TNC), like Uber and Lyft, and the decrease in ridership of public transportation is complex but probably not positive. That said, pilot partnerships between ridesharing companies and public transit agencies, like this one in Los Angeles, can be interesting. Key points from this particular pilot: Trips must begin or end at one of three rail stations, the TNC involved (Via) avoids trips with a single passenger, and riders that are registered with the existing low-income fare program can ride for free.

Atlanta just hosted the Super Bowl and, as a result, marked record highs in transit ridership before and after The Big Game. The flexibility with which MARTA responded to the changing transit needs—running 24-hour rail service and adding trains—is impressive.

Streetsblog looks into how Seattle is putting pedestrians first when designing safe street crossings—something you’d think would be the default but, unfortunately, is not.

—Ross Catrow