April’s (great) GRTC ridership stats

At least week’s board meeting, GRTC released another round of ridership numbers (PDF) that showed, yet again, Richmonders continue to get on the bus.

Some highlights:

  • Since this past July, the entire GRTC system saw 7.1 million rides and, with a couple months left in the fiscal year, is just 300,000 rides from eclipsing last fiscal year’s total.

  • Across the system, ridership is up 17% compared to this time last year.

  • April was the second highest ridership month since this past October, with 772,979 rides.

  • The average weekday ridership of the Pulse has reached 7,075. This is over twice the original goal of 3,500 rides.

  • In April, VCU-affiliated folks took 102,278 rides, which made up 13.5% of the entire system ridership.

  • The data provided by GRTC doesn’t line up quite right to figure out exactly what percentage of rides on the Pulse are taken by VCU-affiliated folks, but it’s somewhere around 30%.

As you can see, Richmond continues to buck the national trend of decreasing bus ridership using a simple recipe of fast, frequent, and reliable service. The more the region continues to invest in high-quality public transportation, the more folks will ride.

You can read the press release over on GRTC’s website.

This week in transit: Another month, another ridership increase

TAKE ACTION

Just a couple weeks ago now, Richmond’s City Council passed a budget that included funding for bus service upgrades in the East End and on the Southside. In case you need a refresher: GRTC will design a new route to serve the recently-opened East End grocery store, extend the service hours on the Southside’s #86 and #87, and add Sunday service to the #2B.

Mark your calendars! The public meetings to discuss these service upgrades are on June 4th at the Southside Community Services Center, Room A (4100 Hull Street Road) from 5:30–6:30 PM and June 6th at the East End Branch Library (1200 N. 25th Street) from 6:00–7:00 PM.

These meetings are a good opportunity to get into the specifics with GRTC of how the new service upgrades will work—especially that new East End route. If you can’t make either of the meetings, you can always send an email to

AROUND THE REGION

Bus ridership in the Richmond region continues to increase in an incredible way (PDF), setting us apart from almost every other city in America. This is really stunning and something we should celebrate. As of April, with two months remaining in the fiscal year, GRTC saw almost 400,000 more rides this year than last. Not only that, but weekday Pulse ridership has doubled the original projections. Getting more folks on the bus is not a mysterious and magical thing—it just requires jurisdictions across the region to invest in faster, more frequent, and more reliable service. It’s nice to finally see some national recognition for the work being done in the Richmond region.

Despite the nationally-unique, month-after-month increase in ridership, the public narrative around GRTC in Richmond has, at least recently, seemed focused on fare evasion—despite no evidence that it’s a significant problem on the Pulse. So, acting on a directive from City Council to do something to dissuade folks from riding without paying, this past week GRTC’s board considered a pretty terrible advertising campaign to shame transit riders and threaten to “expose” them for evading fare. First, we don’t use this sort of language for people who illegally park, and we shouldn’t use it for people riding transit. Second, you can imagine a world where these ads could have simply said something like “It’s fair to pay your fare.” and totally eschewed the shame-based language. Third, King County, Washington, recently did a study on fare evasion (PDF) and found that “people experiencing homelessness or housing instability received nearly 25% of [fare evasion] citations.” If the City and GRTC still feel like spending resources on a marketing campaign to curb fare evasion (without knowing if it’s even a problem), they need to use better and more compassionate language.

As the State continues to build, renovate, and update their properties in and around the Capitol, transportation continues to feel the impact. The eastbound Pulse lane between 9th and 10th has been closed and will be closed indefinitely until the new General Assembly building is completed. Now, the State will close 9th Street and portions of Grace Street, detouring two 15-minute bus routes (the #2 and #5). They’ll also install “two new gates controlling traffic at the south end of the street at Bank Street,” which, if they’re anything like the gate on the other end of Bank Street, don’t sound particularly friendly to people on bikes.

—Ross Catrow

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: How to make transit better in a single week

AROUND THE REGION

Chesterfield County launched a new on-demand transportation program for folks “who either have a disability, live in a low-income household, or have reached age 60.” This is a useful service to some, but, at $6 per ride and no connection into the rest of the regional bus network, it’s not something that folks can use as a day-to-day transportation option. Chesterfield County still needs to provide fixed-route bus service, run by GRTC, along its major corridors.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a neat article about the challenges and process involved in designing the landscape around the Pulse stations. Looking forward to when all of those plants start to fill out a bit!

Maritza Pechin, who’s running the Richmond 300 master planning process, was on the Building Better Communities with Transit podcast talking about the Pulse, the long-range planning process, and transit-oriented development. You can read a bit about it over on the TOD Resources blog.

ELSEWHERE

RVA Rapid Transit board member Nicholas Smith lists five steps Montreal will take in a single week to improve transit, getting around by bike, and walking: bus lanes, bike lanes, parking enforcement, more bike share, and free transit fares for disadvantaged youth. That’s some incredible work for a single week and should inspire our local leaders to get moving on some improvements in our region.

Speaking of improvements to bus systems, Muni is doing some hard work in San Francisco to support the increase in bus ridership they’ve seen. The best thing they’ve done to improve and speed up bus service? Transit-only lanes on congested roads—I’m looking at you, 14th Street.

While we don’t have scooters in Richmond (yet), Indianapolis already has several fleets and will now work on how to equitably distribute the vehicles to provide better first/last-mile connections. While scooters won’t solve every transit problem, they can definitely be part of a package of solutions.

—Ross Catrow

GRTC’s ridership up 23% year-over-year in March

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We’ve got new ridership numbers (PDF) hot off the presses from GRTC’s board meeting today. The big news: Fixed-route ridership in March is up by 144,840 as compared to last March. That’s a 24.48% increase!

Some other interesting bits:

  • The number of One Ride Cash Passes sold is down 41.27%, which is probably a result of more folks transferring due to the new system design, taking advantage of all-day passes, and using the mobile app.
  • Paratransit, aka CARE service, is down by 8%.
  • The Pulse accounted for 32.78% of all rides in March (175,361).

This week in transit: The importance of the GRTC and VCU partnership

AROUND THE REGION

Adam Lockett at RVA Mag writes about the importance of the partnership and pilot program between GRTC and VCU. That partnership is in the midst of renegotiation, and we’ll probably soon know how the two will move forward. I agree with Lockett: Any reduction in scope of the partnership—either by eliminating the program entirely or making only the Pulse and #5 bus available to VCU students, faculty, and staff—would be detrimental to all of the public transit momentum we have in town. I’m hopeful that VCU will go ahead and make the current pilot program permanent while also paying their full and fair share of that cost. This quote from a March 19th article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch makes me think that’s still an option: “VCU and VCU Health remain committed to continuing to fund a cost-effective transportation option that provides our students and employees with access to the entire GRTC system.”

ELSEWHERE

Here’s a fascinating-yet-nerdy transportation chart: How the length of time you feel like you’ve been waiting for the bus is impacted by the amenities of the bus stop. If your bus stop has shelter, seating, and realtime arrival information, there’s a significant impact on your perceived waiting time—reducing it by as much as 35%! Also interesting, although not unexpected, lack of amenities at a bus stop increases the perceived waiting time for women much more than men.

The City of Chicago wanted to increase bus ridership and in an attempt to do so installed a clever combined bus lane / bike lane pilot program that turned out to be a complete success. Bus speeds went up 65% and now the city wants to try the experiment elsewhere.

There’s been a lot written about the failed transit-funding referendum in Gwinnett County, Georgia as transit advocates and opponents process what happened. I enjoyed this opinion piece about the business benefits of public transportation that are no longer on the table for the county. Back in Richmond, we could use some of the region’s business leaders to step up and write a few things like this!

—Ross Catrow

Community engagement is hard

From this post, Coming to Racial Terms with Trickle-Down Urbanism: A personal TOD journey (Part II), on Mariia Zimmerman’s blog:

We fall into the trap of trying to convince the community that transit and TOD are the answer, and then asking them to help us tweak the explanation and buy into the argument. The irony is that improved transit and greater housing choices are most likely what the community wants as well, but it’s the process of engagement, trust and partnership with local residents and business owners where we often fall short.

Read the whole thing, but the above quote is especially pertinent to Richmond. We can do better, and, I believe, we (RVA Rapid Transit, GRTC, the region) are taking steps in the right direction.

This week in transit: The Richmond region lacks dedicated transportation funding

AROUND THE REGION

With the end of the 2019 General Assembly session, Richmond is now Virginia’s only major metro area without dedicated transportation funding, says Ned Oliver at the Virginia Mercury. Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, and, now, Southwest Virginia have regional funding sources available for transportation projects—with Northern Virginia using some of that to build and pay for public transportation. Oliver gets into a bit of the history behind why the Richmond region lacks a similar bucket of funding and how we can get it. Senator McClellan underscores the importance of if/when Richmond has a similar funding mechanism that we use a portion of it to start building a truly regional public transportation system.

Richmond Magazine’s Sarah King has a small update on bringing public transportation to Route 1 in Chesterfield County. The County has applied for a state grant that could pay for some sort of transportation service for up to three years. They’ll find out the status of their application later this spring.

ELSEWHERE

A constant question: How can we use the tools and resources we have on hand to improve bus service now without spending a ton of money? The answer is usually surprisingly simple: Bus lanes, transit signal priority, and other small changes to infrastructure that prioritize giving street space to buses. It’s not always about building a huge new transportation project, but, sometimes, it’s just about small, quick, and cheap improvements.

Chicago has elected a new mayor, and her transportation platform has a bunch of smart ideas that we should steal in Richmond. This one in particular is big and something to strive for: “Work to ensure every Chicagoan lives within a 15 minute walk of reliable 24-hour transit service.”

Now this is neat and depressing: The Guardian has some maps of public transit systems in different cities comparing the street-car era to present day. Spoiler: We used to have lots more public transportation before the car ate America.

—Ross Catrow