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.

This week in transit: Buses could be coming to Chesterfield County!?

AROUND THE REGION

Big, big Chesterfield news, y’all! On May 22nd, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors heard an update on the (potential) pilot program to bring public transportation to Route 1. You can listen to the entire presentation over on the Board's website (skip forward to 2:08:00). Some background: Chesterfield has applied to the State's Department of Rail and Public Transportation for 80% of the operating costs of running buses along Route 1 from the city limits to John Tyler Community College. That's about $2 million, for two years, renewable for an additional third year. That level of funding makes the total pilot program pretty dang affordable for the County.

As part of the process to kick off this pilot, the County worked with SIR to survey residents along the corridor to gauge the community's interest. The results were about as pro-transit as you can get: 75% of respondents felt like public transit would benefit the corridor and 30% said they'd be likely to use it.

Chesterfield's Director of Transportation Jesse Smith said the next step is to meet with GRTC and talk through some details, and, after that, service could start as soon as spring 2020! Very exciting.

One small caveat / thing to keep an eye on! Originially, the County was considering two different transit options for Route 1: Fixed-route service provided by GRTC, and a hybrid, on-demand service provided by a private company. Survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred the GRTC option, and, after listening to the presentation, it sure seems like the County has decided to move forward with GRTC.

TAKE ACTION

Did you know that June 18th is Richmond’s Multimodal Day? Well, it is, and it’s a new initiative from the City’s Department of Public Works to encourage folks to get out of their cars while moving around the city. You’ve got a couple of weeks to plan for it, so mark June 18th on your calendar as a day to walk, bike, scoot, or take the bus to wherever you’re headed. You can sign the pledge form here.

Also, don’t forget about this week’s GRTC meetings! They’re your chance to weigh in on the City’s proposed bus service improvements on the Southside and in the East End:

  • Tuesday, June 4th, 5:30–6:30 PM; Southside Community Services Center Room A (4100 Hull Street Road)
  • Thursday, June 6th, 6:00–7:00 PM; East End Branch Library (1200 N. 25th Street)

ELSEWHERE

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog has an excellent article about the changing racial demographics of Detroit and Atlanta and how that’s having an impact on public transportation. A lot of this should sound familiar and applies to the Richmond region as well: “But Rochester Hills’s refusal to fund transit service of any kind can exert an especially brutal toll on low-income workers, like Robertson, who may need to commute into the suburb from other areas...In some of the wealthy, mostly white suburbs of Oakland County, north of Detroit, like Rochester Hills, refusing to allow transit service has a long, ugly history. Historically, a lack of transit helped maintain racial segregation.”

—Ross Catrow

Buses could come to Route 1 in Chesterfield as soon as spring of 2020

On May 22nd, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors heard an update on the (potential) pilot program to bring public transportation to Route 1. You can listen to the entire presentation over on the Board's website (skip forward to 2:08:00). Some background: Chesterfield has applied to the State's Department of Rail and Public Transportation for 80% of the operating costs of running buses along Route 1 from the city limits to John Tyler Community College. That's about $2 million, for two years, renewable for an additional third year. That level of funding makes the total pilot program pretty dang affordable for the County.

As part of the process to kick off this pilot, the County worked with SIR to survey residents along the corridor to gauge the community's interest. The results were about as pro-transit as you can get: 75% of respondents felt like public transit would be beneficial to the corridor and 30% said they'd be likely to use it.

Chesterfield's Director of Transportation Jesse Smith said the next step is to meet with GRTC and talk through some details, and, after that, service could start as soon as spring 2020! Very exciting.

One small caveat / thing to keep an eye on! Originially, the County was considering two different transit options for Route 1: Fixed-route service provided by GRTC, and a hybrid, on-demand service provided by a private company. Survey respondents overwhelmingly preferred the GRTC option, and, after listening to the presentation, it sure seems like the County has decided to move forward with GRTC.

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).