The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has directed planning staff to find out whether the county could obtain federal and state funding to operate its own bus system.
“What I’ve heard is that the county could be a recipient of funding from the [federal government] on its own,” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said Wednesday. “There’s more to be learned, so I would like to know if that is true, and then how that is accomplished.”
Supervisors have been searching for ways to expand transit service within Albemarle’s urban ring.
In the current fiscal year, the county contributed $1 million to Charlottesville Area Transit’s annual budget of $7.2 million. CAT is a division of the city’s public works department.
Mallek, a member of the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board, said she wants a staff briefing on possible ways the county could offer its own transit alternative.
“I think that there are ways the county can act and do more with transit itself, but I don’t know what they are,” Mallek said. “I’d like to find out more … before we have another meeting with our neighboring jurisdiction.”
Albemarle supervisors will hold a joint meeting with City Council on Feb. 16. The two bodies were to have met Thursday, but the meeting was postponed.
“We’ll be more effective at our joint meeting if we know what we’re talking about,” Mallek said.
Supervisors and city councilors are expected to hear a presentation from Chip Boyles, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. That agency has been studying ways that CAT can work better with other area transit agencies such as the University Transit System and JAUNT.
Boyles said Thursday that he believes Albemarle would be eligible for federal funding but that the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation would have the final say.
“There would require much work to determine how two urban systems could be divided if overlapping service areas occurred,” Boyles said. “The regional study will address a number of these areas and offer recommendations for immediate and longer-term action.”
Supervisor Brad Sheffield is the executive director of JAUNT, an agency that recently launched commuter service between Hollymead Town Center and downtown Charlottesville via the University of Virginia. The agency is exploring creating a commuter service for Crozet.
The county contributed $1.5 million to JAUNT in the current fiscal year.
Sheffield urged his colleagues to articulate exactly what they want out of a transit service.
“I think that would give staff better direction,” Sheffield said.
Sheffield said he would recuse himself from any decisions involving the county paying for additional transit due to a conflict of interest.
Supervisors and councilors met twice in 2008 to discuss creating a joint regional transit authority and agreed to work toward legislation to allow for the formation of the authority, as well as a dedicated sales tax increase to pay for its operations. The General Assembly passed a bill allowing for the authority but declined to allow the community to hold a voter referendum on the merits of a tax increase.
Without a dedicated funding source and in the midst of a declining economy, the council and the board opted to shelf the idea.
Sheffield said a report produced at the time by the firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin could be updated.
“If the board wants to focus on economic development, then we have to inform our planners about the way transit needs to connect people to jobs,” Sheffield said. “That study did that. It identified where our employment centers are, as well as our population centers.”
Chairwoman Diantha McKeel recently read the VHB report.
“Light bulbs just started going off for me, and it actually mentioned specific areas that are very much like ours that had done exactly what we were talking about doing,” McKeel said.
County Executive Tom Foley said he was concerned about the level of study that might be required if Albemarle could run its own bus routes.
“We might get some money, but the question is, if we had to take over county routes, would it be enough to continue the routes,” Foley said.
Foley will step down at the end of the month to become the administrator of Stafford County.
“There probably needs to be more discussion about the concerns you have with the current transit system,” Foley suggested.