Officials with Charlottesville Area Transit unveiled minor adjustments Monday to routes that serve the southern side of the city, just a month after being told by City Council to gather feedback on changes that had been crafted without public input.
“Since the presentation to council, there has been an email storm which has been interesting to see and we’ve learned a lot,” said Lance Stewart, acting manager of CAT.
Stewart said the changes had been proposed as part of annual review of the system.
“Usually, these are pretty minor unless there is something major like the opening of the Downtown Transit Station,” Stewart said.
Ever since the station opened in 2008, 12 out of CAT’s 13 routes stop at the center on Water Street under a “timed-pulse” system.
Earlier this year, the council hired Nelson Nygaard to conduct a $116,000 study of whether the system could be rebuilt under a “trunk and feeder” system that would have more frequent buses traveling on shorter loops.
While the draft of that study won’t be unveiled until mid-October, the “trunk and feeder” philosophy is already being reflected in the new route proposal.
Route 4, which serves the Fry’s Spring, Johnson Village and Forest Hills neighborhoods, could no longer go downtown. Instead, passengers seeking that destination would have to transfer to the free trolley either at Maury Avenue or West Main Street.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from our drivers that [Route 4] is inefficient,” said Juwhan Lee, CAT’s operations manager. “It’s not on time a lot and you need that to happen so that the buses all meet up at the same time. The route is also circuitous. If you look at it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
At the beginning of a public meeting Monday, Lee detailed the changes to Route 4 and two other routes.
Many people had questions about how they would get downtown and Lee repeatedly explained the location of the proposed transfer points. Under one option, one for Route 4 would be at Maury Avenue.
“Is it just an open-air space?” asked one man on crutches. “People with wheelchairs need a place to sit.”
“Right now, the stop on Maury is simply a pole,” Lee said. “If it does turn into a transfer point, we would definitely beef it up a little bit to have shelter.”
After that exchange, Stewart and Lee showed five options for how routes 3, 4 and 6 could be changed. Under some of them, Route 4 would terminate at Willoughby Shopping Center on Fifth Street Extended.
“It would be great to be able to get to the only shopping center in our area,” said Fry’s Spring resident Andrea Weider.
However, others wanted the system to remain in its current state.
“I urge you to keep the four going downtown,” said a man who would only give his first name, David.
“Knowing a bus is going to come by every 30 minutes doesn’t help me understand how long it will take me to get to my destination,” said Fry’s Spring resident Susan Elliott.
She said she can walk from her home to downtown Charlottesville in 45 minutes but bus rides can sometimes take an hour.
Former City Council candidate Brandon Collins was not able to attend Monday, but submitted his comments in writing.
“I feel strongly that the proposed changes, while fundamentally coming from the right mindset, should be on hold until the Nelson Nygaard study is complete,” Collins said in his
statement. “This is only a matter of month’s difference, and worth the wait in my mind.”
City Councilor Dede Smith asked if the five options would change again once Nelson Nygaard makes its draft proposals public in mid-October.
“Our roads are what our roads are,” Stewart said. “People work where they work and grocery stores are where grocery stores are. … If you’re on the 4 now, there’s going to be something else that looks like it.”
Lee said all of the options are on the table.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Lee said.
Stewart admitted he could have handled the public process better to avoid confusion.
“I have learned a lesson over the course of this last six weeks,” Stewart said. “This is my first public process.”
CAT will hold a meeting Oct. 16 at the Downtown Transit Station to collect public input on the Nelson Nygaard study. A second meeting will be held later in the fall before a final report is delivered to the council this winter.