Charlottesville Area Transit has recommended that existing routes be adjusted rather than developing a new system from scratch.
“What is out there on the streets is really working well,” said James Baker, vice president of the Connetics Transportation Group. He pointed to several years of ridership records as one measure of success.
The firm was hired to help CAT officials produce a transit development plan. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation requires that one be produced every six years.
Councilors had suggested at a work session last July that it might be more efficient to provide many smaller routes that would travel through neighborhoods more frequently.
Currently, all but one of CAT’s 13 routes radiate from a central point – the downtown transit center.
However, Baker said such “trunk and feeder” systems only work in densely populated cities with large street grids. He said while shorter routes would mean more frequent headways, some travelers would need to take as many as three buses to get to their destination.
“As the system grows and expands more into the county, I think there are some features of a trunk and feeder that would make a lot of sense. Because most of the destinations are in the city, having that radial structure still seems to make the most sense to us,” Baker said.
According to an onboard survey conducted last fall, the free trolley has 94,017 monthly riders and Route 7 serves 64,164 passengers a month. The next most-used is Route 5, which serves Albemarle County’s urban ring, with 19,183 riders.
The lowest ridership is on Routes 1A and 2A, which serve the Woolen Mills and Locust Grove neighborhoods. Ridership on each route only makes up 1 percent of CAT’s total ridership.
“Part of this is trying to recognize where the buses are running empty,” said Glen Waters, an associate with Connetics. “What can we take advantage of to [add service] where buses are running full?”
Connetics is recommending that the transit plan suggest two phases of changes, including shifting buses currently used on Route 1A and 2A to serve a major destination set to open at Pantops in August.
“It is very important that in this first phase, we maintain access to employment at the new Martha Jefferson hospital,” Waters said.
The second phase would end the practice of splitting certain routes into day and night service. Route 5 would be extended to Hollymead Town Center, and more routes would add service to Barracks Road Shopping Center.
The first phase would be budget neutral and the second phase would cost $800,000.
Additional service to Hollymead would be contingent upon additional funding. Wendell Wood, an owner and developer of the Hollymead Town Center, is required by a proffer to contribute $50,000 to transit service for ten years after service is extended there.
At a work session Thursday, City Councilor Kristin Szakos said she was disappointed that Connetics did not think more outside the box.
“I worry that it’s not going to reach out to people who aren’t taking the bus,” said Szakos. She indicated a preference to run routes into new areas of the city and county and asked for Connetics to try again to craft a trunk and feeder system.
Mayor Dave Norris said he would not support eliminating service to the Woolen Mills neighborhood.
“I understand the logic behind it, but that would be a real tough pill for me to swallow is stripping all transit service from that part of the city,” Norris said. He requested that Connetics devise a plan that would continue service in Woolen Mills.
Szakos said one solution might be to build a one-lane bridge over the Rivanna River to connect Woolen Mills to the Pantops area that would only be open to pedestrians, cyclists, and buses.
But Norris said he would not support such a structure.
“Ultimately, the temptation would be there to open it up to cars,” Norris said.
Even though he was not present, Councilor Satyendra Huja has previously called for a new route to be added to serve the Greenbrier neighborhood.Waters said the study felt that the single-family nature of that neighborhood would not lend itself to high ridership.
“We wondered if that neighborhood would support it,” Waters said. “They’re just not transit consumers.”
Councilors also asked if it would be possible to expand service on Sundays. Currently only the trolley and the Route 7 are available.
“Our focus has been on getting routes to be on time, and things that we think are going to boost service,” Waters said. “ For Sunday ridership, the most productive routes are already there. It probably won’t return a lot of ridership for the cost.”
Szakos requested more information on how much it would cost to add service anyway.
Norris observed that none of the changes planned in the next six years involved the use of the Meadowcreek Parkway.
“The parkway doesn’t create obvious new opportunities because at the north end most of the housing is single family,” said CAT Director Bill Watterson. However, he held out the possibility of an express service in the future.
“It could become an option if we thought we could fill a bus north and use this as an expressway,” Watterson said.
No decisions on route changes were made at the work session. Council will be presented with a final plan later this spring.