When City Council hired a consultant to conduct an $116,000 study of Charlottesville’s transit system, they asked the experts to “be bold” in redrawing the city’s bus routes.
However, that did not occur because Nelson Nygaard was told to stay within Charlottesville Area Transit’s existing $6.2 million annual operating budget.
“You asked us to start with a blank slate and make service more compelling,” said Geoff Slater of Nelson Nygaard. “What we found was that much of the CAT system works very well.”
However, Slater presented Council with options Monday on how the system could be expanded if more funding was available. For instance, to have buses run every 30 minutes on all routes would cost an additional $870,000 a year.
All five Councilors have expressed satisfaction with the results.
“Several of us were hoping we would be able to magically make the city into this flat gridded place where a trunk and feeder system would work,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos said. “I know we put a lot of pressure on you to come up with that answer, and that’s not the answer you came up with.”
The study recommends that the primary focus of the bus system should remain downtown, but Slater said investment in a transit hub at the corner of Jefferson Park Avenue and West Main Street would provide a second point for people to transfer between buses.
Slater said the recommendations have been altered following feedback at a December public hearing.
“We heard a lot from the Council about the importance of workforce training that occurs at night both at PVCC and CATEC,” Slater said.
Expanded service to those locations will cost an additional $50,000 above CAT’s existing budget.
Nelson Nygaard has proposed two options for a new Route 11.
Under one scenario, Route 11 would travel between downtown and CATEC via Fashion Square Mall. This option would serve the Greenbrier neighborhood, which is currently served by an on-demand bus service known as the LINK service that has an average of two riders a day.
Under the second alternative, Route 11 would travel along Park Street and East Rio Road rather than Greenbrier. The LINK service would be retained to serve that neighborhood.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted last week to give an additional $48,000 in CAT funding to help pay for the route if Council chooses this option.
Mayor Huja, a Greenbrier resident, supported Route 11 going through his neighborhood.
“I probably won’t ride it myself,” Huja said. He added the service should serve county residents but not at the expense of city residents.
The two other Councilors present disagreed.
“Having very quick access from downtown and points south of downtown to Fashion Square Mall is going to be extremely valuable to many of our residents [who work there],” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.
Szakos said she would prefer the service to take Rio Road in order to serve Treesdale Park and other new developments under construction.
The study was not received well by a founder of the Transit Riders Association of Charlottesville.
“Charlottesville needs to be developing a comprehensive, extensive and frequent public transportation system,” said Paul Long, who ran for City Council as an independent in 2009. “I don’t believe that the report… will offer anything positive in improving our public transportation system.”
Albemarle resident Nancy Carpenter said she was concerned that two routes – Route 1 and the new Route 11 – would not have service on Saturday.
“They are two routes without direct access to a grocery store and with no Saturday service, that could create quite a problem for residents,” Carpenter said.
Another man said service cuts to Belmont would hurt many who rely on public transportation.
“I was concerned that the new study stops all service to Belmont Park and people will have to walk three blocks to Elliot Avenue,” said Sam Towler.
“If they are really unable to walk that far, they should be eligible for JAUNT,” Szakos said.
Councilors Dave Norris and Dede Smith were not present at the meeting, but both offered comments via email.
“In terms of improving the routes I think they came up with some good ideas,” said Councilor Dave Norris. However, he added he would not support cuts to service in the Belmont neighborhood.
“I’m sure we will hear more from those impacted by individual routes and that’s a good thing,” said Councilor Dede Smith. ”We really depend on hearing from those who use public transit regularly.”
Council did not vote on the report and will decide on whether to implement the changes at a meeting in April.