By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, May 29, 2009

At their meeting on May 27, 2009, the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was presented details on a possible new marketing strategy for the

Charlottesville Transit Service

(CTS), heard more information about how federal stimulus money is being spent on transit systems in Virginia, and adopted the



UNJAM 2035 long-range transportation plan

.


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A new identity for the Charlottesville Transit Service?

Since January, Selena Barlow with the firm Transit Marketing has been working with CTS to help improve the agency’s communications and branding strategy. Part of that work has involved a week-long survey of over 3,000 bus riders conducted this spring. Here are some of the findings:




Download Selena Barlow’s presentation to the MPO

Barlow said all of the above information indicates that Charlottesville is a community supportive of transit, but she said that the numbers could improve if people knew more about how to use the system.

“There’s a high level of awareness for CTS but not a lot of knowledge,” Barlow said. “People know the bus system and know a little about it, but when I started to dig a little deeper into what people knew about there were a lot of misperceptions.” In particular, she said people are not aware that transfers between routes are free.  She said many people requested GPS-locator systems in the survey. CTS began using such systems in 2008, and

added a Google Transit feature in December 2008

.





The existing CTS logo

Barlow said much of that information could be better relayed to the public if CTS incorporated a branding strategy that included a more navigable website. She said the existing brand may be dated and somewhat ineffective.

“It doesn’t really communicate transit unless you’re seeing it on the side of a bus,” Barlow said. This would be an ideal time to consider a new brand, according to Barlow. “One of the reasons this came up early on was the possibility of transitioning to a Regional Transit Authority and introducing a new name that would be appropriate for use when that transition happens.”

One potential idea that came up in a branding workshop was to rename the service as CAT, which could represent Charlottesville Area Transit or Charlottesville Albemarle Transit. That would allow the use of a slogan such as “catch the cat.”  She suggested such a slogan could lead people to a website that was much more accessible than the CTS’ existing site, which is currently nested inside the City’s website.

“It’s not a bad website, it has a lot of information, but it’s not really that easy for a novice user to use,” Barlow said. A website dedicated to the transit service would be more user-friendly and could lead to more riders.






MPO welcomes new TJPDC Executive Director






Steve Williams, the new Executive Director of the TJPDC




This MPO meeting was the first attended by Steve Williams,

the new Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

. Williams said he has worked for various MPO’s across the country over the past 25 years. His last job was in Nashua, New Hampshire, a community he said was of similar size to the Charlottesville-Albemarle area.

Williams said he did not want to be labeled as being an expert in any one area of transportation. He told the MPO Policy Board that all modes of transportation must work in order for a metropolitan area to function.

“I think we are moving into a period in time where we at the MPO level will be challenged in ways that we have not been challenged before,” Williams said. Those challenges include finding local methods of funding transportation projects as well as connecting land use with transportation planning.


MPO holds two public hearings to adjust Transportation Improvement Program

Federal planning for improvements to transportation includes a lot of layers of paperwork in order to track the status of the hundreds of projects planned for any one given MPO area. If any new sources of money become available, the changes must be reflected in an MPO’s

Transportation Improvement Program

(TIP). Any change to the TIP must be accompanied by a public hearings.




Download Melissa Barlow’s staff report for the I-64 TIP adjustment

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has so far resulted in more money for transportation maintenance projects in the Charlottesville MPO’s jurisdiction. That required the MPO to hold two public hearing at the May 2009 meeting.

First, the MPO officially placed $1.3 million in stimulus money from  ARRA on the TIP to indicate that the Charlottesville Transit Service will receive the funds to pay for two new buses, four new shelters, as well as spare parts and other various pieces of equipment. None of the money, which was funneled through the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) requires a local match. DRPT will open up a second round of funding from ARRA later this year.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked the DRPT’s Joe Swartz if it were possible to use stimulus money to pay for pedestrian crosswalks to improve access to bus stops. Swartz said there was no precedent, but that the community could at least apply. Bill Watterson of CTS said it was unlikely that would be the best use of stimulus funds.

CTS Director Bill Watterson said his agency has decided to apply for funding to plan for a new transit station at Barracks Road Shopping Center. The idea would be to make it easier for riders to transfer between Route 5 (serves Albemarle County via Commonwealth Avenue) and Route 7 (Fashion Square Mall to Downtown). Watterson said CTS will also seek stimulus funding to replace 6 existing buses with hybrid fuel vehicles.

For the second public hearing, the MPO agreed to suspend its public participation requirements in order to hold an unadvertised public hearing to accept money into the TIP for interstate highway improvements. The westbound exit at the interchange of I-64 and 5th Street will be widened at a cost of $1.15 million, and an additional left-hand turn lane will be constructed at the Shadwell exit. No local match is required for these projects.  Barlow said these would not be major overhauls, but would improve the flow of traffic at the exits.


MPO Adopts UNJAM 2035

The MPO adopted the UNJAM 2035 long-range transportation plan, which has been in the works over the last year. The adoption came despite a request from City resident John Pfaltz to restore the Southern Parkway to UNJAM’s fiscally constrained long range plan. Pfaltz claimed the road would help improve response times for the fire department, and would provide an important transit connection between the Southwood mobile home park, Piedmont Virginia Community College and the stores at Mill Creek. He also said the Southern Parkway should be a higher priority and was more important to the region than developing an urban cross-section for Proffit Road. Supervisor Dennis Rooker said the Bent Creek Parkway, which will be built by the developer of the Fifth and Avon Center, provides the same connection and thus the County would be unlikely to allocate its diminishing secondary road funds to the Southern Parkway project.


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