“Both of them are based on the same principle of trying to make service simpler, easier for people to use, and to make things more direct so it is also faster for people to get to where they are going to,” said Geoff Slater, of the firm Nelson Nygaard.
Slater and his team have been working since July to study the system and were directed by the City Council to be bold as they redraw transit routes. His company will be paid $116,000 for the nine-month study.
One of the options maintains a focus on downtown as a central hub with most routes visiting the Downtown Transit Center. The second option would see the creation of a new transit hub at the University of Virginia Medical Center.
“Most of the routes would still come into downtown but a lot more would go to [UVa],” Slater said. “A lot of people aren’t coming to downtown and they have to go out of their way through downtown to get where they’re going.”
Another guiding principle behind the study was that any suggestions needed to be within CAT’s existing budget.
“We had to take the same amount of service hours and redistribute them differently,” Slater said. “Some of the early-morning services have low ridership and some of the late-night services have low ridership. We would scale back there and that gave us the resources to introduce new service during the daytime.”
One rider who did not want to be identified said she was concerned about later starting hours.
“I have to be at work at 7 a.m.,” the city resident said. “I would actually like to see them go earlier.”
Both options would eliminate a bus connection to Charlottesville High School because data indicated that only four riders a day were using the service. Slater said reconfiguring the system is a balancing act.
“We’re trying to do new things in new places so you have to get the hours from somewhere,” Slater said. “We can take that service and have it go somewhere to do something that we think will have more people.”
Many city councilors have been asking for several years to redraw the system so it operates on a “trunk and feeder system.” Slater said the existing system largely already operates on that principle.
“You have two really strong lines in the free [trolley-style bus] and Route 7 and you do have a lot of routes feeding into those,” Slater said. He added the new transit hub at the UVa hospital would also advance that concept.
Under option 2, Nelson Nygaard is suggesting creating “flex service” in the Greenbrier, Locust Grove and Woolen Mills areas because of their relatively low ridership. For instance, Route 1A , which serves the Woolen Mills area, only has an average ridership of 87 riders a day.
Residents of those neighborhoods would be able to call for a bus to take them to one of the two hubs rather than wait for a fixed route.
“We like to look at it as providing a level of service of coverage to areas that are maybe a little bit lower density and that have a lower transit demand, but nonetheless have a need for transit service,” said Tara Gallen, an associate project planner with Nelson Nygaard.
Flex service could be provided by JAUNT, though Gallen said this is just at the conceptual level.
Under option 2, Route 7 would be routed along Rio Road instead of U.S. 29. That pleased the executive director of one nonprofit organization.
“A lot of seniors in our community use the public bus system to be able to get to our [facility],” said Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center. “We pay a lot of attention to the bus routes that serve our Senior Center on Pepsi Place today, and we’re also interested as we move to … Belvedere on East Rio Road that a new bus line will serve that community.”
However, not everyone who attended an open house Tuesday was pleased with the proposed changes.
“I would prefer to keep [existing routes] that way,” said another city resident who did not want to be named. “Route 7 right now runs until 11:15, so if I get off my job at 11, then I still have time to be able to catch the last bus into town … That means I’ll either have to change the time I get off from my job or I’ll have to catch a cab home.”
Nelson Nygaard will be taking public comment on its two options through Nov. 2. The firm will present the scenarios to the City Council on Dec. 17. A second public input session will be held and a final recommendation will be made in the spring.