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GRTC suspending all on-board fare collection and enforcement during COVID-19 emergency

Affected service includes all Pulse, local, and express commuter bus routes and all CARE services, except CARE On-Demand.

RVAHub Staff

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GRTC is suspending all on-board fare collection and enforcement during the COVID-19 emergency effective March 19, 2020. Affected service includes all Pulse, local, and express commuter bus routes and all CARE services, except CARE On-Demand.

Bus passengers are instructed to enter and exit through the rear doors only and sit behind the accessibility-reserved seating area. Front-door access will be permitted only for passengers needing the boarding ramp or operator assistance to access the bus. ADA accessible seating space near the front of the bus is reserved for individuals in mobility devices, individuals in need of special assistance, and families with children in strollers.

GRTC Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm says, “In continuing service during this state of emergency, our first priority remains the safety, health, and financial well-being of our employees, their families, and our riders. By eliminating close interactions at bus fareboxes, we can better implement social distancing by avoiding interaction in this high contact space.” GRTC also added an additional Pulse bus to service so riders may spread out on more buses. The Pulse system still has high passenger loads despite overall decreased ridership.

GRTC provides lifeline employment and health connections for many of our riders and is the primary source of income for nearly 500 GRTC employees. Timm explains, “We take our obligation to provide that service very seriously. GRTC is closely monitoring updates on the COVID-19 virus spread in Virginia so that we may continue to take all reasonable precautions to address the risk and to maintain core service for the critical mobility and economic needs of our community. I maintain a high level of confidence in the safety of our service for our employees and our riders; however, we are asking all riders to assist in protecting our service by eliminating all non-essential trips and following all recommended health precautions and social distancing.”

GRTC frontline staff, including Operators, Supervisors, Cleaners, and Mechanics, are taking every reasonable precaution to protect themselves and each other while serving the public. GRTC has doubled the frequency of cleanings on all vehicles. GRTC and RideFinders’ offices are closed to the public. All GRTC public meetings are canceled. For the most complete and latest GRTC updates during this pandemic, please visit our website.

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A quirky ‘yield to pedestrians’ sign on Brookland Park Boulevard is serving as an experiment in driver behavior

An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

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An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

After a yield for pedestrians sign was placed in the middle of Brookland Park Boulevard at Richmond-Henrico Turnpike, intrepid citizens, and Reddit user AndrewTheGovtDrone specifically, have documented drivers’ awareness (or lack thereof) of the sign, placed hats, balloons, and other items on or around the sign to see if or how it affects driver behavior, and witnessed it be struck by vehicles more than 30 times – and those were just the incidents caught on a video camera set up for a mere 16 hours.

Some stats about the sign and what affected driver behavior from the original post:

General Stats

The videos were taken on Thursday, April 8th (4/8/21). Saturday, April 10th (4/10/21) and Monday, April 12th (4/12/21). Altogether, the videos captured over 16 hours of intersection activity. The below stats are derived from the review of that footage. During this period:

  • 655 vehicles made the left turn off of Richmond-Henrico Tpk onto Brookland Park Blvd.

  • Of the 655 vehicles, 29 were “Commercial vehicles”( i.e. trucks, vans, uHauls, box-trucks, delivery trucks, buses, etc.). Pickup trucks and SUVs were not considered “Commercial vehicles” unless they were towing a trailer.

  • The sign was struck at least 22 times during these three days. It is entirely possible that additional collisions happened before the camera was deployed and/or after the camera died.

  • No commercial vehicles ever struck the the sign. All were able to navigate the intersection without colliding with the pedestrian sign.

  • Based on the data, drivers turning left onto BPB navigate the intersection without issue 96.6% of the time. In other words, the overwhelming majority of drivers are able to make a proper and safe turn. Collisions were not related to type of car being driven as all car types were shown to be capable of making the turn successfully if driven correctly.

  • During this period, 229 pedestrians were recorded crossing the intersection. This is likely a significant undercount due to the placement of the camera. The majority of pedestrians were bikers and dog-walkers.

Additional Information
  • As silly as the balloons were, they had a significant positive impact on driver behavior. Prior to the balloons, the sign was hit six (6) times on Monday. Following the balloon placement, the sign was hit only one (1) time.

  • Interestingly, drivers seemed to make the turn “most appropriately” (i.e. a squared-off turn) during high-traffic periods. When there was oncoming traffic, users took extra precaution to not cross the yellow lines and complete their turn “inside” the intersection. Drivers were generally more “reckless” when the roads were open.

  • The majority of pedestrians using the intersection crossed in the intersection on the “other” crosswalk, the one not being desecrated. However, the crosswalk that our champion guards is high-volume for users of the bus system.

  • At least one (1) couple hung out at the intersection for about 30 minutes waiting to see someone run our sign over. Fortunately for our sign and unfortunately for them, no one trampled him.

  • There were either two (2) separate Carvana deliveries observed or someone returned their Carvana vehicle a few days after receiving it. I’d love to get to the bottom of this.

  • As many have anecdotally reported, drivers seem unsure about what is expected of them when they approach these signs. Some slow down, most carry on without changing behavior, a small subset come to a complete stop. The City may do well to better communicate the expectations for both drivers and pedestrians related to the signs.

Based on what I saw, the takeaway is pretty clear: the sign is not the problem. #RVASIGNGANG #SIGNMEUP

As one commenter said in the original post, data is sexy, and while these experiments are entertaining, the more important outcome is that it’s all bringing attention to Richmond’s lack of pedestrian infrastructure and drivers’ carelessness at particularly nefarious intersections such as this one.

You can follow along with the sign’s saga here. A a few photos from the great experiment are below.

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Virginia public transit grapples with reduced ridership, zero fare

Virginia public transit systems from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads are looking for a path forward after losing riders and revenue during the pandemic. Some transit systems have been harder hit than others.

Capital News Service

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By Katharine DeRosa

Virginia public transit systems from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads are looking for a path forward after losing riders and revenue during the pandemic. Some transit systems have been harder hit than others.

“We are serving a market of essential workers that can’t stay home; they have to use our service,” said Greater Richmond Transit Co. CEO Julie Timm during a recent presentation.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a state of emergency in March of last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move prompted limits on public and private gatherings, telework policies and mandates to wear masks in public, although some restrictions have eased.

GRTC faced a “potentially catastrophic budget deficit” since eliminating fares last March in response to the pandemic and reductions in public funding starting in July of this year, according to the organization’s annual report. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation emergency funding covered the deficit, according to the report.

The transit system lost about 20% of riders when comparing March to November 2019 with the same 9-month period in 2020. Overall, fiscal year-to-date ridership on local-fixed routes decreased the least (-16%), compared to the bus-rapid transit line (-49%) and express routes (-84%), according to GRTC data. Local-fixed routes had a 7% increase from March 2020 to March 2021.

GRTC eliminated fares in March 2020 to avoid “close interactions at bus fareboxes,” Timm said in a statement at the time. CARES Act funding made the move possible. GRTC will offer free rides until the end of June.

GRTC will need an additional $5.3 million when federal funding ceases to continue operating with zero fare, Timm said. Zero fare can be supported through the third round of federal stimulus money and Department of Rail and Public Transportation funding, advertising revenue and other funding sources, Timm said.

“This is the conversation and it’s a hard conversation,” Timm said. “To fare or not to fare?”

GRTC serves a majority Black and majority female riders, according to the 2020 annual report. Commuters account for over half the trips taken on GRTC buses and almost three-quarters of commuter trips are five or more days per week. Nearly 80% of riders have a household income of less than $50,000 per year.

GRTC spends about $1.7 million to collect fares annually, according to Timm. Eliminating fares is more optimal than collecting fares, Timm said in March. She believes in zero fare operation because the bus rates act as a regressive tax, which takes a large percentage of income from low-income earners.

Free fares could lead to overcrowding on buses, opponents argue. However, Timm said that’s not a good reason to abolish the initiative.

“If we have a demand for more transit, I don’t think the answer is to put fares out to reduce the ridership,” Timm said. “I think the answer is to find additional funding sources and commitment to increase service to meet that demand.”

GRTC will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the zero fare model, according to Timm.

“We’ll have a lot of conversations post-COVID about how we consider transit, how we invest in transit and how that investment in transit lifts up our entire region, not just our riders but all of our economy for a stronger marketplace,” Timm said.

GRTC added another bus route as the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March. Route 111 runs in Chesterfield from John Tyler Community College to the Food Lion off Chippenham Parkway. The route surpassed ridership expectations despite being launched during the pandemic, according to the annual report.

GRTC also will receive additional funding from the newly established Central Virginia Transit Authority. The entity will provide dedicated transportation funding for Richmond and eight other localities. The authority will draw money from a regional sales and use tax, as well as a gasoline and diesel fuel tax. GRTC is projected to receive $20 million in funds from the authority in fiscal year 2021. The next fiscal year it receives $28 million and funding will reach $30 million by fiscal year 2026.

These funds cannot be used to assist in zero fare operation, Timm said.

Almost 350,000 riders boarded the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority buses per day on average in 2019, which includes passengers in Northern Virginia. That number dipped to 91,000 average daily boardings in 2020, according to Metro statistics.

Metro’s $4.7 billion budget will maintain service at 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels, according to a Metro press release. Federal relief funds totaling almost $723 million filled Metro’s funding gap due to low ridership.

“The impact of the pandemic on ridership and revenue forced us to consider drastic cuts that would have been necessary absent federal relief funding,” stated Metro Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg. “Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan Act has provided a lifeline for Metro to serve customers and support the region’s economic recovery.”

Hampton Roads Transit buses served 10.7 million people in 2019 and 6.2 million people in 2020. The decline has carried into 2021. Almost 1.6 million passengers took HRT transit buses in January and February 2020 and just over 815,000 have in 2021, resulting in a nearly 50% decrease. HRT spokesperson Tom Holden said he can’t explain why HRT bus services saw a higher drop off than GRTC buses.

“We had a substantial decline in boardings in all our modes of transportation just as every transit agency in the U.S. did,” Holden said.

HRT operated with a zero fare system from April 10 to July 1, 2020. Ridership had a slight uptick from April to October, aside from an August dip. Fares for all HRT transit services were budgeted for 14.2% of HRT’s revenue for Fiscal Year 2020.

“We are hopeful that with vaccinations becoming more widespread, the overall economy will begin to recover, and we’ll see rates increase,” Holden said.

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GRTC says riders should expect delays as a number of drivers quarantine

GRTC cautions customers to expect significant service delays this week, for at least the next several days, until COVID-19 test results return for employees in quarantine from contact tracing efforts. On Sunday, there were several routes with missed service in the morning, and more service was expected to be missed Sunday afternoon and evening.

RVAHub Staff

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GRTC cautions customers to expect significant service delays this week, for at least the next several days, until COVID-19 test results return for employees in quarantine from contact tracing efforts. On Sunday, there were several routes with missed service in the morning, and more service was expected to be missed Sunday afternoon and evening.

Customers making essential trips on GRTC are advised to secure alternate transportation to reach their destinations. The Customer Service Call Center is open until 5PM to assist customers with bus tracking (804-358-4782). If a customer is stranded at a bus stop this afternoon waiting for a bus that is not in service, they should call Customer Service 804-358-4782 to ask about GRTC Emergency Ride Home options from their bus stop.

GRTC Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm explains, “We continue to proactively quarantine any possible COVID-contacts for the safety of our staff and customers, but this means employees are removed from their duties and causes service delays to our customers. I know how frustrating it is to wait for a bus that never comes, and I ask our customers for understanding during this difficult time of rising cases in the community. We have not had any outbreaks yet among GRTC staff and we believe that is a testament to our aggressive COVID-safety protocols. The health and safety of our staff is critical to preserving reliable transit service, and this is why I believe it is essential for our transportation frontline staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the first round, not the second round as tentatively planned.”

There are six GRTC employees currently on leave with COVID-19, five of whom are recovering at home. Contact tracing is underway for the most recent case, but the previous five cases were suspected to have been contracted off-duty from other family members or non-work community activities. As positive cases are identified, GRTC proactively notifies, quarantines, and tests for any possible contact. This process is in accordance with guidance provided by the Virginia Department of Health. The full list of confirmed staff and contractor cases is available online.

GRTC continues to host periodic on-site, free COVID-19 testing events for staff, including the next event on December 10th. For the most complete and latest GRTC updates during this pandemic, please visit our website.

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