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GRTC Continues Zero Fare Operations for Another Year

Hop on the bus, Gus. You don’t need to discuss much cuz this ride is free.

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Press Release from GRTC made the announcement that no fares through June 30th of 2022.

GRTC will remain Zero Fare through June 30, 2022, as approved by the Board of Directors this morning. Using State and Federal COVID relief funding, GRTC has been fareless to ride Local Bus, Pulse (Bus Rapid Transit), Express Bus, and CARE/Paratransit vans since March 19, 2020 in response to public health measures and in the interest of economically distressed communities who rely on public transit services to reach jobs, food, healthcare, and other critical community resources.

GRTC’s annual operating and capital expenditures for FY2022 are expected to approach $100 million, including $5.8 million enabling Zero Fare operations from Federal relief funding.  In FY2019 before the pandemic, GRTC received $6.8 million in fare revenue directly from riders and paid $1.6 million in expenses associated with fare collection, resulting in a $5.2 million net fare box revenue.  For FY2022, non-staffing fare expenses were removed from the budget. Fare collection staff have been offered essential non-fare job functions within GRTC. The projected net revenue difference of $5.8 million will be replaced in the budget by federal COVID relief funds as the region continues to recover economically from the pandemic.

GRTC CEO Julie Timm explains, “Although bus ridership did decline in 2020 across the nation during the pandemic, GRTC local ridership drops were modest by comparison and are already approaching pre-COVID levels.  I attribute the ridership rebound to three areas: 1) the strength of the 2018 network redesign connecting essential workers to jobs; 2) the extensive COVID protective measures enacted early and throughout the pandemic to protect staff and riders; and 3) the ongoing commitment to Zero Fare operations to protect the health and financial stability of our riders. GRTC’s focus on connecting people to essential resources resulted in higher sustained ridership. Higher ridership translates into increased Federal and State formula funding and creates a positive feedback loop for GRTC to improve and grow the region’s mobility network.”

GRTC is a public service corporation providing mobility services in the Greater Richmond area. GRTC’s current operational budget (FY21) of $60.3 million primarily funds daily mobility operations and vehicle maintenance. GRTC has provided 7.1 million trips during this FY21 (July 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021).

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

Education

Nuckols Farm Elementary School named a national ‘Blue Ribbon School’ for the second time

“Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is a tremendous honor,” said Crystal Metzger, Nuckols Farm principal. “Nuckols Farm is a family of educators, students and community members who work tirelessly each day to support our school and one another. I am exceptionally proud to serve as the school principal.”

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Nuckols Farm Elementary School has been named a 2022 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, an honor the Henrico County school also earned in 2012, making it the only school in the division to be honored twice. The designation was announced this morning by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Nuckols Farm is one of 297 schools across the nation to receive the designation this year.

“Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is a tremendous honor,” said Crystal Metzger, Nuckols Farm principal. “Nuckols Farm is a family of educators, students, and community members who work tirelessly each day to support our school and one another. I am exceptionally proud to serve as the school principal.”

“This recognition reflects the intentional work of our teachers and staff to meet every student where they are in their learning and provide them with the support and resources they need to be successful,” said Amy Cashwell, Henrico County Public Schools superintendent. “It also acknowledges the staff’s innovation, creativity, and grit in serving students and ensuring meaningful engagement and growth amid the global pandemic.”

“The school board is thrilled to join the Nuckols Farm community in celebrating this incredible honor,” said Micky Ogburn, Three Chopt District representative on the Henrico School Board. “Our schools, teachers, and students are truly the Heart of Henrico.”

Nuckols Farm and other recipient schools will be honored in November at a ceremony in Washington. The program is in its 39th year.

Henrico County schools that have earned the honor are:

  • Nuckols Farm Elementary School, 2022
  • Deep Run High School: 2018
  • Twin Hickory Elementary School: 2014
  • Nuckols Farm Elementary School: 2012
  • Shady Grove Elementary School: 2007
  • Pocahontas Middle School: 2006
  • Short Pump Elementary School: 2003*
  • Quioccasin (formerly Harry F. Byrd) Middle School: 1999-2000
  • Jacob Adams Elementary School: 1998-99
  • George Baker Elementary School: 1996-97
  • Tuckahoe Middle School: 1994-96
  • Douglas S. Freeman High School: 1992-93
  • Mills E. Godwin High School: 1988-89
  • R.C. Longan Elementary School: 1985-86
  • Brookland Middle School: 1984-85
  • Hermitage High School: 1983-84

*In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education began awarding the designation for calendar years instead of school years.

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Government

Early voting opens in Virginia; same-day registration new this year

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23. Legislators have passed in recent years voting reform measures that expand access to the polls, including a new law that allows same-day voter registration.

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By Natalie Barr

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23.

Voters can submit absentee ballots by mail or in person at their local registrar’s office, commonly referred to as early voting. No application or reason is necessary to vote early. Some jurisdictions may have additional satellite locations, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Early in-person voting will also be held the two Saturdays preceding Election Day. In-person early voting ends on Nov. 5, the Saturday before the election.

New this year is the ability to register to vote up to and on Election Day. Any voters who register after the Oct. 17 deadline will be given a provisional ballot. Legislators have passed voting reform measures in recent years that expand access to the polls.

VCU Votes, a student-led coalition at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, educates students on the importance of voting, according to the organization’s mission statement. The coalition recently held a student voter registration event on National Voter Registration Day.

Cameron Hart, director of partnerships for VCU Votes, said the group also promotes the importance of elections. Students need the space to educate themselves and develop their own thoughts and make their own decisions, Hart said.

“It’s very important to vote and use your voice and exercise that civic duty,” Hart said.

Many students who came to the event were already registered to vote, Hart said. Hart wants people to view voting as important for all elections, not just presidential races.

“I feel like it’s important to vote in any election, but also stressing the importance of voting locally,” Hart said. “This election is directly affecting us. If you feel a certain way about a law, voting can help express your voice in order to maybe reverse that law.”

The upcoming election will be the first time voting for physical therapy student Nikolett Kormos. Kormos, a freshman, said she registered to vote at the event.

“I think it’s super important to vote, and for young people to vote,” Kormos said. “It keeps us educated.”

Absentee ballots will be mailed starting Sept. 23 to military and overseas voters, and to anyone who has applied to receive one, according to a state Department of Elections press release.

Voters can request a mail-in absentee ballot through the Department of Elections site until Oct. 28. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and received by the registrar no later than noon on the third day following the election, according to the Department of Elections. Mailed ballots also require a witness signature. Ballots can be dropped off at the registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters can direct questions to their general registrar’s office or the Department of Elections, where they can also see what types of identification are accepted.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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