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Transportation

GRTC to continue free bus rides through June 2024

Citing a 15-percent uptick in ridership since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, strong public support, and the importance of transit equity, GRTC’s governing board voted unanimously to extend the pilot program through June 2024 and possibly beyond.

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Riding the bus will continue to be free for another year in the Richmond region.

Citing a 15-percent uptick in ridership since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, strong public support, and the importance of transit equity, GRTC’s governing board voted unanimously to extend the pilot program through June 2024 and possibly beyond.

“I think we as a board stand committed to collaboratively supporting regional connectivity, and this vote supports that,” GRTC Board of Directors Chairman Tyrone Nelson said. “Ridership for our agency is trending in the opposite direction from what the industry is experiencing, and we believe our Zero-Fare program helps our region stay connected.”

GRTC recently received funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to support the program through June 2025 with assurances that a local match would be made to offset the total cost of the annual $5.6 million program. With its vote, the board committed as a region to support the funding gap of the local match for the fiscal year 2024.

“As ridership continues to outpace previous years, we are optimistic that the value of accessible transit continues to grow with it,” GRTC Interim CEO Sheryl Adams said. “As we remain focused on the ridership experience, we continue to work towards improving the lives of essential workers, which includes our bus operators.”

The board will continue to study the financial impacts of extending the program beyond June 2024.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.

Transportation

GRTC receives $4 million to close rural transit gaps

Riders in parts of Powhatan, Henrico, Chesterfield, and New Kent counties, and the Town of Ashland, will be connected to existing high-frequency fixed routes.

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GRTC has received Commonwealth Transportation Board approval to close transit gaps in rural and suburban areas of Richmond through microtransit, an on-demand system that allows people to book rides in real time and get picked up and dropped off in designated areas.

GRTC will get $4,057,766 from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) to fund the three-year pilot program, which starts fall 2023.

Riders in parts of Powhatan, Henrico, Chesterfield, and New Kent counties, and the Town of Ashland, will be connected to existing high-frequency fixed routes.

The program will cost a total of $6.7 million with state and local funds. TRIP funds will apply to the Henrico, Chesterfield, and New Kent routes. Other sources will fund the Powhatan and Ashland routes.

The Richmond region covers 2,165 square miles and is home to over one million people. However, GRTC’s fixed-route service area only covers 9% of that area, leaving much of the region without access to transit. Much of this unserved area is comprised of suburban and rural districts where traditional fixed-route transit service would be inefficient to operate.

“These parts of our region need more mobility options,” said GRTC Chief Development Officer Adrienne Torres. “They are home to families sharing a single car, retirees wanting to age in place, and others that don’t have the option to make all their trips by single occupancy vehicle and need an alternative means of transportation.”

The five microtransit zones are designed to maximize opportunities to connect to major regional employers, medical facilities, and government and community services for residents across the region that have limited or nonexistent transit options. They will provide transit service and regional connections to major employers such as Amazon and Randolph-Macon College; government services such as a Social Security office and Powhatan County courthouse; large shopping centers such as Brookhill Azalea Shopping Center and Ashland Hanover Shopping Center; and healthcare facilities such as VCU Health Emergency Center.

Torres said the program should also reduce traffic congestion. “Since microtransit service is anticipated to be used by citizens with limited vehicle access who may have had to rely on others to help make their daily trips, it should provide an overall reduction in single occupancy vehicle trips in the region as it replaces these trips with shared rides.”

The program will replace a peak-only fixed-route bus line with all day microtransit service. Where zones are contiguous to the GRTC service area, microtransit will provide connections to GRTC stops, giving patrons access to the wider Richmond-area transit network.

GRTC received TRIP funding in fiscal year 2022 to continue offering free fares and its local bus ridership has exceed pre-pandemic levels. It expects systemwide ridership to recover to 2019 levels by 2023 and grow by 2% per year each year through 2027.

Microtransit Zone Details

Ashland Zone: This zone will operate 6:30 AM – 11:59 PM Monday-Saturday and require 1-3 vehicles. Major destinations and trip generators include Randolph-Macon College, Ashland Junction Shopping Center, and Ashland Hanover Shopping Center.

Sandston-Elko Zone: This zone will operate 6:30 AM – 9:00 PM Monday-Saturday and require 1-2 vehicles. Major destinations and trip generators include the Social Security Office, VCU Health Emergency Center, and two Food Lion grocery stores. The service would provide connections to GRTC routes 7A and 7B.

Powhatan Zone: This zone will operate 6:30 AM – 7:00 PM Monday-Saturday and require 1-3 vehicles. Major destinations and trip generators include Powhatan Plaza and the Powhatan County library.

North Chesterfield West Zone: This zone will operate 6:30 AM – 11:59 PM Monday-Saturday and require 2-4 vehicles. Major destinations and trip generators include Commonwealth Center Mall and shopping centers along Route 360. The service would provide connections to GRTC routes 82 and 1C.

Washington Park – Azalea Avenue Zone: This zone will operate 6:00 AM – 11:59 PM Monday-Saturday and require 1-2 vehicles. Major destinations and trip generators include Amazon (opening Summer 2023), Brookhill Azalea Shopping Center, and senior apartments. The service would provide connections to the reconfigured GRTC route 1, 2A, 2B, 2C, 14, and 91.

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People

More comfortable, accessible GRTC bus stops coming, transit authority says

At least half of all GRTC bus stops in the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, and Henrico County will soon have a more comfortable, accessible, and dignified place to wait for a ride.

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At least half of all GRTC bus stops in the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, and Henrico County will soon have a more comfortable, accessible, and dignified place to wait for a ride.

Only five percent of GRTC’s 1,609 active local stops have a shelter, and 21 percent have seating. Less than half of those stops predate the Americans with Disabilities Act and are not compliant. And most stops lacking adequate infrastructure are in low-income areas throughout Central Virginia.

Under a plan approved by the transit system’s board of directors, GRTC will install 160 shelters and 225 benches over five years. Work is expected to begin in the summer of 2023. GRTC also will coordinate with jurisdictions to improve ADA compliance at stops to further the agency’s push to be more inclusive.

“This is one of several GRTC strategic initiatives planned that aim to address the various impediments to transit access and ultimately inequities,” said Director of Planning and Scheduling Sam Sink. “GRTC champions social and economic mobility by prioritizing connecting people to essential human services and needs. With proper operational and capital investment, transit is a factor that can improve overall quality of life.”

The Essential Transit Infrastructure (ETI) plan will cost between $11 million and $28.6 million, and be funded through a combination of local, state, and federal grants.

GRTC will use a scoring system that considers usage and equity to determine which stops qualify for improvements. Anyone may request a bench or shelter via email at [email protected], through the GRTC website, or by calling 804-358-4782.

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Downtown

GRTC awarded $11m for cleaner bus fleet, facility improvements

More environmentally friendly public transit is coming to the streets of Richmond thanks to an $11 million federal grant announced by U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

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More environmentally friendly public transit is coming to the streets of Richmond thanks to an $11 million federal grant announced by U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

GRTC will receive more than $10 million to replace 19 of its aging diesel buses with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses, which release fewer harmful emissions, help improve air quality, and combat climate change. It also was awarded over $952,000 to demolish an existing building on its property and use it as a surface parking lot to store vehicles for existing and expanded transit service.

The funding was awarded through the Department of Transportation’s Fiscal Year 2022 Low or No Emission Vehicle Program which helps state and local governments purchase or lease zero-emission and low-emission transit buses as well as acquire and construct support facilities. It was made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by Sen. Kaine.

At the August 16, 2022, GRTC Board of Directors Meeting, CEO Julie Timm expressed appreciation for the foresight of current GRTC Board Member Eldridge F. Coles for his initiative to start the conversion of the GRTC fleet from diesel to CNG fuel during his tenure as CEO with the support of the City of Richmond over 10 years ago. “With this award,” stated Timm, “GRTC will be nearing completion of the conversion to a greener, cleaner fleet. However, even as this transition is nearing completion, GRTC is preparing to study newer and cleaner technologies for the bus fleet and bus facilities of 2050.”

Demolishing and remediating the aging building will both clean up the site and provide GRTC with land needed to manage its fleet expansion and growing ridership.

“GRTC’s maintenance facility and yard are at their capacity to hold our existing fleet and nearing capacity to meet the fleet’s CNG fueling needs,” Director of Planning & Scheduling Sam Sink said. “However, based on our significant post-COVID ridership recovery, we can already predict the need for increased service coverage and frequencies on our local bus routes and on the Pulse BRT line – which means we will soon need more buses of all sizes.”

GRTC was one of two Virginia transit agencies to receive federal funding under the announcement. Suffolk Transit was awarded $565,000.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration awarded a total of $1.66 billion in grants to transit agencies, territories, and states across the country to invest in 150 clean bus fleets and facilities.

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