CTS ridership up, MPO alarmed by VDOT project tracking changes
The MPO Policy Board held its monthly meeting on February 20, 2008. Highlights include an update on the Charlottesville Transit Service, a discussion of changes to the Virginia’s State Transportation Improvement Program, and the presentation of the TravelSmart concept of individualized marketing of transportation choices.
Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080220-MPO-Regular.mp3
“CTS is having a very good year for ridership,” said Bill Watterson, opening up his bi-monthly presentation to the MPO. “We’ve already surpassed a million riders for the year, the earliest we’ve ever done that.” In fact, Watterson says ridership is up 11.5% over the same period last year. He attributes this to the fare-free agreement between the University of Virginia and CTS, increased service on Route 5, and the addition of Sunday service.
The City will be saving money by replacing fewer buses this year, but is purchasing eight 35-foot buses, one 30-foot bus, and one mini-bus. Riders of the free service between downtown and UVa will also see a new low-floor trolley-style vehicle.
“It will have the cosmetic appearance that is very similar to the trolleys that we currently run,” Watterson said. The vehicle will not have stairwells, making it easier and quicker for passengers to board.
CTS is proposing several new routes in FY2009, including one between Barracks Road and Downtown via Preston Avenue, and service between Downtown and Charlottesville High School via Park Street. These will be paid for by an increase in funding from the City’s general fund. Night service on Route 5 could go forward, but only if the County Board of Supervisors authorizes that expenditure. Night service between downtown and the UVa Medical Center will also be added. In next year’s budget, UVa will contribute $55,000 to support the trolley, and $130,000 to allow UVa students and employees to ride CTS buses fare-free.
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) wanted to know how the new service to the County Office Building along Route 2B on Fifth Street was doing. Watterson said “it is doing quite fine” and its ridership compares to similar routes with similar service. According to data from CTS, Route 2B has had over 10,000 passengers from July 1, 2007 to the end of January.
Other CTS highlights:
- The County Architectural Review Board has approved the design of a new CTS facility on Avon Street, with construction to begin in the summer
- Real-time passenger information system will go live on March 24, with interactive “bus-finder” kiosks at 25 stops
- CTS is simplifying its transfer process by using a “universal transfer ticket”
MPO discusses changes to State Transportation Improvement Program
The MPO expressed concern over changes to the way in which federal and state transportation agencies track and authorize federal funding of projects.
The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is a list administered by the Virginia Department of Transportation that shows all of transportation-related projects that will receive federal funding in the next four years. Currently, the MPO amends its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) every time federal money is specifically allocated to one of the projects. This check-off also requires a public hearing to be held each time, giving the public the opportunity to weigh in.
VDOT has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to allow for the grouping of projects of a similar type in such a way that money could be transferred between these projects without formal approval from the MPO. For instance, all bridge improvement projects could be listed under one category.
In his report to the Policy Board, Harrison Rue said MPO staff were not able to endorse the policy change out of a concern that the public participation process would be performed in reverse order.
“VDOT intends to conduct the state hearings for SYIP/STIP first, and then give a project list to the MPO for our regional hearings, which appears to be backwards from the current approach,” he wrote.
“The MPO would be giving up its only federally legislated, mandated power, which is to control whether a project moves forward or not based on its federal funding,” Rue said during the meeting.
Transportation activist Peter Kleeman said he was disconcerted about the forthcoming changes. He said the trend in transportation planning since the early 1990’s has been to let regions decide and implement their own transportation priorities. “It just seems that the proposal is to take this and refocus is top-down with the state doing most of the decision-making for the local region,” Kleeman said.
But VDOT’s John Giometti said the change was intended to streamline the process under which repairs and maintenance projects paid for with federal dollars go forward. By grouping these maintenance projects under one line item, the MPO would not need to be consulted when federal funding is shifted from one project to another. Giometti said this can bog down projects in larger urban areas.
But Rue said that under that scenario, money could conceivably be moved between two competing bridge projects without any local public input. Giometti said that the localities would be contacted in such a situation, and not the MPO. But that the MPO would continue to have a regional influence by creating and maintaining a regional long range plan. Supervisor Slutzky asked if adjoining local jurisdictions could at least receive notification when money is transferred in between projects. Acting Culpeper District Administrator Quintin Elliot said he would pass that comment on.
Regional Transit Authority update
MPO members reviewed the February 11 joint City Council – Board of Supervisors meeting on the Regional Transit Authority. Supervisor David Slutzky said he thought it was a productive session, though he was concerned media coverage took home the wrong points and focused on the high-end cost of the Bus Rapid Transit system.
Rue pointed out that no formal votes had been taken at the February 11 meeting, and that the main point of the meeting was to discuss the governance structure and what new revenues might be created by the authority.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker said the next step would be for a member of City Council and a member of the Board of Supervisors to meet with the City and County attorneys and legislators to craft the enabling legislation for next year’s General Assembly session. Rue said the earliest that meeting could happen would be late April or early May.
TravelSmart proponents make case for individualized transportation marketing
Charlottesville resident and freelance writer Randy Salzman says he has a radical way to increase the amount of people who choose to take public transit: Engage individual households in conversations about their own personal transportation choices.
That’s the basic concept of a program called TravelSmart, a transportation demand management program pioneered by German sociologist Werner Brog. Brog hires people to phone up households to ask if they’ve ever considered taking public transportation. If the person who picks up the phone says no, the conversation ends. But, if the person expresses even lukewarm interest, the TravelSmart worker continues to work with the household to reduce the use of their car by directing them to bus maps, bike trails, and other transportation choices.
Salzman says the approach works, and has already proven to be successful in the four U.S. cities that are piloting the project. For example he says, Bellingham, Washington has seen a 22% increase in transit use, and Sacramento has seen a 42% increase.
Peter Newman, a Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, says the TravelSmart program has reduced “vehice miles travelled” in the western Australian city of Perth by 14 percent. The Perth region has also recently built a commuter rail line that has a 90 percent approval rating among area residents.
Newman said the region now spends more money on transit than roads, a public policy choice supported in part because of the TravelSmart program’s influence on individual choices.
Salzman said the County and City should employ this strategy in order to promote transit, especially with Martha Jefferson Hospital moving to Pantops from Downtown. He said the resulting extra traffic on Free Bridge would create political pressure to build a second bridge. Salzman suggested a targeted TravelSmart-like campaign might convince enough people to use transit to avoid that need. Dennis Rooker pointed out that the hospital has already proffered money to pay for more capacity on the bus route to the hospital.
Timeline for podcast:
- 1:00 – Matters from the Public – Peter Kleeman comments on the STIP/TIP/SYP changes
- 3:12 – Adoption of minutes from previous meeting. Dennis Rooker requests one amendment
- 5:30 – Transit update from Bill Watterson of Charlottesville Transit service
- 15:17 – Update from JAUNT Director Donna O’Shaugnessy
- 20:43 – STIP/TIP/SYP Change Update discussion
- 52:00 – Recap of RTA discussion
- 1:00:00 – Presentation of “TravelSmart” and Travel Demand Management
Note: Charlottesville Tomorrow did not record the scheduled public hearing on UnJAM 2025.
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