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July 21, 2008

Crozet commuter service may get reexamined

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20080721-Crozet-Map

With rising gas prices there is renewed interest in public transportation across the country. According to the American Public Transportation Association, the past year has seen a 10% increase in use of trolley, light rail, and other commuter transport services.  Locally, Charlottesville Transit Service has seen significant ridership increases, and now some Crozet residents are seeking an alternative to their 15 mile drive to work in Charlottesville.

At their July meeting, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) discussed a letter written by Joel Kovarsky asking the MPO to investigate the possibility of establishing a new “park and ride” commuter route from Crozet to Charlottesville, operated by JAUNT. Kovarsky’s proposed route would start in Crozet and continue to Ivy, UVA, and finally downtown.

JAUNT (formerly Jefferson Area UNited Transportation) is a regional transportation system serving the City of Charlottesville, as well as Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson, Buckingham and Amherst Counties. While JAUNT buses are specially designed to accommodate those with disabilities, and provides reduced rates to the disabled, JAUNT also serves the general public, with both commuter routes and point- to- point service to doctor’s appointments, shopping, and other destinations. JAUNT is operated by the localities it services, and supported through a combination of local and federal funds. 

JAUNT currently operates a bus from Crozet to Charlottesville that usually picks up the last rider in Crozet at around 8:15 AM and drops off the first riders at UVA at 8:45 AM. Recent discussions on the RealCrozetVA blog have indicated some community interest in a commuter bus, but at least one Crozet resident has noted they will be reluctant to use a service which makes multiple stops for residential pick-ups. 

20080721-Jaunt-Buses On the community blog, Jim Duncan quoted an anonymous resident as expressing her preference for a single pick-up location from a “park and ride” lot.  “I think that the service needs to have a predictable schedule and route.  I really can’t commit to using a service that might take 45 mins-1 hour due to multiple stops along the way.”

At the July 16, 2008 meeting of the MPO, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said that JAUNT had run a service between Crozet and Charlottesville during the rush hour period in the past, but the service did not pick up much ridership. However, Rooker guessed that "if they give it a try now with gas at $4 a gallon, they might find more takers."  Rooker asked County Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade to follow up with JAUNT.

Wade explained that Jaunt had tried this “4 or 5 years ago, and it wasn't successful…I know that they can do something but it may cost more to the County to provide it, so that's something that we can certainly look into," Wade said. Senior Land Use Planner Julia Monteith of UVA recalled a University pilot program that ran a shuttle to Crozet, but also saw a lack of interest. However, she also felt that another attempt might be worthwhile, since the University has identified Crozet as a popular home for UVA employees. 

Slutzky asked Wade to speak with Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) who represents Crozet on the Board. He suggested it may be useful for CTS or JAUNT to put forth a proposal for how much a dedicated route would cost, and what marketing steps would be needed to promote the idea.

Mallek is currently collecting names from those expressing interest, and trying to determine what schedule and location would best serve Crozet commuters. She says many of the constituents she’s talked to have offered to pay for a seat on the new route on a monthly basis, rather than day to day, to ensure that JAUNT sees sufficient interest to keep the service going.

One hurdle facing the addition of such a route is funding. Money for transportation is currently tight, due to the state of the economy and shortfalls in funding at the state level. However, according to Ann Mallek, because Crozet is outside the jurisdiction of the MPO, it is considered rural, and is therefore eligible for 50% matching funds from the federal government for transit programs.

It costs JAUNT around $40 an hour to operate each bus, according to Donna Shaunessy, Executive Director of JAUNT, and so each route is subsidized to some extent by local government. Shaunessy estimated the cost to Albemarle taxpayers for the service at around $15,000 a year, but stressed that this was just a guess. The actual cost would also be affected by the number of riders using the route, and the price of a ticket, which Shaunessy guessed might be $2 each way. The final decision on whether or not to implement the new route belongs to the Board of Supervisors.

Ben Doernberg & Sean Tubbs

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