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CAT's future has shorter ride times, and vehicular variety

Charlottesville Area Transit wants to improve its routes, its equipment and its service to the underserved and its relying on the city to help make it happen.

CAT Director Garland Williams told the City Council at a work session Tuesday that the transit agency’s goals are to provide 15-minute fixed route service, add alternative fuel vehicles to the fleet and position CAT to become a regional transit authority.

Williams presented the visionary goals for the bus system to councilors, all of which require both money and City Council support.

CAT is proposing to add 22 buses, hire 45 full-time and 15 part-time operators, hire six mechanics and improve bus stop amenities. It would reroute routes around the city, county and into surrounding communities.

The costs are significant. It would cost more than $3.8 million to hire all the new employees and between $35,000 and $80,000 per bus stop to improve amenities. It would also cost $8.8 million for new diesel buses, $9.2 million for compressed natural gas and $17.8 million for electric buses.

Williams said the improvements need to be made because ridership has declined by 22% over the past six years. They’re also needed to meet federal law requirements under Title VI, which provides the service with federal operating funds.

Title VI also requires CAT to consider strategies that will address disparate and disproportionate equity impacts of bus service and transportation on underserved populations.

“Everything we do, and route changes and adjustments we make, has to go through the Title VI lens so we are required to make adjustments to our system that are equitable,” Williams said. “We can’t put something into place that disenfranchises individuals in the minority or low income areas. And we also want to make sure that in minority and low income areas we define the relationship to them and make sure that they have adequate service.”

Williams said a major issue the department wants to tackle is the route time. He said it’s important to make sure passengers have more opportunities to take the bus and aren’t stuck riding on the bus or waiting at a stop for excessive amounts of time.

“No one is going to use a 70-minute system,” Williams said.

While CAT will rely on state funding for the majority of the amount needed to purchase the new buses, the city would be on the hook for about 4% of that. The city would also need to commit to long-term funding for new employees’ salaries.

If the city were to purchase an electric bus, the city would pay 4% plus an added $400,000 difference in the cost between a diesel bus and an electric bus, according to Williams.

Williams said the goal is for there to be a variety of bus types so that if there is a power outage or similar crisis not all the buses will be out of commission.

CAT will also be seeking about $125,000 to $155,000 from the city to conduct a feasibility study which will help the department in securing state funding.

Currently CAT is proposing a budget of $11.5 million for fiscal year 2023. The fiscal year 2022 budget is $10.1 million.


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