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Local transit agencies outline longterm priorities

Albemarle County supervisors members got some of their long-time Charlottesville Area Transit questions answered on Wednesday.

The board held a budget work session on transit with staff from the two area transit providers, CAT and JAUNT, and the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership to answer questions about the agencies’ funding requests and service.

In the county’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, funding for all transit is approximately $4.1 million.

CAT’s initial $1.7 million request was included in the county executive’s proposed budget, but that request has decreased to about $1.24 million with the Charlottesville city manager’s proposed budget and the memorandum of understanding between the city and county for CAT services. The amount represents a 19.5% increase for existing services.

Approximately $1.04 million is currently included in the county’s proposed budget for CAT. There is also an overall transit contingency of $387,562.

CAT Director Garland Williams, who started at the agency last year, said the system needs to become more reliable.

“I would like to explore getting our frequencies on a lot of our routes, which are 60 minutes, up to at least a reasonable 30 minutes service model,” he said. “I think if you’re trying to build ridership, that’s kind of the baseline.”

Supervisors Chairman Ned Gallaway said some of the supervisors have been frustrated with CAT and the current service.

“I don’t mean to throw shade at your predecessor or the system’s predecessor, but what I’m hearing is that the management of the system has not been optimal, and that would be one of the biggest changes that could impact the current system delivery in Albemarle County,” he said.

The highest level of funding requested would’ve paid the county’s portion of converting 20 temporary transit drivers to regular transit drivers and adding three operations supervisors, three mechanics, a night maintenance supervisor and a transit analyst.

“I want CAT to be able to run on time, and I want to be able to give you the level of service that you are paying for,” Williams said. “But if I can’t depend on the individuals to come in, then I can’t give you the service. There’s no other way to make this model work without people and without vehicles, so if I don’t have enough vehicles or enough people then I can’t make the model run.”

City Council is still reviewing the city manager’s proposed budget.

Willams said that CAT was in the red last year by about $500,000.

“So the adjustment that was made for this year reflects that there wasn’t enough money in the system to run the system last year,” he said.

JAUNT, which is owned jointly by and provides service to Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson and Buckingham counties and the city of Charlottesville, has commuter routes and operates the area’s paratransit service for CAT under a contract with the city. Its request was for $2.73 million and the county’s current proposed budget includes $2.5 million.

“Our funding request, it was driven by a handful of things that aren’t necessarily about us trying to correct or improve on any internal aspects as much as continuing sustaining the services that are out there,” said JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield.

Sheffield said an increase in federal funding could allow him to fund a safety supervisor position that was likely going unfunded.

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, which runs the RTP, is requesting funding for a regional transit vision plan, which would include CAT, JAUNT, University Transit Service, Greene County Transit and other modes of transportation, and look at demographics and the transit needs as if there were no bus service.

“Then start to overlay what CAT’s currently doing, what JAUNT’s doing, what Greene County’s doing, and then take a look at where we’re either currently servicing areas that may not need it, or we’re not servicing areas that do need it and help to figure out what’s the best method to provide that service,” said Chip Boyles, the executive director of TJPDC.

Boyles said he applied for $550,000 from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which requires a 50/50 match, but will likely get less funding. If funding was awarded the project would begin July 1.

The county’s contribution to the visioning plan is approximately $69,390 in FY21 and FY 22. The proposed budget also includes $25,000 for annual support to the RTP.

“I believe one of the biggest needs right now is to build the backbone, which is CAT” he said, when asked about the biggest opportunities. “I think helping that fixed route system to be the best that it can be servicing the real core.”

He said they also need to take advantage of the opportunities through both current and future technologies and systems, and be able to connect to those and coordinate internally with CAT’s system.

The board on Wednesday did not vote on any changes to the proposed budget. Another budget work session to consider a funding request from the Boys and Girls Club will be held March 17 at 3 p.m. The board is scheduled to approve a budget on April 20.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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