People living on Pantops and along the U.S. 29 corridor north of Charlottesville will have access to a new form of public transportation this fall.
Charlottesville Area Transit is launching a pilot microtransit app called MicroCAT, which will provide free on-demand transportation for people in those areas.
Similar to popular ride-hailing apps, a person can request a ride, get picked up from their current location and travel to a destination, so long as it’s within the Pantops and Route 29 corridor areas.
If a person needs to leave the designated area, MicroCAT will take them to the nearest bus stop.
“It fills a gap to let people go into town, to UVa, to Charlottesville. It’s for people who wouldn’t normally have that opportunity because CAT doesn’t service in their area,” Albemarle County Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley told The Daily Progress.
While there are bus routes on Pantops and along U.S. 29, getting to bus stops can be difficult for some. For one thing, large buses do not travel into certain residential neighborhoods.
“Having to get to bus stop can be a long walk, and if you’ve got groceries, a child, a stroller or a disability, this closes that gap and allows people to get into Charlottesville by calling an on-demand service to pick them up from their home and take them to nearest bus stop,” LaPisto-Kirtley said.
Thanks to a state grant, CAT Transit Director Garland Williams told The Daily Progress that the service will be free.
“Part of what the county wanted to do is provide a different mobility option for individuals in those two zones as a kind of pilot project to look at how they can better facilitate transit movement for residents,” Garland said.
If it finds success, the program could be emulated in the city.
“I’m hoping the success of this will lead to more mobility options for this region,” Garland said.
Pantops and U.S. 29 were selected because they were identified as areas with a high demand for increased mobility access in a 2022 study.
That Albemarle County transit study named the U.S. 29 corridor as the second-busiest transit corridor in the region and described it as “ripe for service expansion.”
Pantops, meanwhile, “is a major commercial and residential area served by limited transit,” according to the study.
The microtransit program will implement software from Via, a ride-hailing app, according to a joint Via-Albemarle-CAT statement.
“Microtransit is a flexible solution designed to expand transportation access in so-called ‘transit deserts’ — or areas where buses cannot easily reach,” the statement reads. “Riders can instantly book a trip through an app or by calling a phone number, and Via’s intelligent algorithms will match riders headed in the same direction into shared vehicles.”
By making bus routes more accessible, Garland said he hopes it will increase ridership.
Ridership is already up over this time last year but still not at pre-pandemic levels. And having easier access to transit options could increase job opportunities for people who do not own a car.
Plus, the program could have a climate impact.
“If we can get you out of cars and onto public transportation, we can reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the use of fossil fuels,” Garland said.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be presented with more specifics at a Sept. 20 meeting. By then, it’s possible that the official start date of the program will be decided.
“This innovative service will bridge the gaps in our current transit system, providing convenient and efficient mobility solutions to our community,” county Chair Donna Price said in the statement.