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'Microtransit' could come to Albemarle County as early as this summer

So-called microtransit could be coming to Albemarle County.

A late-summer pilot, run by Charlottesville Area Transit, has been proposed that would offer on-demand, shuttle-like service around Route 29 North to the Shops at Stonefield, Fashion Square mall and Pantops. Those routes were chosen after a study was conducted last year on the feasibility of a microtransit project using a $1.94 million grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

“Microtransit is a real, on-demand transportation solution,” Jessica Choi, a project manager at the engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, told the county Board of Supervisors during work session on Wednesday. “Folks can make real-time trip requests, and those trips are dynamically routed.”

That model is ideal for Albemarle County, which is less urban than neighboring Charlottesville, Choi said, because it can adjust to the needs of a lower-density community more easily.

That could be helpful in corners of the county where fixed transit routes are more challenging to design.

“A fixed route just isn’t going to work in my district,” said Supervisor Ned Gallaway, who represents the Rio District immediately north of Charlottesville. “We don’t have the infrastructure to make a fixed route work.”

Before the pilot can get moving, the Board of Supervisors needs to decide on a method of implementation. Representatives from Kimley-Horn and CAT presented the board with four options: transportation network company, turnkey, partial and in-house.

A transportation network company would be similar to ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft and would not include a dedicated fleet of vehicles. A turnkey model would have a vendor provide service, whereas a partial model would split the responsibilities between a vendor and CAT. And an in-house method of implementation would have CAT provide everything.

“I am not a fan of Uber or Lyft, because of a variety of reports of unreliability and safety issues,” said Supervisor Donna Price. Instead, she and Gallaway as well as supervisors Jim Andrews and Diantha McKeel said they prefer a turnkey or partial turnkey model.

Choi said a turnkey model comes with real benefits.

“The first is that you get to leverage the experience with companies that really have a proven track record of successful service delivery,” Choi said. “You can also maintain agency control without having to do everything.”

Supervisors expressed their excitement at the prospect, though some were unhappy about the pilot’s limited hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with no service on Sunday.

“If I was still working at the hospital, those hours wouldn’t work for me at all,” said McKeel, who used to work as a clinical research coordinator at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Those hours had been determined as the most active in last year’s study.

Nevertheless, supervisors were enthusiastic enough about the pilot to start brainstorming names for the CAT microtransit.

“I’d suggest Kitten,” Price said.


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