Charlottesville Area Transit is seeking public input on potential changes to bus service in the coming year.
In a presentation to local media Tuesday, CAT Director Garland Williams said this is an initial push to help stem the tide of declining ridership, put a floor in and then allow an opportunity to build the system.
“This is not the end all be all,” he said. “The region is doing a visioning study, so this was designed as a temporary measure over the next couple of years while that study is done to prevent us from having continued rapid decline in ridership.”
Systemwide, CAT is proposing changes to make a consistent weekday and Saturday span of service — from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for major routes and 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for all other routes. All routes operating on Sunday would run from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Some more substantial proposed changes to specific routes include modifications to Route 2 to operate bi-directionally on Avon Street, removing the Route 6 southbound deviation to the University of Virginia Medical Center and extending Route 7 to Walmart.
CAT has set two tentative meetings to hear from the public — the first at noon July 16 and the second at 6 p.m. July 21. Both will be held over Zoom, and the public soon will be able to register for the meetings at charlottesville.gov/zoom.
Routes 1 and 4 and the trolley-style bus route have no alignment changes as part of the proposal. Route 1 would add Saturday service at 60-minute frequencies, while Route 4 would operate from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and Saturday at 60-minute frequencies.
Route 2 is proposed to operate bi-directionally on Avon Street and no longer go down Fifth Street. Route 2A would operate to and from Willoughby Square shopping center at 60-minute frequencies, seven days a week, while Route 2B would operate to and from Piedmont Virginia Community College at 60-minute intervals from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays.
The eastern loop on Route 3 is proposed to be broken out as Route 3E, operating at 60-minute frequencies weekdays and Saturdays. Route 3 would be modified to begin and end downtown, with frequencies improved to every 30 minutes weekdays until 6 p.m., while service would be every 60 minutes on weekday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays.
Route 5 is proposed to start at Fashion Square mall, go to Barracks Road and then down to the UVa Medical Center, operating at 30-minute frequencies on weekdays and Saturdays.
Route 6 would be modified to use First Street South and the deviation to the UVa Medical Center would be removed.
Route 7 is proposed to extend to Walmart, while operating at 30-minute frequencies weekdays and Saturdays and 60-minute frequencies Sundays.
“We’re also proposing to supplement that with additional service when needed during the weekdays during the peak periods between Barracks Road and downtown — so you’d actually have a 15-minute service between those two locations,” said James Baker, with Connetics Transportation Group.
The proposal has Route 8 operating as a new crosstown route between the Shops at Stonefield and Willoughby Square weekdays and Saturdays at 60- minute frequencies.
“It’s a way for people to travel north-south through Charlottesville without having to go downtown and without having to transfer to a different bus route,” Baker said.
Greenbrier and UVa Medical Center service would be removed from Route 9, which would be modified to serve Fashion Square. It also would operate from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 60-minute frequencies, Monday through Saturday.
Route 10 would eliminate its Stony Point segment, to be replaced with service at Pantops Shopping Center in both directions of travel. The east end of the route also is proposed to be changed to provide bi-directional service.
A loop on Route 11 around St. Clair Avenue would be removed to provide time for a new Rio Road service for The Center, which would be northbound only.
Williams said data from automatic passenger counters, historical ridership trends and population information informed the proposed changes.
In 2019, Williams said he was trying to increase ridership to keep the agency out of a “death spiral” due to state funding changes based on performance. In 2013, CAT was carrying more than 2.4 million riders a year, and that was down to about 2 million riders in 2018, according to the agency.
“Frequencies have a lot to do with whether people will potentially use our system or not, so getting our frequencies better was a major push,” Williams said Tuesday.
Two transit planning efforts — a regional transit vision plan and a transit expansion study for Albemarle — are starting now with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
Recommendations in the regional plan will be developed for short-term, long-term and extended long-term timeframes through 2050 to help develop “a clear vision for the future of transit.”
Williams said that based on his experience in Richmond, he anticipates the planning effort locally will take about a year, and then implementation likely could happen about six to eight months after that.
The Albemarle County Transit Expansion Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan will look at expanding transit service to “population and employment centers” in Albemarle — specifically the Pantops area, Monticello and along north U.S. 29 — and consider “innovative transit options,” including on-demand services.
Williams said CAT is open to providing transportation anywhere.
“All we need is for the jurisdictions to tell us, ‘Let’s go,’ provide funding and we’ll make it happen, but that decision has to be at the jurisdictional level, not with CAT,” he said.