A new on-demand transit service may be offered to residents of the US 29 North and Pantops areas.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has agreed to contribute $450,000 towards a possible micro-transit demonstration grant for a pilot project through the Virginia Department of Railroads and Public Transportation.
Micro Transit is a phone app-based demand response service that has no set route or series of bus stops. Providers generally use specific vans or vehicles for shared trips. The pilot projects were recommended based on an Albemarle County Transit Expansion Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan.
If the grant is granted, the pilot micro-transit service could start as early as January 2023.
“We recommend that it be an 18 month grant that would cover six months of advertising, vehicle acquisition and training, things like that, and then you can have 12 months of service,” said Nick Britton of the consulting firm Michael Baker International. .
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Once the pilot is complete, Britton said the cost to continue the service would be around $1.75 million per year.
Supervisors supported the pilot.
“Our community is really excited and looking forward to the on-demand model, I think,” said supervisor Diantha McKeel. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time, so it gets us started – we can see how to structure it, what we could do to change it.”
Charlottesville Area Transit will apply for the grant and, if awarded, will provide micro-transit service either directly or by contracting service to a third party.
Garland Williams, director of CAT, said his agency was in the process of purchasing 25-seater vehicles that could be used for the project. He said they should be in town by December.
A study recommended pilot programs in the three study areas—US 29 North, Pantops, and the area near and around Monticello—and the study team suggested that services in the US 29 North and Pantops area would be competitive for state grant funding.
The recommendations were developed based on feedback from transit stakeholders and the public. Recommendations were gathered through meetings and an online survey that received 159 submissions.
“We assumed this would be a weekday only service operating from approximately 6am to 9pm and that three micro transit vehicles would need to be used in order to ensure wait times 15 minutes or more,” said Foursquare ITP’s Boris Palchik, one of the consultants who worked on the study.
The plan recommends that the US 29 North project provide micro-transit service primarily in the county’s development area from Rio Road North to Dickerson Road.
Pantops, which would have service in the development area, was also recommended to provide service only on weekdays with a vehicle in the area regularly and possibly to share a vehicle with the other service area.
As for the Monticello area, it was recommended that it be connected to a larger transit microzone that includes neighborhoods south of Interstate 64.
“However, it would take two vehicles to serve this area, and there are currently no two vehicles available and scheduled for micro-transit service,” Palchik said. “That should be a longer-term recommendation.”
He said CAT had been asked to manage the services as they would be provided in the urbanized area of the region.
“It seemed more appropriate for CAT to be the operator and the grant applicant given that it is in the urbanized area, which is traditionally CAT’s service area,” Palchik said.
The study and plan focused on county transit and what could be done immediately, said Jessica Hersh-Ballering, the county’s lead transportation planner. A longer study of the Regional Transit Vision Plan is also underway.
The county council has agreed to provide $30,000 for a study to determine how to manage transit operations in the area.
The consultants have already begun considering recommendations for a regional authority, which could collect additional revenue in support of regional transit planning and services.
“It should be noted that a regional transportation authority will be among the best funding structures assessed by this study, but it will not be the only governance structure considered,” Hersh-Ballering said.
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will apply for a technical assistance grant to partially fund the study. Technical Assistance Grants require a 50% local match, which would be split between the Planning District, Albemarle County, and Charlottesville.
“We could go on and on with the regional transit partnership and keep doing what we’re doing, but if we really want to advance public transit in our community, that’s the next step,” McKeel said.