2017-05-31 / Featured / Front Page

Supervisor pitches GRTC bus service along Jeff Davis

Sheriff endorses proposal; would cost $477,000

Supervisor Jim Holland is proposing a fixed-route bus line that would make a 23-mile loop along Jeff Davis Highway, state Route 10 and Chippenham Parkway. 
ASH DANIEL Supervisor Jim Holland is proposing a fixed-route bus line that would make a 23-mile loop along Jeff Davis Highway, state Route 10 and Chippenham Parkway. ASH DANIEL A Chesterfield County supervisor has proposed the creation of a new bus route to serve citizens along the economically depressed Jefferson Davis Highway corridor.

Jim Holland, who represents the Dale District on the Board of Supervisors, wants the county to add a Greater Richmond Transit Company route that starts at the Food Lion on northern U.S. Route 1, proceeds south to state Route 10, follows that road west to Chippenham Parkway and loops back around to Route 1 before concluding at the supermarket.

According to an analysis prepared by GRTC, operating the fixed-route bus line Monday through Friday, a total of 255 weekdays, would cost the county approximately $436,000 per year.

An accompanying transportation service for disabled citizens, which is federally mandated for all localities that offer fixed-route service, would cost county taxpayers another $41,000.

The total cost of operating the bus line is $677,477, but GRTC anticipates nearly $200,000 annually in projected state assistance and fare collections. The total cost to the county, according to GRTC, would be $477,329.

The plan is based on 12 round trips daily. That would allow citizens to board a bus once an hour between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

It’s unclear at this point how many bus stops there would be along the 23-mile route.

“This has been on my radar for some time because I know there’s a need,” Holland said in an interview last week. “During our budget meetings, many constituents voiced concerns about transportation, particularly on Jeff Davis. I decided to step up and take the lead on this plan.”

Holland confirmed that he has distributed his bus route proposal to his fellow supervisors via email. He also intends to submit it for consideration at a board work session in the near future.

“That’s my hope, but the chair has the ability to control the agenda,” he added.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle, whose district includes the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor, said via email there isn’t sufficient residential or commercial density to support Holland’s proposed bus route.

“We are tasked with finding the most cost-efficient ways of providing any service to our citizens,” she wrote.

The establishment of fixed-route bus service would be a major shift in Chesterfield, which co-owns GRTC with the city of Richmond. Each locality appoints three members of GRTC’s board of directors.

Until last year, the company’s presence in the county consisted of two express routes – one running along Hull Street Road and another along Midlothian Turnpike.

The county paid more than $360,000 annually to keep those bus lines running.

Ridership fell precipitously after the Board of Supervisors slashed the GRTC subsidy to $163,000 for fiscal year 2015 and raised one-way fares to $6 on both routes.

The board then cited the sharp decrease in usage when it voted last March to discontinue the Midlothian Turnpike express route.

“All transit is subsidized. It’s up to the jurisdiction to decide on the level of service it wants to provide,” said David Green, GRTC’s chief executive officer.

According to Green, one model of public transportation focuses on reducing the local subsidy by maximizing daily ridership and fare collections. Another model aims to provide access and mobility for people who can’t afford other modes of transportation.

Holland’s proposal fits the latter model. GRTC’s analysis projects that only about 9 percent of the annual cost for operating the Route 1/Route 10/Chippenham loop would be recouped through bus fares.

“Mr. Holland has a lofty goal. It’s certainly something to explore and get more information, but the question is who’s going to be willing to pay for it,” said Phil Cunningham, a former county planning commissioner who now serves as president of the Jefferson Davis Association.

As recently as 15 years ago, GRTC operated a bus service called Chesterfield Link on Route 1, but it was cancelled when funding ran out.

According to U.S. Census statistics, poverty in the county has more than doubled since 2000. Much of it is concentrated in mobile home parks and aging apartment complexes along the Jeff Davis corridor.

Sheila Bynum-Coleman, a Democratic candidate for the 62nd District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, has been among those calling on the Board of Supervisors to expand public transportation and help low-income citizens access job opportunities.

Now Holland has a more influential ally in his corner. Republican Sheriff Karl Leonard supports the proposed bus service because he thinks it will help citizens who lack transportation options and get arrested for either driving without proper licensing or failing to appear in court.

“You have to look at the big picture,” Leonard said. “Taxpayers are paying the cost to keep people in jail. The way we’re doing business isn’t working. Why would we continue to do it the same way?”

It costs $117 to hold one person for 24 hours at the Chesterfield jail.

According to Leonard, between 2014 and 2016 more than 48,000 people were arrested and incarcerated in the county for either driving on a suspended or revoked license or driving without a license.

The total cost to keep those people in custody was $5.6 million.

Leonard acknowledged that there’s no way to know how many of them would have chosen to use public transportation instead of driving illegally had the option been available. But if even a fraction of the 48,000 decided to take a bus, he said, the service potentially could pay for itself.

“It’s an innovative approach to try and reduce recidivism. I see it as a win-win,” he added.

So does Holland, who is optimistic his fellow supervisors will eventually recognize the value of the Route 1/Route 10/Chippenham bus route.

“One argument I don’t want to hear is we can’t do it because we’ve never done it before,” he said. “We need to be creative. That’s what leaders do.” ¦

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