Coverage, Ridership, or Familiar? CHOOSE WISELY.

Richmond is in the process of redesigning its bus system. Now we get to decide how we want it to work!

Today the Richmond Transit Network Plan folks released three “concepts” of what the future of Richmond’s bus system could look like. Each concept is a different answer to The Big Question the entire Transit Network Plan process is set up to ask: “Ridership or Coverage?”

To get a handle on what those two words mean as they relate to rejiggering a bus system, you can just read the extremely interesting and beautiful 60-page PDF entitled The Richmond Transit Choices Report, or, if you’d rather spend your time doing other things, read the following couple sentences:

If your bus system is stoked on ridership, you’re gonna be into getting as many people onto buses at the same time as possible. If you’re real into coverage, you’ll focus on making sure that everyone has access to at least some buses. These goals conflict—at least if we’re working under the assumption of a fixed budget, which, duh. To increase ridership you’d do things like consolidate lines and make them insanely frequent. To increase coverage you’d run wiggly bus routes within a couple blocks of everyone’s home. The former makes transit a lot farther away from some folks, while the latter makes the buses very slow. See, conflict! They do a much better job explaining all of this over the course of the 60 pages in the Choices Report. You should read it! Don’t be afraid of it!

Luckily, our answer to The Big Question, doesn’t have to be just ridership or solely coverage. It’ll be a uniquely Richmond spot along a continuum with ridership at one end and coverage at the other. We get to decide, informed by our values as a community, where we want to spend our bus transit money. By the way, the amount of budget allocated to ridership goals vs. coverage goals is how we’ll end up measuring all of this—our current allocation is about 50–50.

The three choices below all do different things. The first optimizes the system for coverage, the second optimizes it for ridership, the third keeps things nice and familiar.

The coolest part about this whole process is that we get to decide, together, what we want our system to look like.

High Coverage Concept

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This guy seeks to minimize walking distance to bus stops. Somethings to notice: There are a lot more lines than and they’re all running about every 30 minutes. In this concept, the budget is still split 50–50 between ridership and coverage goals, but they’ve cleaned things up a bit from the way they work currently.

High Ridership Concept

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Behold! This is what an 80–20 split between ridership and coverage looks like. Check out all of those bright red lines that run every 15 minutes! A system designed like this would allow you to walk out of your door to a bus stop without ever looking at a schedule. That’s the magic of high-frequency lines.

Familiar Concept

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The status quo! Booooring. Just kidding—lots of folks ride the bus currently, and this map seeks to minimize the disruption to those people. Notice how squiggly and uneven all the lines are compared to the High Coverage concept.


Like I said earlier, we’re looking to find our place on a spectrum. None of these maps is the map. We’ll work, through the magic of public meetings and contact forms, to come to some sort of consensus and find our own This is Richmond Concept.

Public meetings and contact forms

Ways for you to weigh in:

  • Facebook
  • @RichmondTNP
  • July 26th; Southside Community Services Center; 4100 Hull Street
  • July 27th; DMV Richmond Central Services; 2300 West Broad Street
  • August 3rd; Powhatan Community Center; 5051 Northampton Street
  • August 4th; Community High School; 201 Brookland Park Boulevard

The time to raise revenue is…like a billion years ago

In order to build new things we need new money. But, like, we’ve known that?

Hot on the heels of the release of the mayor’s Triple-Action Investment Plan to raise money for Richmond Public Schools’ Capital Improvement Program, Taber writes a very much true sentence:

Nobody is going to find a way to trim 20%, or even 10%, from the city’s budget without completely crippling even the most basic public services, and we can’t take back money that’s already been spent to put towards something else.

In order to build new things we’ve got to have new money. So it’s nice to hear the Mayor finally propose increasing revenue rather than just more of the same skeptical-face-inducing words about simply increasing efficiency (aside: whatever happened to his idea for a tax-raising referendum come fall?).

But, man, we’ve know about the problems this plan attempts to address for a long while now.

We’ve been aware of the crushing lack of debt capacity since at least the Stone Brewing Co. negotiations, when we briefly wondered if the money lent to them would push us over our limits.

We just finished a budget cycle where the Mayor flat-funded schools, Council debated but declined to institute a cigarette tax that is super common across the commonwealth, and, on top of all that, we’re $4 million short on last year’s budget.

To mic-drop this plan months before the election, just weeks after the city adopted its budget makes me feel sad and disappointed. It is not a secret knowledge that the City needs to increase its revenue—not just to keep up with the Henricos as Taber pointed out, but just to perform basic grass-cutting-type services. We all knew this! There was a real opportunity for our leaders to, you know, lead and get some of these things done this year. Instead, we kicked the Richmond Money Can down the road another 12 months, compounding the problem further.

Postscript

During this past budgeting session, RPS requested about $50 million for their CIP. They were given $5 million. The mayor’s proposed changes to the debt capacity, which you can read about in this very financey PDF, would only gives schools 57.7% of what they’ve requested over the next five years. Like, you guys, this is not great. The city is taking some drastic measure here, and those measures only get us halfway there.

Will #brexit fudge up our Virginia shiz?

Taber on the effects the Brexit will have on the Old Dominion:

…while Virginia should be ready for some ripple effects from any trouble in their domestic market, direct international exports from the commonwealth make up a comparatively small percentage of our $480 billion gross state product. That’s because we happen to remain in our own version of the EU free trade area: the United States domestic market.

Comparatively small, but definitely still significant—which I had no idea about until this very moment.

What if we had an extra 100 million bucks to spend on transportation projects every year?

Aaron Williams, one my favorite local thinkers (well, local-no-longer as he just took a job with the Urban Institute in D.C.), says goodbye to town with this list of seven policy thoughts for the next mayor. Two have me like ?:

Every City Council meeting should have a paper asking for state policy changes instead of a once-a-year wishlist. More mayoral speeches should put Richmond’s problems in the context of state inaction. And every discussion of finances should mention the state’s declining role in important services like education.

And…

BRT and Jarrett Walker’s work on the frequency-coverage trade-off mean GRTC is headed in the right direction, but the system needs dedicated funding if it is going to be an integral part of the future, much less a reliable system for getting those who can’t afford cars from point A to point B today.

Turns out these two thing are super related. Listen as I tell you a tale…

Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads both have a regional sales tax that they dedicate exclusively towards regional transportation projects. It was all set forth in the Big Transportation Bill of 2013, aka HB 2313. Take a look:

In addition to the sales tax imposed pursuant to § 58.1–603, there is hereby levied and imposed in each county and city located in a Planning District established pursuant to Chapter 42 (§ 15.2–4200 et seq.) of Title 15.2 that (i) as of January 1, 2013, has a population of 1.5 million or more as shown by the most recent United States Census, has not less than 1.2 million motor vehicles registered therein, and has a total transit ridership of not less than 15 million riders per year across all transit systems within the Planning District or (ii) as shown by the most recent United States Census meets the population criteria set forth in clause (i) and also meets the vehicle registration and ridership criteria set forth in clause (i), a retail sales tax at the rate of 0.70 percent.

The two big requirements that your locality must meet to levy this tax are that your locality (city or county) must exist within a planning district that has a population greater than 1.5 million and has 1.2 million registered motor vehicles. Guess which two planning districts meet those requirements? Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads!

Unfortunately, the planning district in which we live, the Richmond Regional Planning District, has a population of 1,002,696, so we’re unable to take advantage of this legislation…at the moment.

But! What if we had some loud, proactive lobbying at the state level by Richmond politicians? What if at every single City Council meeting there was a paper introduced and a public comment had about how the Commonwealth could better support Richmond? Perhaps we could convince the folks working across the street in the General Assembly building to lower some of those numbers—numbers that are chosen to specifically limit access to this tax to NOVA and the 757—and allow the Richmond region to participate?

What we’re missing out on

Let’s assume that we can somehow convince the Big Bad General Assembly to take pity on Little Ol’ Richmond. How much money could a 0.7% sales tax possibly generate?

Well, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service (PDF), our planning district (Ashland, Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Powhatan, and Richmond) generated $3,591,684,680 of taxable sales in the first quarter of 2016. If we take 0.7% of that, we end up with $25,141,792.79, or around $100 million of new money to use on regional transportation projects every single year.

That’s two new BRTs every year, y’all.