Coalition to City Council: Slow your roll on rapid transit

Jeremy Lazarus | 11/13/2015, 5:54 p.m. | Updated on 11/13/2015, 5:54 p.m.
Slow down the rush to install bus rapid transit (BRT) in Richmond and take the time to ensure that the ...

Slow down the rush to install bus rapid transit (BRT) in Richmond and take the time to ensure that the service will not become an expensive boondoggle.

That’s the message an alliance of 11 civic groups delivered to Richmond City Council on Monday night in calling attention to the potential drawbacks of the developing service.

While the $54 million BRT project dubbed GRTC Pulse is still undergoing design review, speakers from RVA Coalition sought to raise concerns for the council to weigh before the governing body considers putting a final stamp of approval on a project they previously have endorsed.

On a night when the top issue on council’s agenda involved the tax rate to be imposed on owners of homes and businesses, coalition representatives gave council an earful about their BRT concerns.

One big one is that the 20,000 city residents — largely African-Americans — who rely on bus service would be disconnected from BRT because the planned 8-mile route skirts black neighborhoods and would do little to improve their access to jobs and services.

Speakers from the coalition also warned that Richmond taxpayers could end up being saddled with a $2 million to $5 million operating deficit that would steal money from public schools and public safety.

They also raised worries that the construction and operation of GRTC Pulse would undermine the burgeoning apartment and business developments along Broad Street, the main street on which GRTC Pulse will run.

It’s a far different perspective on GRTC Pulse than that offered by the public transit company and its supporters, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who wants the new service operational before he leaves office in early 2018.

For supporters including the Rev. Ben Campbell, who spoke at the meeting, GRTC Pulse is viewed as the kind of modern service the city needs to advance public transit within and outside the city.

They cite its promise of faster service along the route that will link Willow Lawn Shopping Center to the west with Rocketts Landing to the east, where the Stone Brewery operation is being built.

Now projected to carry 3,500 people a day or 1.2 million passengers a year, the wheeled buses on this route would have 14 stations, or fewer stops than most routes, dedicated lanes along curbs or in the median and would start new trips every 10 to 15 minutes — a huge improvement over the 30 minute and longer headways on regular routes.

GRTC has yet to provide any specifics on how existing routes would connect with GRTC Pulse, though officials have said that issue would be addressed before operations begin, now projected for October 2017. Construction of the first stations is to begin next spring if all approvals are in place.

GRTC spokeswoman Carrie Rose Pace said the company is fully aware of the connection issue. She said a study is underway to consider how to improve connections between local routes and GRTC Pulse, with a portion of the study specifically looking at routes in the East End.