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Advocates charge transit plan ignores needs of regular riders

Jeremy Lazarus | 2/17/2017, 6:10 p.m.
Despite an outpouring of concern that regular bus riders, largely African-Americans, are being ignored and overlooked, Richmond City Council voted ...

Despite an outpouring of concern that regular bus riders, largely African-Americans, are being ignored and overlooked, Richmond City Council voted 9-0 Monday to endorse a proposed overhaul of current GRTC routes aimed at speeding up regular service and connecting riders with the east-west Pulse bus rapid transit system now under construction.

With the state poised to give the city $3.8 million to aid GRTC to implement the route overhaul next fall when the Pulse is to go into service, the council rejected the call from advocates to delay a vote on the resolution supporting the RVA Transit Network Plan that was rolled out last month.

The draft of the plan calls for having buses running every 15 minutes on a few main routes, with other routes having 30- or 60-minute service, depending on ridership and demand. The plan calls for consolidating some current routes, including four in Church Hill, and for sharp cuts in the number of stops where passengers can catch a bus. The plan is designed to help speed up runs.

Before the vote, City Council members got an earful from people worried that regular passengers would see little improvement in service or access to jobs, belying city pledges to do more to address poverty and the dearth of job opportunities.

“The draft Transit Plan provides for zero expansion of the existing network and fails to provide more access to job opportunities,” said Omari Al-Qadaffi, a founder and organizer with Leaders of the New South.

He asserted that the consultants who drafted the plan justified it with a poor quality survey and phony statistics that didn’t reflect the demographics of the ridership or the city. The resulting plan, he said, fails to address the concerns of current bus riders who he said do not support it.

Arthur Burton, founder and leader of the nonprofit Kinfolk Community Center that operates in Mosby Court, told the council that drafters simply ignored concerns. He said he and others offered what they considered constructive proposals as the draft plan was being developed, “and none of those concerns were addressed when the plan was rolled out.”

Council members, though, sought to reassure speakers and those watching the meeting on TV that such concerns are being heard and could and would be addressed before the final plan is issued next month.

City Council Vice President Cynthia Newbille, 7th District, promised that she would ride buses during the next few weeks to gather more information and hear rider concerns. Other council members will be holding community meetings to gain feedback.

Meanwhile, Amy Inman, a city planner who is overseeing the transit plan’s development with consultants, sought to counter the impression that concerns were being ignored.

She told the council that “tweaks” already have been made to the plan to restore service and stops near Armstrong High School and in the Oakwood section of Church Hill after hearing from riders like Dora Callahan, who has relied on bus service for 45 years. She and others told the council about the hardships the loss of bus stops in those areas would cause.