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Localities close to adopting regional transit partnership
MPO Policy Board, July 26, 2017
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Credit: Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow
The MPO Policy Board endorsed a partnership that could help area transit agencies work together
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Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 8:57 p.m.

The regional body that oversees transportation planning in Albemarle and Charlottesville has endorsed the establishment of slightly more formal ties between two of the area’s transit providers.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board on Wednesday approved a memorandum of understanding for a regional transit partnership. The partnership would include Charlottesville, Albemarle County and JAUNT.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council are scheduled to sign the document at a joint meeting on August 16.

“We have laid out a proposed structure for a regional transit partnership,” said Will Cockrell, a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

“It would be a forum for the city, county and JAUNT’s corporation board to come around a table and talk and work through transit issues together,” he added.

The city currently runs Charlottesville Area Transit which is an agency under the Department of Public Works. Albemarle contributes funding for its share of the routes.

JAUNT is run by an independent agency and serves a 2,600-square-mile area that encompasses some surrounding counties.

That transit system is exploring the idea of additional bus lines in addition to a Route 29 commuter route funded in part through a proffer related to a rezoning for the Hollymead Town Center.

Developer Wendell Wood, who is required by the terms of the proffer to pay to operate the service, has filed suit against the county to avoid doing so and the matter is pending in court.

The idea of a regional transit authority was actively discussed in the late 2000s but the entity was not created in part because the General Assembly did not allow a local referendum on a sales tax increase that would fund the authority’s operations.

Since then, Albemarle officials have expressed concern at MPO meetings about a lack of communication from CAT officials regarding decisions about routes. Last October they sought a more formal reporting procedure about ridership on routes that serve the county.

A regional body that consists of Albemarle, Charlottesville and University of Virginia officials directed the TJPDC to start work on a partnership last year. Members of the Planning and Coordination Council see increased transit opportunities as a way to get more people out of their cars and off local roads.

When signed, the agreement would create a seven-member advisory board where transit issues would be discussed between JAUNT, CAT and local officials at least four times a year.

The University of Virginia has opted not to participate in the partnership but will be non-voting members who participate at meetings. Other localities may be invited to join the partnership in the future.

A section of the agreement lays out “deliverables and roles” for the partnership, the first of which is to build relationships between the city and county. The partnership is also intended to share information, address pressing concerns, better integrate transit into land-use planning and test how a more formal regional transit system could work.

“The partnership will provide a trial version of a Regional Transit Authority that allows all parties to become more familiar with the concept of a consolidated transit system,” the agreement reads. “Within the partnership, the region will have a venue for negotiating and studying an RTA.”

A more immediate outcome might be that the partnership and TJPDC staff would handle the drafting of contracts between transit providers and localities.

Next year, the partnership will help coordinate the creation of new transit development plans required by federal and state transportation agencies.

The Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro MPO has also studied the idea of regional service between Harrisonsburg and Charlottesville. The study found that there are more than 700 U.Va employees and more than 230 Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital employees who live in the Shenandoah Valley.

The study also projects an annual ridership of 44,620, or 175 daily, passengers spread across several daily trips. The fare would be based on the distance of a passenger’s journey. A one-way trip between Harrisonsburg and Charlottesville could cost $5.

“We will be giving [the MPO] a more in-depth review at the September meeting when we have both MPO’s together,” said Chip Boyles, executive director of the TJPDC.

That meeting is scheduled for September 27 at King Family Vineyards.

The regional service is projected to $500,000 a year, including fare box revenue. The study estimates it would cost each of ten localities served by the route $14,461 in fiscal year 2020, the first year of full service.  

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