GRTC Frustrations

Like everyone, I’m feeling a pinch from the slow economy and rising gas prices. I also happen to live quite near a commuter lot for Richmond’s bus system, GRTC. I also work downtown, which is where, I imagine, most of the buses are headed each day. So, I thought I would look into the cost and convenience of riding the bus.

GRTC System Error

GRTC System Error

Unfortunately, the GRTC doesn’t post any useful information on the routes, that I could find. I tried the trip planner, but that failed with an unhelpful error message.

After downloading their route map, I made a guess at a suitable route number (Route 27, Glenside Park and Ride). This PDF helpfully had a nice clear map and a trip schedule. Unfortunately, it seems as though my only choice for arriving at work by 8:30 is to catch a bus at the park and ride at 7:32, to arrive at 14th & Bank (one block from my office) at 7:52. There is a bus that departs the Park and Ride fifteen minutes later, but it goes to the garage after stopping at 9th & Marshall at 8:14 — two stops shy of the stop nearest my office. The trip back posses less problems, though the last 27 bus departs my office stop at 5:20, so if I needed to work late, I’d have to find another route.

A portion of the GRTC System Map.

A portion of the GRTC System Map.

Alright, none of that is the end of the world. From what I can tell, there are, of course, other bus routes that overlap some or all of the Glenside express route. Perhaps I could take the 7:45 bus from Glenside and switch to a different route somewhere downtown. But where? Looking at the system map is not a lot of help here, precisely because so many routes overlap. If the trip planner was functional, I’m sure it could give me suggestions. But, as it is, I need to use the hunt and peck method of investigation.

So, let’s imagine that I took the 7:45 from Glenside Park & Ride, and now I’m at the end of the line, 9th & Marshall. It’s now 8:14 a.m. and I need to be at my desk in 16 minutes. It looks like the 6 Route (Main St./Broad St.) passes relatively near 9th & Marshal, and it appears to pass by my office (though I have no idea if there is a stop there). The good news is, the 6 does stop near my work (Main & 13th, which is a couple blocks away). The bad news is, that is as much as I could get from this route map and schedule pdf. From the information on the schedule, I’m not positive that it comes at all close to 9th & Marshall. And, even if it does, the amount of time involved in all of this means I’d probably have to get on the 7:32 bus, anyway, and that bus makes the whole trip.

There is also a bus stop even closer to my work than the 27 line — it is actually at the entrance to our parking lot — but I have no idea at this point what routes stop there. For the sake of thoroughness, I’ll keep trying the Trip Planner to see if it is working. I’m sure it won’t do better than the express that can pick me up very near my house and drop me off a block from work, but perhaps it can help identify back-up routes, should something go wrong.

At this point, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking the GRTC, because I have no confidence that I can find my way around town with what is available on their web site. I don’t know how other small cities handle their public transportation, but I would love to see some examples of public transit done well. I know people bemoan the fact that the DC Metro doesn’t reach very many places, and that the public transportation is only good at funneling people into the city and back (and not so much for getting from one outlying area to another), but it is certainly quite easy to find your way around. I’m sure it’s not fair to compare a (rather small) subway system with an overlapping web of bus routes, but surely something can be done to make Richmond’s public transit more navigable.

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3 thoughts on “GRTC Frustrations

  1. Thank you for your comments regarding our Trip Planner and the difficulties many first time transit users face when making the transition to public transit. I appreciate your candor.

    I’ve been at GRTC for a little over three years now and some common themes have emerged from my conversations and correspondence with transit riders and non transit riders. Such as, “I would take the bus but it doesn’t go where I need to go or when I need to get there” or “it’s so difficult to understand your schedules and bus stop locations”. I’ve taken each of these comments and others to heart and we have endeavored at GRTC to “demystify” transit. We implemented our Trip Planner a little over a year ago to make it easier to try transit. We continue to fine tune the system as we hear from our patrons and your comments are helpful. I apologize for the malfunction of the system when you attempted to use it but when you try again you will find that many of our express routes such as our 27 Gaskins Express and 26 Parham Express serve the intersection of 14th and Main. However, small things like typing “14th & Main St” rather than “14th and Main St” continue to make a difference in our system and we will continue our fine tuning.

    Just as important, you pointed out what I consider to be a fatal flaw in our transit system and that is the frequency of service and the need to make multiple transfers in order to reach your final destination. Our goal at GRTC is make public transit a mode of choice rather than a mode of last resort. If we are going to achieve that goal than our system must be efficient, effective and convenient. Offering bus service that does not get you to your destination within a reasonable time frame will not incent new riders to leave their single occupancy vehicles no matter what the price of gas.

    That is why we recently redesigned our route system placing greater emphasis on express service, eliminating underutlized routes and stops and using the cost savings to provide more frequent bus service. We also proposed eliminating inefficient on street transfers and replacing it with a state of the art transfer center at Main St. Station and connecting those customers to their final downtown destinations with a fast operating and free downtown shuttle.

    Finally, our study identified Broad St. as a prime corridor for rapid transit options. We currently operate over 700 buses each weekday along this corridor. Our plan is to take the vast majority of these buses off of Broad St. and replace them with a high tech high capacity bus rapid transit system. BRT utilizes bus only lanes, traffic signal preemption, bus stations rather than bus stops and high capacity vehicles to gain efficiency, reduce congestion along that corridor and lay the groundwork for future investment in light rail.

    This is an ambitious plan but one which I believe will transform public transit in the Richmond region. At a time when gas prices have reached $4.00 per gallon and likely to continue to rise people are looking for viable alternatives. With the support of transit riders and local government, GRTC can fill that role.

    Thank you again for your comments. I invite you to give transit one more try.

  2. John,
    Thanks so much for your response. I look forward to seeing the innovations you mention come to fruition. In addition to simplifying and improving routes, I think there is also an opportunity to improve the way the complex network of bus routes and transit options are communicated to current and potential riders — e.g. through improved maps and simplified schedules (perhaps trading geographic accuracy for clarity, like Vignelli’s NY Subway map, or the DC Metro maps I mentioned above). I hope that GRTC pursues those avenues as vigorously as you are approaching other changes.

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