Three months after launching its new bus rapid transit system in the city, GRTC has rolled out other bus service enhancements this week across Henrico County, including the first bus service to Short Pump.
Revised routes and expanded service hours for bus lines in Henrico took effect Sunday. The changes are the result of $1.2 million in additional funding that Henrico budgeted this year, as county administrators are betting increased bus transit will boost business there.
The changes include extended operating hours to include evenings and weekends on the county’s three routes, as well as revisions to those routes on both sides of the city and the extension of the western route to Short Pump.
That $1.2 million is to be allocated over a nine-month period, after which the county plans to budget $1.8 million annually to maintain the enhancements, said County Manager John Vithoulkas.
The additional investment is described as the largest locally funded expansion of GRTC service in Henrico in 25 years, putting bus stops within walking distance of more than 6,000 businesses along the expanded routes, according to the county.
While the extended evening and weekend hours are aimed at encouraging and facilitating ridership, Vithoulkas said the changes also are expected to drive development along those routes – particularly infill projects along the West Broad Street corridor, such as the 300-plus condos Stanley Martin Homes is looking to build just west of Glenside Drive.
“It fits into a need that we have for all of our population,” Vithoulkas said. “We keep hearing more and more calls for transit, but now I’m being told by our economic development folks that we’re hearing from companies that are asking, ‘Hey, where is the line?’”
The expanded service comes three months after GRTC launched its $64.9 million Pulse bus rapid transit line, designed to provide faster service with fewer stops and dedicated bus lanes across the city between Willow Lawn and Rocketts Landing.
GRTC has said ridership on the Pulse has exceeded expectations since launching in June. Spokeswoman Carrie Rose Pace said daily ridership on the Pulse averages about 6,000 riders, above the transit system’s goal of 3,500 by this time.
Ridership numbers for the Henrico routes since Sunday, when the changes took effect, were not available this week.
Systemwide, GRTC had a 7.4 percent decrease in local service ridership in fiscal year 2017 from the previous year, according to GRTC’s latest annual report.
While Henrico is providing the service in hopes of attracting the ridership needed to sustain it, Vithoulkas considers it a safe bet for the county. In addition to the three routes, Henrico continues to pay for on-demand paratransit service throughout the county via GRTC’s CARE and CARE Plus services.
“You’ve got to have ridership, and in order to have ridership on transit, you’ve got to make it convenient for people,” Vithoulkas said. “The expansion to weekend hours, the expansion of hours in total, and the expansion of routes and where those routes are going, that was entirely intentional.”
Since the changes were approved, Vithoulkas said the county has heard from one business that wants to locate a call center along Broad Street because of the access to the bus line.
“I can’t tell you who the company is, but as soon as they became aware of the expansion, they were looking to locate a call center somewhere in that corridor. Immediately, that’s a couple hundred jobs, and a lot of the folks that would work in this particular call center really do rely on transit.”
Vithoulkas said the enhancements also are expected to drive transit-oriented development along Broad Street, particularly in the area of Westwood Avenue – an industrial corridor just west of Scott’s Addition that county planners are expecting to follow a similar path, having already lured a TopGolf venue.
The county’s moves follow recent revisions by the City of Richmond to its zoning in and around Scott’s Addition. Those changes, approved last year, include a transit-oriented nodal district that allows for taller, midrise development along Broad Street and the Boulevard.
Vithoulkas said he sees similar development spilling over into the county, following the Broad Street bus line across Interstate 195.
“We are very likely to see some transit-oriented development out of the expansion of these lines,” Vithoulkas said. “We know that the hotels, retailers, employers that have employees that come in 24-7 or at odd hours are really appreciative of the board’s efforts to expand these transit lines.
“For us, the strategy is intentional,” he said. “It fits into the needs that we’re seeing from our citizens, but it also makes sense, I would argue, on the economic development side as well.”
The changes include an extension of the Route 19 West Broad Street line from Willow Lawn to West Broad Marketplace in Short Pump. The route, which now includes more than 30 new stops, previously went as far west as Pemberton Road.
The Route 7 Seven Pines line in eastern Henrico was updated to pick up stops from Route 8 Nine Mile, which is being discontinued Sept. 23. The 7 line connects downtown to White Oak with service to Richmond International Airport and Henrico’s Eastern Government Center.
Also in eastern Henrico, the Route 91 Laburnum Connector is operating later and on weekends, with service Mondays through Saturdays until 11 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Extended hours also are implemented on Route 7, which likewise operates until 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, with service starting at 6 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and at 7 a.m. Saturdays. Sunday service is from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.. Both routes previously operated generally from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Route 19 line to Short Pump operates the same hours, with service every 30 minutes.
Updates to other routes also took effect Sunday. A summary of the changes are listed on GRTC’s website.