A consultant hired to suggest “radical” changes to Charlottesville Area Transit has published a draft study recommending adjustments to existing routes rather than the realignment City Council expected.

“The vast majority of CAT’s current service area would continue to be served in the future,” states the report written by Nelson Nygaard, the firm paid $116,000 to conduct a nine-month review of bus routes.
At a City Council meeting in July, Mayor Satyendra Huja directed the consultant firm to “think bold [and] think radical” while conducting its work. However, the firm took a cautious approach seeking a cost-neutral plan to work within CAT’s existing annual operating budget of $6.5 million.
“The service changes articulated in the draft final concept are cost-neutral, and assume that no additional funding for service will be available in the near future,” the study states.
Some members of council have sought a transition to a “trunk and feeder” transit system where buses would travel frequently through neighborhoods and unload passengers onto main lines.
In February 2011, a state-funded study by the Connetics Group recommended against such an approach. Council hired Nelson Nygaard to seek a second opinion.
In October, the firm presented two scenarios but is now only presenting one set of recommendations.
“While both … scenarios were developed with a mind toward Council’s stated preference that the vision be bold, the effort also recognized and acknowledged the many strengths of the existing CAT route structure,” wrote Lance Stewart, CAT’s interim director, in a staff report for Council. He said ridership on CAT has increased by 51 percent over the past five years and that there were more than 2.5 million riders in fiscal year 2011.
The Nelson Nygaard study does not directly address a move to a trunk-and-feeder system. However, it does recommend building enhanced transfer points at Market Street, Willoughby Square Shopping Center and the University of Virginia Medical Center. The study does not have a cost estimate for these improvements.
Instead, the study recommends consolidating some routes, eliminating others, and creating a new route to serve the city’s Greenbrier neighborhood. It also recommends combining day and night services into the same routes to eliminate confusion.
Route 1A and Route 1B would be combined into a single route from downtown to Piedmont Virginia Community College via Belmont. Service on Saturday would be discontinued due to low ridership.
“In some areas where ridership is very light, service area would be reduced,” the study states.
Route 2A and Route 2B would be eliminated. Areas served by Route 2A would instead be covered by the new Route 11 through Greenbrier. Route 2B would be absorbed into a reconfigured Route 3.
Route 4 would no longer serve Forest Hills Park, but would instead connect downtown with the Willoughby Square Shopping Center. Service along Prospect Avenue, home to many low-income residents, would be provided by a reconfigured Route 9 that would travel between the Willoughby and the Seminole Square Shopping Centers.
Route 7 would be re-routed along Jefferson Park Avenue rather than serve the Corner District because of congestion along University Avenue.
Route 9 would no longer travel to the Downtown Transit Center or Charlottesville High School.
Route 6 would be eliminated and its services would be picked up by Route 3 and Route 4.
The study recommends extending service to the Willoughby Square Shopping Center via several routes and the Stonefield shopping center via an expanded Route 8.
Route 10, which connects downtown and the new Martha Jefferson Hospital, would end at 8 p.m. each night due to low ridership at night.
The firm recommends no major changes to Route 5, which travels entirely in Albemarle County.
Nelson Nygaard acknowledges that many riders would lose service if their recommendations were implemented.
“The primary areas that would lose service are the Avemore Apartments/Wilton Farm areas of Pantops, the northernmost area of Locust Grove and a small portion of the Venable neighborhood, the latter of which would be served by the University Transit Service University Loop every 10 to 30 minutes,” the study states.
Nelson Nygaard is projecting that their recommendations would result in a 9 percent increase in ridership.
The firm also concluded that it would cost an additional $780,000 a year to pay for the operating costs of expanding all current routes to 30-minute frequencies. The study states this would give the system an estimated additional ridership gain of 226,744.
The public can view maps of the proposed changes at CitySpace on Monday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Afterward, City Council will be presented with a report for their feedback. Nelson Nygaard will present a final report sometime in early 2013.