Let’s Bolt

Mayor Levar Stoney announced the launch of Richmond’s first dockless electric scooter program today in Monroe Park along with Will Nicholas, Bolt’s Executive Vice President of Operations.

Bolt Mobility is the first company in the city to be permitted to operate and will deploy 500 e-scooters within the city limits. They’ve also committed to locating 35% of that fleet in low-income areas of the city. The scooters are available to the public for rent for 25 cents per minute ridden. Bolt also offers a program called Bolt Forward, which gives a 50% reduced fair for qualifying individuals with lower-incomes.


Mayor Stoney lookin’ sharp on his inaugural scooter ride.
Will Nicholas, Executive Vice President of Operations for Bolt Mobility delivering remarks about Bolt’s partnership with the City of Richmond and introducing Mayor Stoney.
Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney addressing the crowd at the launch of Bolt scooters today. Immediately following, he put on a helmet and took a ride through Monroe Park.

VCU back on the bus (for the next three years)

Big, huge transit news out of VCU:

Virginia Commonwealth University signed a three-year paid agreement with the GRTC Transit System on Tuesday to fund unlimited transportation access on Pulse Bus Rapid Transit, local and express routes for all VCU, VCU Health System and Virginia Premier students and employees effective Aug. 1.

Unlike basically every other mid-sized city in America, Richmond is right smack in the middle of an unprecedented increase in bus ridership—and VCU’s unlimited rides program has been a huge part of that growth. At the moment, VCU-adjacent folks make up 12% of GRTC’s total ridership (you can check out ridership trends by route for the whole system in this PDF). V-C-U! Go Rams, go!

VCU’s original pilot program with GRTC, which was set to end on July 31st, cost the University $1.2 million. With way more VCU folks riding buses all over town than originally expected, the effective cost per ride for the University went way down. Ultimately, this starts to become an equity issue with some rides costing less than other rides. That’s why it’s good to see that VCU will increase their financial support for GRTC immediately, and then continue to increase it each year, presumably paralleling projected ridership increases.

Under the new agreement, VCU will pay GRTC $1.42 million for services in the first year, $1.57 million for the second year, and $1.65 million for the third year to cover the cost of ridership for students and employees on local routes and the Pulse and to maintain 10-minute headways for the Pulse.

Additionally, the University has shown its commitment to encouraging people to get on the bus by eliminating their Campus Connector.

In an effort to eliminate redundant services and contribute to the cost of the new partnership, VCU will eliminate its Campus Connector transportation service, effective July 1.

Heck, why not even go a step further and eliminate the M Lot Route as suggested by @_smithnicholas_?

Now, how can the Commonwealth of Virginia create the same deal for their Richmond-based employees? Or what about SunTrust? If Richmond’s other major employers decided to “get on the bus” so to speak, we’d see some real mode shift take place in the city.

The fundamental principle is this: Mid-sized cities can quickly increase public transportation ridership by spending money making things fast, frequent, and reliable. It works! Take it from Richmond!

Parking in the bus lane 🤦‍♀️

The Pulse, central Virginia’s first and only bus rapid transit line, theoretically has 3.5 miles of bus-only lanes—7 miles, if you count both directions. Dedicated right-of-way like this is a critical feature of rapid transit that keeps buses (and light rail for cities with the density and budget to justify it) out of the tangle of car traffic and zipping speedily along. Toronto recently forced cars off of King Street to give priority to a streetcar, and, as a result, ridership has increased by 25%! And we’re seeing the exact same results in Richmond: The Pulse and its dedicated right-of-way has doubled the original ridership estimates by 100% and now sees over 7,000 rides on a weekday.

Unfortunately, a huge chunk of Richmond’s bus-only lanes—0.4 miles of the westbound section from 9th Street to 3rd Street, around 6% of the total—is unusable due to about five legal parking and loading zone spaces on Broad Street westbound between 3rd and 4th Street. Because of this half-block of parking, most Pulse operators, who aren’t dummies, immediately merge into mixed traffic after leaving the Government Center station. From the operator perspective, it’s a smart decision as it saves them wasted time merging in and out of traffic to avoid parked vehicles. From a rapid transit perspective, it’s a total waste of those beautiful transit-only lanes we worked so hard to get.

This isn’t some sort of mistake, oversight, or the result of a bunch of misguided scofflaw motorists. No! For some incomprehensible reason, this was the plan. Here’s a look at the street layout, from the project’s Roadway Design Graphics (PDF):

You can see how the westbound bus lane, marked in red, terminates at 4th Street, directly into a stack of parked cars. Adding to the inefficiency, Pulse buses must wait behind cars at the light at 3rd Street so they can quickly and awkwardly merge over to service the Convention Center station just feet after the intersection. Why is the City prioritizing less than a half dozen parked cars over thousands of Richmonders trying to get around each day? Why have they decided to devalue the significant investment we have already made in public transportation? THESE ARE GOOD QUESTIONS.

The fix here is obvious: Remove these parking and loading zones spaces and convert that block into a proper bus-only lane. If, after talking to the businesses on that block, the City decides that those spaces need to be preserved, there’s plenty of room around the corner on 3rd Street north of Broad Street. This is such an easy, quick, and low-hanging-fruit fix that would benefit a ton of Richmond’s transit riders. Let’s get it done!

If you’d like to gently encourage Richmond to give the transit-only lanes back to transit, you can:

  1. Email Mayor Levar Stoney and tell him you’d like to see transit given its rightful priority in the transit-only lanes. (rvamayor@richmondgov.com)
  2. Email Councilmember Robertson and tell her you’d like to see transit given its rightful priority in the transit-only lanes. (Ellen.Robertson@Richmondgov.com, make sure you copy her liaison, too: kiya.stokes@richmondgov.com).
  3. Tweet righteously about it! Make sure you tag @GRTCTransit, @GrtcPulse, @LevarStoney, and/or @ellenrva.