The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), met on Thursday afternoon in Norfolk.
The one big issue discussed, which has yet to be covered in the traditional media, are paratransit costs. For all the talk about Norfolk light rail construction costs, paratransit has been the quiet driver in operating budget costs. Paratransit service costs HRT four times as much per passenger to provide than regular bus service. HRT is required under Federal law to provide such, which it contracts out. It is hoped a recent change in how the contractor charges HRT will help get the costs in line. However, additional measures may need to be taken.
The TDCHR approved a contract change that will give HRT more direct oversight and control of Norfolk light rail subcontractors, which will produce construction cost savings.
For FY 2011, HRT is $1.788 million under Budget.
In February ridership was 2.03% over the previous year. For the second straight month, it was an increase in Sunday ridership that bailed the overall figures.
The TDCHR approved the revised schedule for public meetings on a potential fare increase. There will be Public Hearings at the July 22 and August 26 TDCHR meetings, with the vote now slated for the September 23 meeting. In addition, there will be evening public meetings for those who can't attend the afternoon TDCHR sessions.
The meeting packet contained a number of service changes scheduled to become effective July 11. First, two transfer center relocations:
1. Victory Crossing - the new TC will open on Cavalier Boulevard, between McLean Street and Victory Boulevard. Construction on the new TC is due to be finished by the end of May.
It will replace "Victory Dump", IMO the worst TC in the system. Victory Dump is in a weed field in what used to be Fairlawn Homes. Nothing else is around, with the closest (a shopping center) under the I-264 underpass from there.
2. Suffolk - the new TC will be at the Social Services/Public Health facility, replacing Suffolk Bus Plaza. The recently constructed facility was built with bus bays for executing such a move.
Two other changes pending:
1. Leigh Hospital - buses will no longer enter the hospital grounds, with stops to be added on Kempsville Road to serve it. That will aid the on-time performance of Routes 20 and 25.
Having lobbied for this two years ago, I'm quite happy. Rarely do you have a pickup at the hospital.
2. Portsmouth Loop - the Shuttle service might be eliminated come June 30. Federal regulations require that first a public hearing be held in Portsmouth on the issue.
There are also a number of Southside route modifications in store:
1. Route 5 - will now serve Evelyn Butts instead of Wards Corner. The route change will have it go towards Ocean View on Tidewater Drive, adding service in that neighborhood. This change was proposed in the draft Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA).
2. Route 13 - will be split at 20th & Seaboard, with the southern portion becoming Route 14.
3. Route 962 - will be extended from Magnolia Park & Ride to the new Suffolk TC. It's eastern terminus will now be County & Court instead of Cedar Grove.
Taking it into downtown Suffolk is something some of us (including myself) had argued for at the MAX's inception. Yes, cutting at County & Court will inconvenience those of us coming from Virginia Beach and Norfolk. However, the last few times I've rode the 962 I've noticed most passengers are travelling between Portsmouth and Suffolk, so it makes sense overall. In addition, the 962 now doesn't have to traverse the Downtown Tunnel.
4. Routes 29 and 26 - most have realized that changes have needed to be made between Lynnhaven Mall and TCC - Virginia Beach. Route 29 is chronically late while Route 26's ridership is absurdly low. What's been proposed will cut frequencies and may make some trips longer, but will maintain service to all current areas within existing service hours.
Route 29 will have the Mill Dam Road deviation eliminated, with it's southern terminus to become Lynnhaven Mall.
In turn, Route 26 will become a loop route: it will cover it's existing route on one segment, and on the other the portion of Route 29 between Lynnhaven Mall and TCC that is being chopped.