Jul 24, 2023 - Transit

GRTC is expanding into the counties and adding a "micro-transit" service

Illustration of a city bus that says "Next Stop."

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Richmond's transit system is expanding deeper into the surrounding counties and launching on-demand "micro-transit" in underserved parts of the region.

Driving the news: GRTC got the green light this month to extend two existing bus lines farther into Chesterfield and Henrico, the Times-Dispatch reported.

  • Meanwhile, the bus system will begin piloting "micro-transit" service in Powhatan, Sandston and Ashland, plus other underserved locations.

Why it matters: It's one of the biggest steps in GRTC's decadeslong history toward a regional transit system, connecting the city and counties — and even the parts of town many still call "the country."

Zoom in: The two bus route extensions will be completed by this time next year and make more than 10 miles — and tens of thousands of jobs — accessible via public transportation.

  • GRTC's Route 1A, which currently runs from downtown and down Midlothian Turnpike to just over the city-county border near Chippenham, will go an additional 8 miles west to the Walmart on Midlothian.
  • Route 1, which runs from downtown to Chamberlayne just over the city-county line at Brookhill Azalea Shopping Center, will extend 3 miles to the Parham and Brook intersection Walmart.

What they're saying: "This is something that's incredibly exciting," GRTC spokesperson Henry Bendon tells Axios, particularly the Chesterfield extension, which will make at least 25,000 jobs accessible within a 45-minute bus ride.

"Micro-transit," which will be branded Link, functions basically like Uber Pool and will launch this year with service to the first of five approved zones beginning this fall, Bendon says.

Image: Courtesy of GRTC

The "micro" zones are:

  • Azalea Avenue/Washington Park.
  • Ashland.
  • North Chesterfield West.
  • Powhatan.
  • Sandston/New Kent.

How it works: Users within the zones download an app and request a ride for transportation within the zones.

  • A smaller fleet, likely vans, will pick up riders throughout each zone.
  • All five zones should be up and running by the end of June 2024.

Of note: GRTC is on track to be fully staffed up on drivers by next year after approving a 40% pay increase in April, per Bendon.

What's next: GRTC is just getting started with its expansion plans.

  • 15-minute service on the Pulse line should resume by September.
  • It's hosting two open houses this week on the planned North-South rapid transit expansion.
  • A study for a western expansion of Pulse is slated to begin next year.
  • Work on a Malvern Pulse stop will start in 2025.

Plus, GRTC is finalizing approval and logistics for two more existing line extensions:

  • Route 19, which runs from Willow Lawn to just past Short Pump Town Center, to extend into Goochland.
  • Route 3B, which runs from Northside to Brightpoint Community College in Chester on Route 1, to extend by 1.25 miles to serve a nearby mobile home community.

Be smart: GRTC's regional growth is a result of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, Bendon says.

  • The General Assembly created the group in 2020 to fund and prioritize regional transportation projects across nine localities.
  • It's funded through sales and gas and diesel taxes, and GRTC gets 15% of that money.
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