2012-04-25 / Front Page

Green light expected for GRTC bus funding

Supervisors scheduled to vote today
By Donna C. Gregory

Elswick Elswick Supervisors are expected to give the green light this week for funding to continue the county’s two GRTC express bus routes.

The board is expected to vote on the matter today when it addresses amendments for next year’s county budget.

“I’m going to recommend that the board assist in funding the bus service,” said Matoaca Supervisor Steve Elswick during an interview last week. “I want to think that the board will go ahead and fund it. The board did set aside some money for this.”

GRTC currently provides two express bus routes in the county: Route 82, between Commonwealth Centre and downtown Richmond, and Route 81, between the Chesterfield Plaza Lowe’s (near Chesterfield Towne Center) and downtown Richmond.

Both routes have been funded by a state grant for the past six years, but that funding source ends on June 30. Without funding, express service would have ended.

Watkins Watkins County leaders worked with State Sen. John Watkins to seek additional state funding to keep the routes running. Watkins’ request was approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, but still requires final authorization by Gov. Bob McDonnell. The governor is expected to receive the state budget this week for review.

If adopted, next year’s state budget (starting July 1) includes $200,000 in transit funds to cover part of Route 82’s operating costs and $68,000 for Route 81, but with a caveat: Chesterfield County has to provide dollar-for-dollar matching funds to qualify for the funding.

“The county did request the funds [from the state], and we are ready to go as far as the matching funds,” said Mary Ann Curtin, the county’s director of intergovernmental relations. “We’re going ahead and doing our appropriation because it’s included in the state budget.”

Thelma Drake, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, calls the General Assembly’s approval of funding to continue express service in Chesterfield “unprecedented.” The state usually caps its annual contributions to public transit systems at about 18 percent of their annual operating costs.

“This is really a first for us to take our transit money and to go outside of the funding formula,” Drake said.

If approved, Chesterfield’s express routes will now receive a bigger piece of the state’s transit funding.

“It is money that would have been divided up among other systems based on their operating costs,” Drake explained.

About 150 people use Route 82 each weekday, with five boarding times in the morning and five return trips in the afternoon. Route 81 has about 75 weekday riders, with four boarding times in the morning and three in the afternoon. Riders pay a $3 fare each way.

After collected fares and other funding, it costs about $425,000 each year to operate Route 82. Annual operating costs for Route 81 are far lower because of its length and ridership.

Express route riders still face the possibility of higher fares and a reduction in service levels if the funding doesn’t cover all of GRTC’s operating costs.

And an even bigger problem looms. The state funding is only available for one year and is non-renewable. If the county wants to continue routes 81 and 82 after June 30 next year, it will have to foot the entire bill.

“The bigger picture here is the long term,” said Bob Herndon, a Matoaca resident who uses Route 82 to commute to work each week.

“Are the citizens going to have to fight with the Board [of Supervisors] every year on this issue, or is it something they’re going to put to bed once and for all?”

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