The Bulletin

If GRTC doesn’t speed up Pulse, VCU can bail under $1.2M deal

By: - August 2, 2018 4:54 pm

A $1.2 million deal to get VCU students, faculty and staff on city buses in Richmond includes a contractual requirement that GRTC Transit System increase the frequency of its new bus rapid transit line, the Pulse.

And under the contract, if GRTC doesn’t pull it off, VCU can walk.

As launched on June 24, the Pulse runs every 15 minutes except during weekday rush hours, when buses are supposed to come every 10 minutes.

The new plan extends 10 minute service from 5:30 a.m to 7 p.m. on weekdays “as soon as is practicable … but not later than Oct. 1.”

The contract requires monthly reports demonstrating GRTC is meeting that commitment — essentially a new layer of outside oversight. According to the contract, if buses aren’t running every 10 minutes by the beginning of November, VCU can terminate the agreement.

VCU framed the agreement as a one-year pilot program in their announcement, saying they’ll review how it’s worked in spring 2019.

Transit advocates have celebrated the university’s decision to embrace GRTC, something City Council members have advocated for since before the Pulse was approved in 2016, noting that new bus line would essentially serve as an express route between VCU’s two downtown campuses, Monroe Park and the medical center.

VCU currently operates its own private label bus service for students and staff. Under the new plan, that system will be reduced to a shuttle between campus and parking lots, VCU said.

GRTC’s board chair, Gary Armstrong, said in a statement that the new agreement and the funding that comes along with it means GRTC “can explore enhancing other local service in the city of Richmond.”

In early correspondence with VCU, GRTC had estimated it would cost $329,524 annually to reduce weekday Pulse headways to 10 minutes.

VCU had initially also expressed interest in increasing the frequency of the new Route 5, which runs from the East End to Carytown by way of Cary and Main Streets. (Another early condition floated by VCU that didn’t make it in the final agreement: “VCU representation on GRTC’s governance board.”)

Route 5 runs every 15 minutes and VCU had wanted to get that down to 10. GRTC’s cost estimate for that improvement was significantly higher — about $1.1 million. It was not included in the final contract.

Other promises GRTC made to VCU in the agreement include:

  • the creation of a safety committee with VCU Police
  • the designation of a “customer liaison … to respond to and resolve customer complaints … within 24 hours.”

VCU Draft Partnership Proposal – Feb. 2018

GRTC Response – March 2018

GRTC-VCU Finalized contract

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.