I am a big believer in mass transit.  When I visit other cities with bus systems and metros and see the people actually using them, I am jealous.  I wonder why we can’t do that here in Richmond…

Of course a subway system is not practical at this point, but we do have a bus system that covers a great deal of the city. 

There are issues that plague the GRTC bus system from many sides, but it really comes down to one main issue — right now, it is perceived as a last-chance, lower-class mode of transport.  The counties feel that wherever the bus routes touch is going to wither away — i.e., Cloverleaf Mall area.  That restricts the usability of the bus system by potential riders, since they can’t get but so far on a GRTC bus within the Richmond region.  This perception hurts ridership even without the restricted routes, though.  Many people wouldn’t be seen dead on a bus, and others feel like that’s exactly what would happen if they dared go on a bus.

There have always been a group that doesn’t care about that image, and usually those people don’t have their perception tinged by the Richmond-bias.  So I guess it’s more fair to say that they aren’t aware of the stigma, rather than just not caring about it.  They come from areas where public transit is not frowned upon.

The image is difficult to change, and just gets worse as the years go by.  On the RTD website today, though, is a short article that just may give us a glimpse of how to break through that barrier — Richmond looks to bring back trolley service. (Thanks to wrldcoupe4 for the heads up on that!)

This certainly isn’t a new idea for Richmond, but the difference this time is more of a personal insight for me.  I don’t know if it will happen or not, but it occurred to me when I read the article today that the answer to making public transit "cool" may be to offer an exciting style of traveling en masse.  Even if the trolleys are put in service, and even if they become wildly popular, the trick may still be to convert the trolley riders into bus riders.  A lot of ifs and maybes, but it’s better than nothing.

Anyone else with suggestions on how to bring mass transit back into the mainstream?  — And here’s an added caveat:  how to do it without spending buckets of money.  (It would be nice to do something with existing resources, rather than having to add more crazy taxes.)

3 Thoughts on “Is this how to make mass transit cool in Richmond again?”

  • I used to commute to school in New Orleans on the trolley and bus. Even there, the feeling was different. The bus was the bus, same as here, but the daily ride on the trolley was a more quality experience. Same folks, different feeling.

  • GRTC’s new director, John Lewis, is a pretty amazing guy and has spent his two years here repairing damaged relationships, building new alliances and creating a new master plan for the bus system. I think the next 2-3 years is going to be pretty amazing for transit in the area.

  • John: That’s great to hear! That may indeed be one of the key pieces to turning things around with the public transit here in Richmond.
    john m: New Orleans was one of the cities I had in mind where I enjoyed both the buses and the trolleys. That being said, you’re right that they were two different worlds. I still don’t think either were as stigmatized as the buses are here. Maybe it was just more of an outsider’s perspective, like I mentioned about non-Richmonders riding the bus here.

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