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Richmond's GRTC public transit system ranks 10th in national survey.

But Can You Get to the Train Station?

When it comes to public transportation, who cares about on-time pick ups? To hell with being able to get to the counties. Let's hear it for low cost per vehicle mile!

That stat and other crowd pleasers such as cost per vehicle hour and cost per trip earned Richmond's GRTC public transit system the 10th place ranking in a study by the Center for Interdisciplinary Transportation Studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The center ranked 135 transit systems on the basis of 12 measures of operating efficiency.

Santa Monica, Calif. ranked first; Greenville, S.C., ranked last. Newport News ranked seventh.

David Hartgen, professor of transportation studies at UNC-Charlotte, says Richmond's system ranks high because it services a great many riders, nearly 16 million, in a concentrated 374-square-mile area with a service population — 309,000 — that's not very large. That's about three times as much ridership from the population than an average city.

Hartgen knows that a high ranking based solely on efficiency measures might be received dubiously, to say the least. "People are gonna say, 'You're smoking dope,'" he says. He acknowledges that locals don't look for numbers when they ride buses. They look for cleanliness, safety and on-time performance. "From that perspective the system may look pretty poor to them."

But Hartgen insists operating efficiency is the only way to measure transit systems. His center's annual study rewards taxpayer subsidized transit systems for conservative fiscal policy and the ability to get riders in the seats.

He says systems should only increase the number of bus routes into surrounding counties "with great care."

"We shouldn't be out there with all kinds of social agendas and not getting any ridership for it."

For its part, GRTC is pleased as punch with the study results. "I think we have something to be proud of here in Richmond," says GRTC General Manager Rollo Axton in a quote from a press release, "because of our favorable cost-effective performance rankings in the study." Makes you want to hop right on the

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