Public transit veteran Julie Timm has taken over as chief executive officer of the Greater Richmond Transit Co. at a time when ridership is up 15% thanks largely to the high-frequency Pulse bus route downtown.
But GRTC still faces perennial issues such as regional expansion.
Timm spent three years in Tennessee as chief development officer for the Nashville Metropolitan Authority and also helped develop the Tide light rail line in Hampton Roads where she grew up.
Timm, who has a master of business administration degree from Vanderbilt University, spoke to Style about her plans.
Style Weekly: What is your vision for Greater Richmond?
Julie Timm: There is already a regional vision plan for a more regional transportation system that is efficient and safe and easy to use and that really helps people get where they want to go to jobs, housing, recreation, food resources and health care.
What will you do to bring more people, especially from lower income areas, to bus lines?
Transit systems nationally continue to struggle with it. There is a complex integration between frequency and coverage — the frequency of getting the most people you can good service, and getting the most coverage in suburban and rural environments and there’s a balance doing that. It’s really a complex issue in having to balance serving the most people when you know that serving the most people means you will underserve some.
What can you do about bringing more regionalism? You have a route going to Short Pump and soon you’ll have one going down Route 1 to John Tyler Community College. What’s next?
I keep getting asked that question and it’s a great question, but I really don’t have an answer for it yet without regional conversations with my partners. Each partner is already looking at solutions. The next priority could be increasing service and frequency. There could be more shelters and more seating. Some people want to see more transit centers like Navy Hill or local neighborhood centers that are larger and more comfortable. Some people want to see an extension of the Pulse.
One follow-up on Navy Hill: The plans include an extension on Ninth Street, now a parking lot north of the John Marshall Courts Building. There’s been some criticism that it needs to be closer to Broad Street.
It’s a good consideration to think about when we look at all of downtown Richmond. There’s definitely a need for better connectivity between our local buses and the Pulse. The (Navy Hill) proposal right now is really interesting and I am very excited to continue conversations to see what serves the city best.
A lady was fatally injured involving the Pulse.
Getting on and off the Pulse is extremely safe. All of the platforms are very safe and they are built to the highest safety standard for this type of infrastructure. We all have a shared responsibility to make the corridor with mixed mobility uses safer.
What about the shortfall in Pulse fares?
There are other systems across the country that do have proof of payment like the Pulse. The Tide (in Norfolk) has proof of payment in Hampton Roads. Part of the conversation we need to have is if it is a fare evasion issue or an enforcement issue or a perception of the issue. I will come out flat out and say that we can do better.
What about Virginia Commonwealth University students — they don’t have any fares at all?
That’s the other side of the conversation, whether you go from having an entirely closed and expensive system in which you prevent people from getting on without paying, such as turnstiles, and you put enforcers out there. If we go to free fares, that’s a huge investment because we currently get millions of dollars from the fare boxes. VCU pays each year for their students and staff to ride GRTC.
Were you wondering about the structure of the GRTC board, specifically that you have six people — three from Richmond and three from Chesterfield — and they only serve for one year. Should their terms be longer?
As we move into a regional system, if that is the wish of the region, we do need to address that structure. If we continue to contract services, for example, to Henrico, then we don’t need to change anything.
Is there any chance that Henrico will become an owner?
I would say that the structure we have with Henrico is working very well for them. They are very happy with it. As we move forward and if the region decides to have more comprehensive coverage, that’s one of the things we may revisit.
Style readers tend to be young to middle-aged and more artistic. There’s been a pretty significant influx into such areas as Scotts Addition and Hanover County and parts of Church Hill. They are interested in public transit.
I know that Hanover is looking at some mobility on-demand pilot. That’s very exciting.
Is that like Uber?
Uber is a great example. You get more of a door-to-door or curb-to-curb service to get to a common point where a bus frequently serves. You’d call up and they’d pick up one or two people and transport them to a high frequency line.