Say What? The City of Norfolk is defunding HRT Route 16?

Under the transit revision proposal by Hampton Roads Transit, Routes 44 and 45 could see a boost in frequency while routes deemed as under performers are in danger of being axed. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
Under the transit revision proposal by Hampton Roads Transit, Routes 44 and 45 could see a boost in frequency while routes deemed as under performers are in danger of being axed. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Almost a year ago, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) announced that they would revise the Route 17 (formerly known as the Norfolk NET) into a one-way loop around the downtown Norfolk area. This change coincided with the move of the downtown bus transfer hub from Cedar Grove to an interim location along Wood St.

Now, there’s word that during the March Norfolk City Council meeting, which was held on March 25 (meeting agenda | HRT presentation slides | [YouTube] video of the meeting), city leaders decided to pull funding from Route 17, as well as Route 16. This surprise decision has angered some riders, including those who depend on Route 16 to get to and from the Old Dominion University (ODU) Campus. To say the least, I am definitely NOT HAPPY by this move. as it brings forth a huge inconvenience to those who rely on certain routes to make connections and get to their final destination on time. These cuts will also force customers to have to walk further to get to a bus stop, especially in times of inclement weather and high traffic periods on the roadways.

For me personally, these cutbacks bring back haunting memories of when Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)’s Route 7 had its weekday frequency north of the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry campus reduced from 30-minute headways to 60-minute headways in 2007 due to budget cuts. Several other routes were axed or reduced/re-aligned during that cycle as well, including the Route 98 Trolleybus between Hyde Park and Downtown Tampa (which was cut due to ultra-low ridership).

Routes that could be eliminated

A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus runs Route 7 by the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus in Tampa. Back in 2007, Route 7's weekday frequency was reduced on its northwestern segment due to budgetary constraints and relatively low ridership. However, the reductions have hurt service going to and from the college campus. Could Norfolk's Old Dominion University soon be seeing an even worse fate with its direct bus line, Route 16? Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus runs Route 7 by the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus in Tampa. Back in 2007, Route 7’s weekday frequency was reduced on its northwestern segment due to budgetary constraints and relatively low ridership. However, the reductions have hurt service going to and from the college campus, with buses arriving at unevenly spaced times and confusion as to which bus is going in which direction. Could Norfolk’s Old Dominion University soon be seeing an even worse fate with its direct bus line, Route 16, in danger of being eliminated? Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Changes to all HRT routes mentioned in this post are slated to take effect during the July 6, 2014 markup cycle, with Routes 16, 17, 28, and 412 all slated to be eliminated due to funding issues and/or low ridership (see a Google Map I made of the affected routes). One rider I spoke with noted that when HRT sent route surveyors onto Route 16, they did so during times when the ODU campus was on winter and spring break. Now if that is truly the case, then SHAME ON YOU HRT!

Something that a rider mentioned to me was that Routes 16 and 17 are being eliminated in order for the city to provide funding for the increased services on Routes 44 and 45, which are receiving improvements as part of HRT’s agreement with Elizabeth River Tunnels. From what I’ve learned from watching the video of the council meeting, since capital contributions by the HRT member municipalities isn’t increasing this fiscal year, I guess HRT has found an way to “balance the budget” while trying to shove the route eliminations underneath the radar (that is from public eyes).

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, Route 17, the downtown Norfolk circulator that has seen various changes over the years, is also slated for elimination. Originaly known as the Norfolk NET, which stands for Norfolk Electric Transit, has used hybrid-drive buses, and originally began with a small fleet of electric-powered buses (those latter buses didn’t quite work out for HRT). The route was altered following the opening of the Tide Light Rail Line in 2011 and has seen further changes made to it since then. The route currently has adjoining routes that run very close to it, and has thus been deemed as a duplication of service in the downtown area.

Two other HRT routes that are also slated for elimination include Route 28, which is a Norfolk/Virginia Beach Limited Stop route that has not been well planned from the start (as they don’t utilize specialized buses or anything to distinguish the route from local routes), and Route 412, which is an under-utilized portion of the Peninsula Commuter Service that has seen most of its riders utilize Paratransit services instead (one rider told me that virtually 99% of would-be Route 412 riders utilize Paratransit servces in the area). There are also several local routes in the area where Route 412 runs. I will discuss more about Route 28 in a future blog post about Limited Stop routes.

Changes to routes affected by the Elizabeth River Tunnels Agreement

Also on the chopping block is Route 17, the downtown Norfolk circulator. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
Also on the chopping block is Route 17, the downtown Norfolk circulator. HRT has deemed the Route 17 as a duplication of downtown service due to its close proximity to neighboring local routes. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

As part of the agreement between HRT and the Elizabeth River Tunnels, which operate the Downtown and Midtown tunnels connecting Portsmouth to Norfolk (and is now charging AWESOME TOLLS TO BOTH TUNNELS, I say that sarcastically), Routes 44, 45, and 47 will all see some sort of change come July, either changes with schedules/timepoints/running times, and/or routing changes. This agreement allowed for the Elizabeth River Ferry to operate earlier hours on weekdays.

  • Route 44 will have its downtown Norfolk segment eliminated in favor of improvements on the Portsmouth side of the route. The new eastern terminus would be at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. However, there’s also word that the Eastern Virginia Medical Center loop will also be eliminated. IF THE LATTER CHANGE HOLDS TRUE, PASSENGERS WANTING TO CONNECT TO THE TIDE LIGHT RAIL (LRT) CAN KISS THAT CONNECTION GOODBYE!
  • Route 45 will keep its existing route, but have frequency improvements during rush hours (15-minute headways from 30-minute headways).
  • Route 47 will also keep its existing route, but have frequency improvements during rush hours (15-minute headways from 30-minute headways). This change will affect the segment between Crawford Street and Villiage/Academy.

Routes that could see reductions in service

If a plan to eliminate the Eastern Virginia Medical Center loop segment of Route 44 goes through, the direct connection between the bus route and the Tide LRT could be lost. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
If a plan to eliminate the Eastern Virginia Medical Center loop segment of Route 44 goes through, the direct connection between the bus route and the Tide LRT could be lost, causing many customers to have to walk further to a connecting bus stop and wait longer to connect between buses and trains. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

Routes 2, 11, and 18 are all up on the table for some sort of service reduction, although no further details have been provided. This could mean a possible reduction in frequency and/or span of service.

What one rider is suggesting

Another rider I spoke with has come up with a suggestion that HRT should consider. That suggestion would be to merge portions of the 16 with another route. For instance, portions of Route 4 could be merged into the 16 to maintain ODU service while leaving critical portions of the 4 intact. I personally think that this would be a great idea because it would preserve such service to ODU.

Public Hearings on the matter

Due to rider concerns, HRT will be holding two public hearings to allow public input on the proposed elimination of Routes 16 and 17. Please see below of dates and locations.

  • Monday, April 14, from 6:00-7:30 PM, at the Park Place Multi-purpose Center, 606 W. 29th Street, Norfolk.
  • Thursday, April 17, from 6:00-7:30 PM, at the Tidewater Community College-Norfolk Student Center, 310 Granby Street, Norfolk.

Conclusion

Although it is normal for many transit districts to impose various changes throughout their respective systems, the proposal to eliminate Route 16 has come as a huge shock to many riders that depend on it to get around. I sure hope that HRT will reconsider eliminating the Route 16, in favor of modifying routes in the area to maintain service to the ODU campus.

DISCLAIMER

FOR PRIVACY REASONS, I AM NOT IDENTIFYING THE NAMES OF THE HRT BUS RIDERS I’VE SPOKEN WITH IN REGARDS TO THESE SERVICE CUTS. THANK YOU.

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