I’m so happy I think I might cry.

This week’s lead Style article on GRTC is full of good news. Just look at the title: Mass Appeal: Rising gas prices, dwindling road funds and growing suburban ridership. Why GRTC’s new chief executive has an offer metro Richmond can’t refuse.

It seems the CEO of GRTC, John Lewis, is a visionary who’s undertaking a complete review of the bus system and proposing major changes.  As a frequent bus-rider, I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.  A few proposals mentioned in the article:

  • Special bus-only lanes
  • More express routes to suburban locations
  • More amenities on buses (e.g. wireless internet, overhead storage, especially on those longer express routes)
  • Devices to keep stop lights green for buses
  • GPS-equipped buses so that they can be tracked (I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be waiting for a bus, call GRTC and ask where it is, only to be told they have no idea and it should have been there 20 minutes ago!)
  • New indoor transfer hubs with ticket-vending machines
  • More frequent service (again with the crying)

The philosophy John Lewis embraces is to capture the “transit-by-choice” riders- those who have cars but don’t want to use them.  So he wants to expand suburban and express routes and offer more amenities.

He’s also aware that he’s in a free-market competition with the individual car, and he wants the bus to be better: faster and more comfortable.  From Style, “Ultimately, he wants Miller’s hour-and-a-half commute from Whitcomb Court to Bill’s Barbecue [on Boulevard] to take minutes. ‘Our whole goal is to beat a car,’ he says.”

The only red flags I see are that the express route to Fredericksburg is a part of his plan, and it has started well below expectations.  So I hope that route picks up, and if it doesn’t, that he can weather the criticism.  Because, as a transit user, I think many of his ideas are spot on.

From what I’ve read in Style, I’ve got a new hero in town.  Thank you, Mr. Lewis.

I’d be amiss, however, if I didn’t mention other excellent aspects of this article- such as tackling the debate about cutting transit subsidies, the local politics of transit funding and route placement, and the philosophy of public transit.  Props to the (sadly) inactive Richmond Talks Back blogger and UofR prof, Thad Williamson, who’s research on GRTC gets a mention.