BRT FAQ #009: Who even knows about the BRT?

Short answer: Not enough people who actually ride the current bus.

Well, YOU know about Richmond’s future bus rapid transit system, if you’ve been keeping up with our series. But as much as we hate to admit it, not everyone is an RVANews reader. Or even a news reader at all.

Proponents of the Pulse point out that the community has had every chance to hear and be heard at the many, many GRTC community meetings over the last couple of years.

Opponents counter with a legit point–just because you put the word “community” in front of “meeting” and accept people’s presence should they wander in, doesn’t mean that the actual community at large knows what the hell is going on.

Today’s BRT FAQ can be answered with some guesses:

Who even knows about the BRT?

  • People who work at GRTC, the City, and other involved or interested organizations
  • Local newshounds who are not bothered by our excessive chatter about it
  • Residents of the neighborhoods directly adjacent to (and potentially impacted by) parking changes
  • Owners of businesses along the route
  • Transportation advocates (and most likely advocates of other related causes, such as poverty and hunger relief)

In other words, a lot of people who come from a place of privilege. In other, OTHER words, a lot of people who don’t need to ride the bus.

Who needs to know that currently does not?

I will answer your question with an anecdote. Nate Mathews, concerned citizen, and Blake Stack, coordinator of University of Richmond’s Bonner Scholars program, talked this very problem over and decided to reach out to GRTC to offer assistance.

“Blake told me, ‘Nate, don’t try to come up with great ideas on your own. Ask other people what they need,” says Nate.

GRTC needed info from Gilpin Court and the folks who are served by the bus route that runs up into Northside. Nate, having two ears and a heart1, thought to himself that he could certainly round up some people from among his friends and acquaintances to head over to Gilpin, knock on some doors, inform, and listen.

He had spent some time at Gilpin a few years back, helping along with his wife, Lauren, to organize the Gilpin Games, a big backpack drive. They sat down with some residents during the process and asked them their thoughts on why people get stuck in the cycle of poverty. What keeps them in Gilpin?

Their immediate responses were much the same: Transportation and jobs.

“At the time I thought ‘Well, shit, I can’t do anything about that!'” (Please understand that he says that in a disappointed and frustrated tone, not a “not my job!” tone.) “But when I heard that the Pulse was maybe going to happen and people needed to get behind it, I saw a good opportunity to go back to Gilpin and tackle one of the biggest issues the city has.”

He sent his email list a charming plea for volunteers, got a solid group of about seven, and hit up Gilpin on a Saturday morning in November.

Well? What happened? Were they like “Shut up about the BRT already!”

Au contraire! None of them had even heard of it. ZERO PERCENT of the 22 people who answered their doors had heard of the Pulse, and almost all of them were frequent GRTC users.

Nate and crew asked if they’d mind giving a little feedback about their needs from a public transportation system and their concerns about the current one (such as it is). Resounding yes!

In fact, the Gilpin residents’ accounts of their own bus-riding grievances were so enthusiastic, that Nate ended up reaching a lot fewer units that day than he’d anticipated (but don’t worry, he’s going back).

Common concerns were the GRTC’s spotty reliability and its inconveniently lengthy travel times and stopovers at the downtown transfer station. Maybe “inconvenient” isn’t the right word–it’s often debilitating in terms of making it to work, making it back home again, visiting family, and even grocery shopping.

Tales of four-hour trips to work in another part of town, one-hour transfer station waits, and three-hour visits to a sister on Southside helped give Nate a lot more context around the problem. So much so that he is going to redouble his efforts to get people involved. He admits that it’s one thing to just read about the things that keep people within a poverty cycle and another to hear it from their own lips, and he’s pretty sure the people he knows could use that reality check.

In this way, the grassroots flyering experience helps everyone involved–everyone.

  • GRTC informs bus riders about the Pulse and receives valuable information from those bus riders that they need to proceed.
  • Bus riders find out about something that impacts their life greatly, which could motivate them to keep a closer eye on the whole process. Bus riders also feel heard and respected.
  • Volunteers get a lot better understanding of just how essential public transportation is–in addition to a better sense of where they fit into the whole scenario.

“Three hours to get to Southside!” says Nate. “That gets me to Baltimore in my car! Whenever I want! On my own schedule! Imagine what it’s like to [not have a car and] be stuck in a place where there’s no groceries! As you listen to people and you put your own brain and your own wants to rest, this isn’t just a thing on paper–when you hear people tell their story you think about it so differently.”

Dang, I would like to think differently

Nate will welcome you to his next outing on January 18th, if you’re interested! They’ve got 800 more units in Gilpin to try, and he is more than willing to give you some pointers if you’re the kind who seizes up at the idea of talking to strangers.

Contact in order to get on his charming email list and commit to a later BRT flyering date. Mention this article and get a free handshake! (You don’t actually need to mention this article, and Nate doesn’t make a habit of charging for handshakes so you’re probably good.)

Brush up on your Pulse knowledge and revisit our past BRT FAQ posts!.

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  1. Also the very things you need in order to be a Phil Collins fan, according to Jack Donaghy. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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