Richmond Transit Riders Union holds first meeting

About 30 people attended the Richmond Transit Riders Union’s first Community Town Hall Meeting, Monday night at the University of Richmond Downtown building.

About 30 people attended the Richmond Transit Riders Union’s first Community Town Hall Meeting, Monday night at the University of Richmond Downtown building.

The RTRU’s initiating committee — made up of individual activists, Richmond Industrial Workers of the World members and other local organization supporters — spoke to community members about the Greater Richmond Transit Company’s (GRTC) recent service cuts, which they claim began with about five routes being eliminated and five being reduced in January.

The initiating committee, which was organized to aid riders in forming the union and has since been disbanded, also addressed the proposal of a rate hike that could go into effect as early as July and service reductions, which could occur in September if approved by the Richmond City Council.

The council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation Committee will discuss the hike and reductions June 22, and the entire council will meet on June 28 to further deliberate transit system changes that would help compensate for “a potential $6 million budget deficit for next year as a result of lost revenue from lower ridership, local and state funding cuts, and increased costs for fuel and health care,” according to GRTC CEO John Lewis.

“You don’t really need to read the GRTC’s financial reports to see the problem with our bus system,” said former initiating committee member and student activist, Sarah Hamerman. “If you’re planning your everyday schedule around buses that consistently arrive late — or worse, have stopped coming at all to your neighborhood — then you know GRTC and city officials are running a system that clearly just doesn’t work.”

Hamerman said she and other committee members worked for the last several weeks to reach out to public transit riders, listening to their stories of the difficulties they face because of eliminated or shortened routes and their concerns over the fare hike.

The committee also contacted other existing community groups and faith-based organizations in the area to gather support for the union, Hamerman said, but the focus was to strengthen the voice of those riders who are directly affected.

According to Kenny Yates, a former committee member and Richmond Industrial Workers of the World member, the now disbanded initiating committee will act as a partner organization, offering continued support to the RTRU.

Yates and other former committee members drafted a list of proposals to kick-start the union’s agenda, which include:

  • Opposing the fare hike and if the increase is unavoidable—proposing that it be temporary and alternative avenues of public transit funding are pursued.
  • Expanding services to work centers in surrounding counties and developing transit-oriented communities.
  • Opposing reduction of service hours.
  • Proposing day-long and monthly passes.
  • Proposing an improved map system at all stops to encourage new ridership.
  • Proposing a portion of the car tax be allocated to public transportation.
  • Proposing to allocate funding for road maintenance to assist in subsidizing public transportation.
  • Advocate for increased state and federal funding for public transportation.

According to Yates, some union members and partner organizations plan to attend the city council’s June 22 and 28th meetings to present a strategic argument against the increased fares and raise other concerns with public transportation.

The RTRU will meet June 20 to plan presentations they will make during the city council meetings.

For more information about the RTRU, visit the group’s Facebook page.

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Erica Terrini

Erica Terrini is a contributing writer for RVANews and currently attends Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is also the executive editor for The Commonwealth Times. During her time in Richmond, she has gotten used to running around like a crazy person with a never-ending checklist in her pursuit to report the local news of a thriving, raw, and pretty fly city.

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