From the candidates: week 6

Find out what mayoral and city council hopefuls have to say about public transportation

(A major award to the first reader who can correctly identify who is pictured on the front page. And by major award I mean, undying respect.)

Our question this week:
If elected, how will you promote the use of public transportation by Richmond residents? What improvements would you make to the current system in order to do so?

See below for how the mayoral and city council candidates responded. As usual, if they didn’t get back to us, you’ll see “NO RESPONSE” underneath their names.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments here or in the districts’ corresponding community blogs. Links to the community blog posts will be added as they come up, so be sure to check back.

FYI, we will be running our final question next week. On Friday, October 31 we will be running a recap of the candidates’ responses (or lack thereof, in some cases) so you can make sure you’re super-informed come November 4.

(Previous weeks: 1, 2, 4, 5)

Mayoral candidates

Paul Goldman:

Over the years, I have already been a big supporter of public transportation and worked to make sure in 2005 that the GRTC didn’t raise the fare. As the only candidate running for Mayor who has taken the lead in challenging the growing deficit and fiscal mess currently existing in city government that would become an even bigger mess if Richmond followed the budget and fiscal plans of Mr. Grey and Mr. Pantele, let me point out that today, 2/3 of the cost of running the GRTC comes from government sources including what is included for the GRTC in the city budget.

Given the fiscal mess that the Wilder-led Administration and the Pantele-led City Council have created, when this is added to the fiscal and economic problems at the federal and state levels, no responsible candidate for Mayor can promise that there will be any new money for just about anything in the next budget; indeed, this is why I have been trying to get Mayor Wilder and City Council President Pantele to tell the truth about the city’s fiscal mess, but they refuse for self-evident political reasons.

Mr. Pantele and others are saying they want to raise hundreds of millions for a light rail system in Richmond, but they refuse to say how they intend to get the money:I think you can figure out who they want to pay!

In this campaign, I have made a solemn pledge not to pander to voters. I will let the others makes promises of spending millions we don’t have.

So let me tell you straight: The next Mayor is going to face the biggest budget deficit in the history of Richmond, and will have to cut millions in wasteful spending while working night and day to protect the safety net for the people of our city.

Thus, the first thing we need to do, in terms of public transportation, is to make a realistic assessment of how much money will we realistically have, and our surrounding localities have, to operate all such systems. In my view, in order to have sufficient funds, the Mayor will have to work with the GRTC and others to make sure all possible efficiencies that can be made without reducing the level of service are indeed made as quickly as possible.

The faster we can be smarter and more efficient, the better for those using public transportation.

Hopefully we can get more cooperation from the counties in regards to public transportation. I will work hard to get this done. But there are no guarantees on this.

So in terms of what can be done, making sure the GRTC provides the best possible service at the lowest possible cost to the rider and the community is something we in Richmond can best control.

The Mayor’s role here is one of promoting public transportation, working to provide the funding possible in a very difficult fiscal environment, and of helping to make it easier for the GRTC to take the actions necessary to make efficiencies without adversely affecting services.

There is no free lunch despite what my opponents claim.

It will take the kind of hard that I am known for doing, my being called “the Man who got things done” by Style Weekly.

Robert Grey:

I’ve been riding the city buses, and I’m convinced that now, more than ever, we shouldn’t be cutting public transportation. Even though the last few weeks have seen a drop in gas prices, families are still struggling with the cost of fuel and the prices of other items that are sky-rocketing. Furthermore, we can’t be assured that the drop in gas prices will be maintained. As a nation, a region, and a city we must look at viable transportation options.

The benefits of public transportation are solid: it saves individuals money, it’s better for our environment, it encourages a healthier lifestyle, and it eases traffic congestion – just to name a few benefits. While people ride public transit for many reasons, service and convenience have to be the top priority to ensure continued ridership.

Like many other city services, we need to make it easier — not harder — to participate and utilize the service we provide to our citizens. The routes should be made more clear and understandable, and we need to work with our regional partners to give our citizens the ability to travel smoothly from the city to the counties and back in a timely manner. Empty buses riding around town don’t provide any benefit to anyone; a thorough and thoughtful analysis of routes and ridership is in order. We also need to ensure that transportation is accessible for all of our citizens.

As the Chair of the Capital Regional Collaborative, former Chairman of the Greater Richmond Partnership and former Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, I will use my experience to bring all interested parties to the table to make the use and ease of public transportation a reality. We have to acknowledge that it’s a challenge to ask people to not use their cars, but when it’s just as convenient and more cost effective to ride public transportation, we will have greater participation. By working with the community and our regional partners to make public transportation easier to use, and by working with businesses to encourage its usage, we can gradually make public transportation a viable option for more Richmonders.

Dwight Jones:

Bill Pantele:

We must facilitate the use of public transportation. As Mayor, I will work for a complete re-routing of GRTC buses, built around a convenient and useful downtown street car system in order to attract greater bus ridership. A regional transportation authority can provide an effective mechanism to promote regional transit in high density transit corridors radiating from our downtown core. I have been an advocate for more bike racks and a regional greenways program that will transform unused land into bicycle paths. I am a strong proponent of “New Urbanism” and a downtown Master Plan that promotes walkability and access to public spaces.

We also need to work with our regional partners to forge a consensus on transportation priorities. I serve on the Executive Committees of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and have developed excellent relationships with officials in surrounding counties. As a former Chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, I have long been an advocate for a more cooperative approach to addressing regional transportation issues effectively.

Lawrence Williams:

City council

District 1

Bruce Tyler (incumbent):

District 2

Tyron Bey:

The production of a world class regional transit system is one of the key components of my plan for a Greater Richmond. As a member of the Citizen Transportation Advisory Committee, we have made improvements to GRTC one of our top priorities. Some of these improvements include a downtown transfer station and a Bus Rapid Transit line along Broad St and possibly Hull or Midlothian. At this time however, we need to move toward routes which help to connect the city with the surrounding counties. This helps to make the system reach places where everyone wants access. Currently, the system only operates in certain neighborhoods, and doesn’t reach major destinations in the surrounding counties.

Providing service, on a smaller scale, to communities outside of the downtown core helps to interconnect the region. Also, creating a downtown circulator, which helps to connect people to major downtown attractions, helps to speed service on routes which are destined for local neighborhood routes. This circulator also will cut down on wait times for riders so that we don’t have a mass of riders waiting on sidewalks. Service in these areas also helps to make the system more attractive for use beyond major peak work hours.

Regional transit is the key to providing the link to connect our suburban community with our urban community. This initiative will help us as we continue to face unstable gas prices, and it will motivate us to find alternatives to driving which pollutes our community.

Patrick J. Kjellberg:

Charles Samuels:

For 5 years I rode the bus almost every single workday. When I went to a recent public hearing on route eliminations, I was glad to see that others also adamantly believe mass transit in Richmond must continue. Your question is not only timely, but is of the utmost importance to those who rely on the bus every day to go to work, doctor’s appointments, etc.

We need to actively market Richmond’s transit system, characterizing it as fast, convenient, clean, green, inexpensive, and easy to use. However, we can’t do that until we know that each of these things is true.

We must examine the system to learn what improvements are needed. My campaign is based on me being open and accessible to the public, therefore, I believe the opinions of the riding and non-riding public must be sought. We can also benefit from learning what cities with successful systems do to make themselves successful.

Another good resource is the GRTC’s March 3, 2008 Comprehensive Operations Analysis Final Report (

Between the opinions of the public at large, those in the mass transit field and other interested parties, I think we as a group can begin to understand what we will need to do to promote the use of public transportation – not only of Richmond residents – but of the greater Richmond area.

Identifying needed improvements is useless unless we implement changes. Some things will be quick and easy to fix. Others will require budgeting, and some may have to be phased in over several years because of cost. A good example is the time and money required to get a new bus out on the road. According to GRTC CEO John Lewis, it can take up to 16 months from ordering to delivery. (6/11/2008 – An Open Letter from GRTC Transit System CEO).

The key to success will be making an implementation plan and sticking to it until all needed improvements are made.

In the meantime, we need to put mechanisms in place for ongoing assessment of the transit system’s effectiveness, and continuously update and improve it. This will be easy to accomplish if we do the right job of changing the system so that both ridership and revenues increase.

This is a timely subject because of the recent gasoline crunch and other current economic issues. We will never have a better time to promote the transit system as the best transportation alternative. I want to focus attention on the transit system early in my term on City Council and continue to emphasize it throughout the next four years.

District 3

Jonathan Davis:

For far too long we have ignored the need to be environmentally conscious in the way we live our lives. Pollution from cars is an easily correctable issue if more people used public transportation. I would advertise on radio stations and T.V. with P.S.A.s to inform and educate our city of the benefits to the environment that mass transportation provides. Additionally the United States is dependent on foreign oil. I would advertise the benefits to society if we make an attempt to decrease our addiction to foreign oil. Unfortunately, mass transportation is limited in Richmond. As it stands now Richmond has no regional mass transportations system and our city bus system is limited due to budget cuts. This fact makes people shy away using public transportation. This is understandable and is the reason why I pledge to I will work solely on improving cost and availability to Richmonders currently and acquiring another mass transit option that allows for regional comingling.

Chris Hilbert (incumbent):

District 4

Kathy Graziano (incumbent):

District 5

Mark Brandon:

Developing the habit of using public transportation is indeed something that people develop over a course of time. It’s going to be a necessary habit for Richmonders as we move forward, and there are many pieces to the puzzle. As a New Yorker for 8 years, I used public transportation exclusively. I have the fond memory of riding the bus downtown to shop with my Mom even as a young child in Alexandria VA. Here in Richmond, GRTC has been actively promoting ridership and I believe the campaign has been somewhat successful. However, I am concerned that, to a great extent, ridership closely follows the cost of gasoline. Getting people in the bus transit habit is probably a matter of getting people to try transit and see how well it can work in getting them to and from their jobs.

Efficiencies are being sought at GRTC. The number of routes, the number of stops per route, and coordination with our sister counties can go a long way towards making bus travel more effective. Also in the mix we need to begin planning now to see how the addition of light rail might impact and work to improve the current GRTC system. As a supporter of the Downtown Master Plan, the recommended circulator route may be a good place to start. I have some concerns that the interim step of Capital BRT (bus rapid transit) may unnecessarily postpone the move to a real light rail system. A light rail system is, at some point, inevitable and would be less expensive to create the sooner it is begun. Also, as a civic leader in the Uptown Main/Cary area, I believe that a straight line rail link connecting Carytown and Main Street Station would be an easier, less expensive way to begin. This would also allow us to use a portion of the GRTC property at West Cary and Robinson as a terminus and perhaps a parking hub. At any rate, we all need to understand our responsibility towards our future and encourage development of improved public transit. Our neighbors in the counties need to sit with us as we discuss our public transit future and as we consider a regional transportation authority. The time to get to work on this issue is now.

Marty Jewell (incumbent):

Lee Shewmake:

I would work with GRTC and the public to improve the “user friendliness” of the current system and implement more runs with the smaller buses. This would ease traffic problems that occur with large buses on narrow roads and eliminate the costs of running the large vehicles for certain routes or during certain times when that capacity of seating is not needed. Also, bus stops need to be improved. Many of them are nothing more than a sign and a patch of dirt surrounded by woods and underbrush. I don’t want to wait there for a bus, so why would I think anyone else would. As far as promoting the current system, we need some interesting advertising about cost and time savings to riders, environmental improvements, etc. Tie bus pass purchases to a raffle or giveaway for lunch certificates or other moderate prizes each week and a larger prize each month. Richmonders are creative folks – we can come up with innovative ways to market our current system.

District 6

Ellen Robertson (incumbent):

To increase public ridership Richmond needs to change its public policy which demand suburban parking standards. We make it more attractive not too use public transportation. We need to form a local parking and transportation authority with the RMA to address both transportation and parking and to coordinate public transit to the use of parking decks and lots. to make them attractive, well light, and provide public transit connectors to the lots. I can support a special fee for parking to support the cost of public transit. I also support the Main Street State becoming the City Visitors Center and the center transit hub for all alternatives to include buses, cabs, bikes, limo, and an intra city loop transit. More marketing, posted routes at stops, attractive seating at bus stop, and education on the value of transit on the environment, fiscal crisis, and clean air is needed to attract riders

Also, the proposed legislation for the General Assembly this year would create a regional transportation authority where the State will impose new fees/taxes for transportation. It has clearly been stated that the Authority would not consider public transportation. I disagree and would hope that our region would only support an Authority if public transit were included.

District 7

Clarence Kenney:

Delores McQuinn (incumbent):

District 8

C. Allen Barrett:

Eric W. Hunter, Sr.:

Reva Trammell (incumbent):

District 9

Doug Conner (incumbent):

We must work in good faith with surrounding jurisdictions to develop a comprehensive regional transportation plan that allows city residents to get to work and conduct their daily business in an affordable and convenient manner. GRTC routes must be carefully monitored to insure that customer services needs are being met. We must also be willing to consider transportation alternatives such as light rail in any transportation plan.

I believe we should also consider offering free GRTC service on those days in which air quality is deemed unhealthy, a program which has proven successful in numerous localities throughout the country.

Eugene Mason, Jr.:

Adrian Preston:

If you have any suggestions for our final question, send them to or leave them in the comments.

(A note to the candidates: All questions are being sent to the email addresses listed on the Virginia State Board of Elections website. If you would prefer we communicate with you through a different email address, please let us know.)

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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