New GRTC Network Improved Job Access for Disadvantaged Populations

On June 18, 2019, Jarrett Walker + Associates released a memo showing that the GRTC Reroute, implemented in the summer of 2018, has

  • increased by 6% the number of jobs that the average resident can reach in 45 minutes
  • increased by 10% the number of jobs that low-income or minority resident can reach in 45 minutes.

Quite simply, Richmond’s bus network is now useful to more people to go more places in a reasonable amount of time. While our calculation uses jobs because they are easiest to count, access to many other opportunities (shopping, medical, social) has almost certainly also improved.

Our memo is a rebuttal of a report by the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at VCU, published in December 2018, which purported to show that disadvantaged residents were negatively affected by the new network.
To reach this finding, CURA looked only at whether transit was near people’s homes and jobs, but did not care about whether that transit was actually useful. In many cases, the Reroute increased walking distances to transit, but offered total trip times (including the walk) that were faster than in the old system, thereby opening up more places that could be reached in a given amount of time. CURA absurdly describes this situation as totally negative for the customer. The Reroute also included a significant expansion of weekend service. This is especially important to low-income people because low-wage jobs are more likely to require weekend work. CURA assigned zero value to this huge expansion in useful access to jobs.

Even in the context of their assumptions, the most striking numerical findings in the CURA report are incorrect, the result of basic calculation errors. For example:

  • CURA used a roadway network that excluded many potential walking paths. As a result, they calculated many walks as being longer than they actually are.
  • CURA excluded large parcels on the edge of their miscalculated walking distance areas entirely, even if only a small portion of the parcel was outside the walk area.
  • CURA made manual adjustments to the results for dwelling units in low income areas to attempt to address the large parcel problem but only for the old bus system and not for the new one, thus skewing the results in favor of the old network.

Our memo documents these and numerous other calculation errors and methodology flaws in the CURA report, and shows that the report’s conclusions have no validity as a basis for public policy.

In the nine months since the GRTC Reroute was implemented, Richmond has seen ridership growth of 17%. That growth stands in sharp contrast to trends of ridership decline across the U.S. Ridership is going up because in the new network, more people can get to more places, so that they have more opportunities in their lives. While this improvement affects most of the city, it is especially positive for low-income and minority residents.