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Suffolk transit updating vision

Suffolk Transit is in the state-mandated process of updating its strategic vision and determining where it can add or alter service to make improvements.

Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning consultants wanted to determine what Suffolk residents prioritized with their transit needs, surveying riders and non-riders alike on their preferences for altered or different services.

A majority of people, according to the survey, want to see more frequent bus service, more weekend service, more bus stops, buses that run more frequently on fewer streets and adding new areas.

In the proposed budget, city officials sought to identify additional funding opportunities and to add other revenue sources to fund expansions and improvements, and to collaborate with Parks and Recreation on the bicycle and pedestrian plan to try to expand multi-modal connections.

The city has a transit system fund — in the 2018-2019 budget at $1.9 million and recommended in the proposed budget at $1.7 million — to manage transportation services provided to Suffolk residents, which is supported by fare box revenue, state and federal grants and a transfer from the general fund. Suffolk contracts with Virginia Regional Transit for the operation of the city’s transit service.

Foursquare said there is the potential for new types of services, including on-demand service for Chuckatuck, Whaleyville and/or Holland, on-demand service for residents to schedule trips ahead of time, and the potential to connect the on-demand service with downtown Suffolk.

However, Acting Director of Public Works L.J. Hansen said he does not think it would be economically viable to run fixed-route service to those communities.

“I think it would be a lot of money spent on buses that, until we really have a good handle — maybe (we) could establish a market, maybe we run demand-response for a number of years and we figure out, ‘Hey, there’s a route here, there’s a way we could make this more regular service’ — that’s what I think we’re looking at in the future,” Hansen said at a March 20 City Council meeting.

The consultants said Suffolk Transit could add commuter service from Windsor to downtown Suffolk during morning peak hours and from downtown to Windsor during afternoon peak hours. Foursquare ITP notes that it would give the state not only a measure of how local transit systems are operating and help with forming funding requests from the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, but also provide an internal resource for Suffolk Transit.

The plan update would ultimately replace the transit development plan for Suffolk Transit, which was last done in 2014.

There has been outreach with riders and non-riders alike last fall and earlier this year, and a full report is expected by the end of this summer.

In the past year, Suffolk Transit received two new buses and two new paratransit vans and installed five new bus shelters. It also added weekday hours on three existing routes and introduced weekend transit service through adding Saturday hours along with a Saturday-only route.

Councilman Mike Duman asked Hansen about the possibility of expanding public transit to the Chuckatuck Square Apartments. City staff is looking at implementing a demand-response model of transit, Hansen said, as the current system is based on a fixed-route model.

“More rural areas might be added in the future, but research would be required to consider the feasibility of such expansions,” Hansen said.

Hansen said these are not objectives Suffolk Transit is asking for currently, but rather things that residents polled have expressed an interest in.

“We’ve come a long way in seven years,” Hansen said. “We had two routes when we started, and this proposal looks at the potential to have nine at some point in the future, and perhaps commuter service and all types of other things.”