With the last one sanctions for Russian energy inciting the cost of crude oil — and, as a result, gasoline prices in Charlottesville and elsewhere — public transportation has become a prominent alternative to less affordable and less sustainable individual transportation methods like cars. While it’s unclear how long gas prices will remain high, retail gas prices could continue to rise, forcing Charlottesville residents to depend on more sustainable methods of transportation, such as buses, which could not provide equal transportation for all residents.
According to one survey published in 2014, Gasoline Price Rise Above $3 a Gallon Affects Transit in the U.S. Gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon in March, and this can already be reflected by increasing the number of daily transit transport.
The uncertainty of future oil prices and car-dependent transportation present an opportunity to simultaneously address the environmental sustainability and accessibility of transportation alternatives. When car engines use gasoline and other forms of fuel, they release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. While greenhouse gases are necessary for absorbing and radiating heat back to Earth, carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution have increased the effect, raising Earth’s average temperatures to levels harmful to natural life.
In contrast, individuals can decreases significantly carbon dioxide emissions and potentially save money by taking the bus instead of driving a car. Within Charlottesville, there are several public transport services with different fares and routes, such as the Afton Express, the Jaunt CONNECT bus, vans through Enterprise and Charlottesville Area Transit. Some services like Jaunt are free, while others like Afton Express charge a monthly cost — $88 a month. In response to rising gas prices, U.Va. Parking and transportation provided a summary of local transportation options and savings compared to driving, including savings of up to $299 per month with Jaunt, a fixed-route commuter service serving Albemarle and neighboring counties.
Andrew Mondschein, associate professor of urban and environmental planning, said these transportation options are viable for Charlottesville residents only if they are accessible in the first place.
“We still see transit as kind of a social safety net, and that’s a really important thing to do,” Mondschein said. “But at the same time, what we heard in our focus groups was that if you don’t recognize that people have a right to access the same types of destinations … it will actually lead to worse outcomes where the system is less usable. ”
As detailed in the 2020 assessment on transportation equity and accessibility within Charlottesville that Mondschein co-authored, accessibility is the ability to connect people to the specific places they need to travel, whether for groceries, work, health care or other community needs. life. . The assessment included input from community members through focus groups and interviews with regional and transportation leaders. Some of the Mondschein explorative on Transportation Equity and Accessibility highlights weaknesses in Charlottesville’s transportation systems, such as inadequate routes to U.Va. The health system, inadequate infrastructure – such as sidewalks and crosswalks – and low financial accessibility.
Because of these structural weaknesses in Charlottesville’s transportation systems, Mondschein points out, people may not have reliable transportation to work or other places they need to be. While some services such as twitter have expanded access to provide free service to American passengers with disabilities certified by the Act, 24.1 percent of Charlottesville residents live below the poverty line, and inadequate transportation solutions can still pose a financial barrier.
Mondschein also explained that there may be a growing demand for responsive transportation to accommodate gaps in bus schedules. However, if these systems require digital financial transactions, residents who do not have reliable Internet access or credit cards may not be able to receive emergency transportation.
Additionally, even if residents are encouraged to choose more sustainable methods of transportation, Mondschein said Charlottesville’s transportation discounts and policies specifically do not increase access for those who require more transportation.
“The kinds of discounts we offer and the kinds of subsidies we offer are still focused on making it cheaper to drive,” Mondschein said. “The city is still considering building more parking lots in downtown Charlottesville in order to meet a perceived economic need to support those businesses with drivers.”
As gas prices continue to rise, people are left with two main options – reduce the amount they travel or reduce the amount of money they have for necessities and other sources of spending. For those who depend on cars for transportation because public transportation is financially or physically out of reach, there may not be environmentally or financially friendly options — especially within Charlottesville.
For university students and faculty, UTS continues to monitor the use of its services. According to Patrick Clark, Parking and Transport Mobility and Alternative Transport Manager, and Rebecca White, Director of Parking and Transport, UTS is primarily designed to support those around and on the ground.
“We run our service in a very compact service area, very small service area, and we run very frequent service in that service area, and we’re looking at about 30 passengers an hour,” White said.
Before the pandemic lockdowns, UTS used bus routes for certain periods at night, but switched to Safe Ride due to lower demands on bus services – which reduced the carbon footprint of their transport services. However, demand has increased since the COVID-19 regulations have been relaxed.
“We had to take a step back and see how best to handle this request,” Clark said. “Based on pick-up and drop-off locations … we can figure out what the common travel patterns were and what times of night.”
Since then, UTS has reinstated night routes and settled on a mixed model system, where fixed routes match high-density journey routes and on-demand van services cover the remaining journeys to better meet increased demand . While they initially had approximately ten centers for the OnDemand service, they have since expanded to fifty centers.
“Six out of seven nights we’ve had an improvement in our trip completion and seven out of seven nights we’ve had a significant reduction in wait time,” White said.
Additionally, scooters are available around the Grounds and in Charlottesville, providing a convenient transportation option between UTS routes in Charlottesville. While UTS may be more limited off-site, transportation services such as the Virginia Breeze or Amtrak bus lines remain available between Charlottesville and Washington, DC
“We understand that it’s not easy to see how your needs fit into these options,” White said. “We’re really trying to turn that around, and think about it from the passenger’s perspective.”
Overall, sustainability transportation policies within Charlottesville and elsewhere depend on local resident needs, physical access, financial access, and urban infrastructure, among other factors. If gas prices continue to rise, the viability of Charlottesville’s current transportation options could change greatly for different groups of people.