Stoney: Proposed GRTC service cuts ‘seems rushed,’ decision to not utilize regional and federal money is ‘inexplicable’

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) could cut off a number of services by the end of this year if they don’t get more drivers and mechanics in the door.

GRTC says they are experiencing staff shortages just like every other industry and reducing services by December could be the worst case scenario.

According to GRTC, 25,000 people ride their transportation system a day. In the last fiscal year, they provided 8 million trips.

In a letter sent to the GRTC Board of Directors on Tuesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney emphasized that proposed service cuts to the city’s public transit system are counterintuitive and puts low-income residents at a disadvantage. His administration met with the company last week to address concerns with their proposed plan.

The mayor encouraged the board to seek alternatives to ending all transit service after 11 p.m., which Stoney says would hit those dependent on transit the hardest.

“Are we going to ask our most transit critical customers, to leave home earlier, wait longer, walk farther and return later? Service cuts should not punish those who need public transit the most,” Stoney said.

GRTC has not announced any specifics about possible service cuts this winter beyond shutting off service at 11 p.m. The company is preparing for several service plans in December, but will evaluate after a month of offering bonuses and training to determine if service cuts are necessary.

“If they cut the service back it’s going to be even tougher,” said Samuel Jackson III. Jackson rides the bus at least five times a week.

While waiting for the bus at the Southside Plaza stop Wednesday, he told 8News he lost his job shortly after the pandemic started. The job loss forced him to rely on GRTC for transportation everywhere.

“I’d be devastated honestly, because a lot of us need to get around on the bus,” said Jackson. “People go to work during different hours and I got to do things different times of the day.”

“People need the bus,” he added.

Stoney proposed to the board alternatively, among other things, that GRTC consider partnerships with rideshare companies to provide micro transit solutions and creating community-based programs that put smaller buses on the streets.

“I ask that you make the choices that will serve the best interest of riders of transit both now and in the future,” Stoney said. “We need to ensure that bus service keeps running for Richmond’s most vulnerable communities.”

With $155 million available to the city in federal funds over the next two years thanks to the American Rescue Plan, Stoney said not tapping further into federal and state resources was “inexplicable.” The company has used pandemic relief funds on free bus fare for riders, hiring more sanitary workers to clean twice a day and higher pay for essential employees.

“GRTC continues strong efforts to forestall any significant service cuts, something we have been successful in throughout the pandemic, unlike other transit systems across the country,” said a GRTC spokesperson.

GRTC says they still need 30 full-time drivers and 11 mechanics. Stoney believes a driver and mechanic wage increase of $5-$7 across the board will provide greater employee retention and be an incentive for new hires.

This week, the transit company announced bonuses for workers, providing flexible training and partnering with the DMV to offer all three CDL tests to help recruit more employees.

GRTC announced a $5,000 and $8,500 new hire bonus for workers to be paid out after a year for operators and after two years for mechanics.

Read the mayor’s letter below:

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