Andrea Wieder relies on the bus.
Bus No. 4, which stops at the bottom of Highland Avenue, is the one the Fry’s Spring resident takes to Food Lion and CVS. For Harris Teeter’s Senior Discount Day every Thursday, she takes the same route, transfers to the No. 7 bus and checks out the offerings at Barracks Road Shopping Center. The free trolley shuttles her downtown, and she’ll also take that to the doctor at UVA if she doesn’t walk or ride the No. 10 bus line.
“Timing can be tricky, but that’s life,” Wieder says, and adds it doesn’t take long to memorize a route. Some concerns with the bus, however, are out of her control. “There are frequent delays on the buses. It seems not a problem of the buses or the bus drivers, but the fact that around this town, there is so much construction going on, you can hardly turn a corner without running into cranes and extra congestion.”
On a recent morning, Wieder invited Democratic City Council candidate Heather Hill to ride the No. 7 bus with her.
“I wanted her to sit on the bus with me, see who was on the bus with me and see where the buses go,” she says. “I wanted her to hear that the system seems to have very low priority within the city. I don’t understand that, since it’s a tremendous link and a resource for many, many people.”
On that day, the bus was so late Wieder called the Downtown Transit Station to inquire about the holdup. The person who answered the phone told her that construction equipment at the site across from C&O Restaurant—a slew of detached brownstones known as C&O Row—was causing a traffic jam.
“Why don’t they coordinate things like this?” Weider asks. “Why is it that every single bus in the city of Charlottesville—with the exception of [buses] 5 and 9—passes through the transit center on the same street at the same time?”
Wieder met Hill when the candidate was canvassing the city for her campaign. By the end of May, Hill will have knocked on about 2,300 doors and spoken with at least 1,600 individuals.
“While I am grateful for our public transportation infrastructure, there are clearly ways it can be improved, and I strongly feel evaluating the future state of this system needs to be done in partnership with the county and the university,” Hill says, adding that riding the bus with Weider reinforced some of the transit system’s hurdles that she had heard about from other residents. She notes that CAT has recently installed data collecting fareboxes, which will produce ridership and bus timeliness numbers.
The City Council hopeful likes data, and by surveying neighborhoods door-to-door, she has deduced the top five concerns of the residents with whom she interacted.
Overall, she says affordable housing is the No. 1 worry. Development, zoning and planning come next, with the viewpoint that current projects don’t address the community’s needs, erase green spaces and lack a long-term vision. The third concern was schools and education, followed by infrastructure and supporting multi-modal transportation. Voters are also worried about the allocation of the city’s resources.
“My time speaking with neighbors throughout the city has highlighted the extent to which we are united on many priorities,” Hill says. “It has also made me aware that the issues we hear about in public settings are not always reflective of the things that matter most to the broader community.”