Commuting without cars

In Albemarle County, it can be a perilous walk to the closet bus stop. Photo: Samantha Baars In Albemarle County, it can be a perilous walk to the closet bus stop. Photo: Samantha Baars

In honor of Sean Tubbs, C-VILLE Weekly’s edit staff tried to get to work without a car—and only half of us made it.
Here’s a look at how our experiment shook out.

No bus for you

I failed.

I live in an apartment complex on Sunset Avenue Extended, and though you’ll see a Charlottesville address if you check the contents of my mailbox, I technically live in Albemarle. For that reason, I suppose, the nearest CAT bus stop is one mile away.

I could walk that far, but because the road I live on is long and curvy with plenty of blindspots, no sidewalk, and sometimes no green space between the road and the guardrail, I opted for what I thought was a smarter plan: Hitching a ride on the private bus owned by Eagles Landing, the apartment complex next to mine. It runs to UVA every half an hour, so hypothetically, it made the most sense to walk there, catch the bus to school, and then take the free trolley downtown.

Six cars steered into the opposite lane to avoid bowling me over on my walk to Eagles Landing. I took a sidewalk up the complex’s steep hill, where the bus was parked. But its driver must have noticed my pilgrimage, because when I tried to board, he informed me that even though the bus had plenty of empty seats—read: no one was on it—the service is only for Eagles Landing residents. Disgruntled, I dodged a handful of cars on my way back home, hopped in the car, and drove to work. -—Samantha Baars

A relaxing ride

In five years of living in Charlottesville, I had taken the bus exactly once—as an outing for my then-3-year-old, who loved riding the bus back in Brooklyn.
Even once I started working on the Mall, it didn’t occur to me to commute by bus. The closest line to my house runs only once an hour, and takes half an hour to get downtown, compared to 10 minutes by car.

But given the challenge, I headed out one morning for the 8-minute walk to the nearest bus stop, and was struck by how relaxing it was to stroll through my leafy neighborhood on a quiet morning. CAT’s real-time route map online showed me the bus would be a few minutes late, so I read a story in the newspaper while I waited, just like I used to do back in New York, waiting for the subway.

When the Route 9 bus trundled up the hill (complete with a cheery sign saying Have a Nice Day!) I boarded to find the change machine was broken, so my ride was free. The minibus was empty (two other riders got on during my trip) and I got off after 10 minutes, opting to walk the rest of the way downtown from Rose Hill Drive instead of staying on the bus as it looped through UVA.

The bus caught up with me on Market Street, but I had a coffee and a croissant (conveniently the Rose Hill Drive stop is right by MarieBette) and a general feeling of well being from all the walking, a welcome respite from my usual morning scramble. I think I’ll try it every week. -—Laura Longhine 

Stuck in Gordonsville

You can’t get there from here.

That’s the gist I got from everyone I spoke to when I asked whether I could commute via public transit between my Orange County home, near Gordonsville, and my office in Charlottesville. In fact, the only point-to-point service in the county is the questionably named TOOT Bus (for Town of Orange Transit System), which loops between the towns of Orange and Gordonsville.

“Oh, lucky you!” exclaimed Brian Cohen, the public relations and marketing manager for Jaunt, the Charlottesville regional bus service, when I told him where I live. What he really wanted to say was, “Dude, you’re stranded.”

As recently as last month, Cohen explained, Jaunt “unofficially” served Gordonsville, using the local Food Lion parking lot as a bus stop, in response to requests by a handful of riders.

“There are no plans to restart that service,” he said. “It’s about demand and funding.”

Or rather, a lack of both.

Jaunt operates on state and federal subsidies, riders’ fares, and—most importantly—yearly funding approved by officials in the localities it serves: Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Nelson, Louisa, and Fluvanna. Jaunt is so successful in those places, Cohen says, that it is starting a new commuter service called Connect. Starting August 5, the first route will run between Crozet and Charlottesville, using 28-passenger buses equipped with wifi and USB ports.

“You can get a little work done, take a nap, or God forbid, have an actual conversation with one of your fellow riders,” Cohen said. (I like this guy’s benign sarcasm.)

My next call was to the president of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. I left a detailed voice message. He did not respond. Nor did he answer my email. I can only assume that Orange County has no plans to join the Jaunt family.

Neither does the town of Gordonsville. When I asked Deborah Kendall, town manager, whether I would have any luck hitchhiking from Gordonsville to Charlottesville, she said, “I’m sure not—and that’s a long walk, too!”

Nineteen miles, to be precise. But go ahead and bust my chops, Deborah, just like the guy from Jaunt did, because the joke won’t be on me after May 15. That’s the start date on my apartment lease in Charlottesville.

“Having public transportation to Charlottesville would make Gordonsville more attractive as a place to live, wouldn’t it?” Kendall mused.

And then we both laughed, in a weary sort of way. —Joe Bargmann

Trolley trip

Depending on how much coffee I’ve had, it takes me about five minutes to walk from my front door to the free trolley stop in front of Fry’s Spring Station, so it’s a convenient way for me to get to C-VILLE Weekly’s offices on the Downtown Mall. It’s a 30-ish minute ride, and a godsend when my beat up old Honda’s in the shop.

But I don’t trolley often, ashamed as I am to admit it. When I ride, I love it—I’m the kind of person who goes a mile a minute, every minute, and taking public transit (which I grew up doing in the Boston area) forces me to slow down a bit. But I don’t always have the luxury of slowing down, particularly when I’m running late for work (another point of shame: I’m a snooze button super user), or when I have two interviews scheduled back to back, in different parts of town, or when I’m on deadline. Owning a car is a luxurious convenience.

During the academic year, UVA students pack onto the trolleys to get to class. Sometimes, the trolley fills up before they get to my stop, which is located smack dab between Grounds and off-campus student apartments, and I have to wait 15 or so minutes for the next one…or, a rarity, the next next one. When I do score a spot on the trolley, I’ll take at least one book-filled backpack to the face before the trolley gets to the Rotunda. Not great, I tell myself, but it could be worse, the ride home will be better, and I should do this more, backpacks and packed schedules be damned.  —Erin O’Hare

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