Good morning, RVA! It’s 76 °F, and blah, blah, blah, hot and humid today. We may see some rain late tonight and into early tomorrow morning, which would be nice. This headline from the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s John Boyer catches the mood: “Richmond hasn’t seen 20 straight days of highs in the 90s since ‘Waterworld’ was in theaters.”
As of this morning, the Virginia Department of Health reports 999↘️ new positive cases of the coronavirus in the Commonwealth and 30↗️ new deaths as a result of the virus. VDH reports 100↗️ new cases in and around Richmond (Chesterfield: 33, Henrico: 30, and Richmond: 37). Since this pandemic began, 285 people have died in the Richmond region. I’ve seen some folks talking about the recent federal change in hospitalization reporting requirements—requirements that bypass the CDC and have hospitals sending data straight to the Department of Health and Human Services. This post on the COVID Tracking Project’s blog is the best explanation of what’s happened, how that’s impacted the public availability of coronavirus data, and what that means for how we understand what’s going on with everything. Let me quote the important part: “it is not possible that any change in federal reporting requirements for hospitals has a causative role in the change in the direction of COVID-19 case counts at the state or national level.” So that’s reassuring! But it’s not all good news as the change in requirements has destabilized some of processes used to report hospitalization data and the underlying data itself. Again, to quote from the post: “These problems mean that our hospitalization data—a crucial metric of the COVID-19 pandemic—is, for now, unreliable, and likely an undercount.” Yikes.
Yesterday, I found myself wondering about GRTC’s ridership numbers now that we’re several months into both a pandemic and a region-wide experiment with zero fares. The best place to get this data is from the most recent GRTC board meeting packet, and you can download July’s right here(PDF). Friends, you will not be disappointed with this PDF—it’s filled with all kinds of interesting information. As for ridership, though, compared to last June, GRTC has seen about a 23% drop. This sounds like a lot, but keep two things in mind: 1) Other cities across the country have shed a devastating number of riders—the CTA in Chicago, for example, saw a 72% drop in bus ridership back in April (PDF); and 2) A big chunk of the lost ridership in Richmond can be attributed to the Pulse. Compared to last year at this time, Pulse ridership is down 44% (74,970) while local service (all the other buses that are not express buses) have only seen an 11% drop (58,074). What This All Means™, I think, is that folks who ride the bus in Richmond are both filling essential, front-line jobs that are impossible to do in a work-form-home situation and that Richmond’s bus riders don’t have a ton of other easy transportation options. Keep that in mind when we start talking about “bringing folks back to public transportation,” because a lot of people never had the option to leave.
Also in this PDF, check out page 20 for a really fascinating choose-two situation that regional elected officials must navigate next year to avoid a projected GRTC budget deficit. Leaders must choose (at least) two of the following to balance GRTC’s upcoming budget: 1) Get the region to pay for some of the more regionally-focused routes through the newly-created Central Virginia Transportation Authority—an authority which should kick off meeting soon and will generate an as-yet-unknown (at least to me) amount of money; 2) Restore some of the cash that both Richmond and Henrico cut from their GRTC allocations last year as they anticipated that sweet, sweet CVTA money; 3) Reinstate fares; or 4) cut