A Trip in Hampton Yields Improvements

On Wednesday June 28, Hampton Roads Transit hosted members of Hampton City Council, the City Manager, and key city staff for a unique event: a direct look at key bus routes in Hampton from the perspective of customers on a transit bus.

Often, HRT’s city partners see routes from the abstract perspective of a planning or budget document, or maybe through conversations with staff using maps with dark lines on them. But this instance was a little different. They sat in an HRT transit bus and saw first-hand what makes some local Hampton routes so distinctive.

The general idea was to show how with slight modifications to long-standing routes, HRT could deliver better service. The exercise proved helpful and shows what can be accomplished with careful staff coordination and a close look at common issues.

City council members, for example, saw how Route 103, which serves the Hampton Transit Center by connecting the downtowns of Hampton and Newport News, might be improved by simply directing more of the route along Settlers Landing Road, allowing HRT to pick up more customers in downtown Hampton. The route serves on average 19 passengers per hour on a typical weekday.

Commissioner and Hampton City Council Member Will Moffett later said, “The HRT bus ride along provided Hampton officials with an in-depth perspective of existing routes and generated new ideas which could potentially make routes more efficient with improved customer service, based upon data and best practices.”

But no route provided a greater, eye-opening opportunity than the Route 114. As it exists today, the 114 provides service between Hampton Transit Center, downtown Hampton, and 73rd Street and Warwick Boulevard. But it is a route full of missed opportunities.

For only a brief segment at the beginning and end of its run, the 114 travels along Mercury Boulevard. But most of the time, the 114 travels along neighborhood streets – W. Weaver Road, Dolittle Road and Power Plant Parkway – before lingering on Pine Chapel Road, then N. Armstead and Lasalle, before finally returning to Mercury Boulevard. These neighborhood streets are often too narrow for buses and cars to use comfortably as they pass one another; many of these streets do not have sidewalks, making boarding and alighting challenging.

This route nearly misses all of Mercury Boulevard, one of the region’s major thoroughfares and a key economic corridor, and the chance to serve customers working and conducting business there. HRT would like to redirect most of the route onto Mercury Boulevard.

HRT staff also thought the ride into Joint Base Langley-Eustis also would be eye opener.

This base is served by Route 118 which provides service between Hampton Transit Center, downtown Hampton and Semple Farm Road and Commander Shepard Boulevard. This route serves 22 passengers an hour on an average weekday, 12 on Saturday, and 10 on Sunday. It’s connection to Langley is problematic because base security requires that all personnel with no military ID disembark outside of the security gate while those with proper ID proceed to one of four stops on base. Once that portion of the route is completed, the bus exits the base. For those customers who got off, they had to cross lanes of busy traffic at the base entrance and then wait for the bus to return to carry them on their way. It’s an awkward arrangement that slows customers needlessly for a handful of riders who have a destination within Langley.

The exercise showed progress. Later, City Council asked the City Manager to have her staff to work with HRT on getting the route 114 onto Mercury Boulevard. This means a focus on investing on sidewalk infrastructure on Mercury.

Regarding Langley and the Route 118, it appears that most council members were in agreement that it does not make sense for the route to deviate onto Langley Air Force base for a handful of passengers. HRT may reduce it to one morning and one afternoon trip per weekday, or eliminate that portion entirely.

HRT staff also convinced council members that it made little sense to bring the Route 109 closer to the waterfront on Buckroe Beach due to the busy on-street parking and the recent construction of homes along the water front.

We hope this experience will be shared with all our city partners. Seeing first-hand what routes are like, the limited number of passenger amenities at are stops, the lack of sidewalk infrastructure and how customers navigate through these challenges, can help HRT and the cities develop more efficient routes, with better passenger amenities to serve all of Hampton Roads.