Changes to Virginia’s gas tax and transit fees will eventually bring savings to Fairfax County bus riders facing financial hardships.
Customized Fairfax Connector bus passes will cut fares in half for low-income riders with a new program that might begin this coming summer, county staff told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 14).
The county plans to reduce fares for people with incomes up to 225% of the federal poverty level. That would put the eligibility cap around $29,000 for an individual or $59,625 for a family of four.
Residents of Fairfax County as well as the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church will be eligible.
The county’s transportation staff is working with the Department of Family Services and Housing and Community Development to get users of those services the discounted passes because they’ve already had their income screened. The county could later expand its outreach to others who qualify.
“I think this is going to be a great, great program once we get it piloted,” Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said.
The county will receive $5.49 million in state funds to pilot the effort for three years as part of Virginia’s new Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP), which supports projects that reduce barriers for low-income travelers or improve connectivity in urban areas, such as by creating dedicated bus lanes.
The grant program was created as part of a transit funding overhaul approved by Virginia General Assembly in 2020. The legislation also raised the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon on July 1, 2020 and again on July 1, 2021.
With about 30,000 daily riders, Fairfax Connector is the largest local bus system in Northern Virginia. It already offers free rides to middle and high school students, and the county temporarily suspended fares for all riders for part of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
County staff are slated to update the board on the reduced fare effort this spring.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay asked staff to return with more information about the cost of implementing and administering the program compared to “the cost of just waiving fares, period,” noting that some neighboring localities are looking at eliminating fares.
“I support this needs-based one, given the size and complexity of ours,” McKay said. “But I do think we need to know what the administrative cost of this is and weigh that against a larger, maybe more aggressive way to provide transit as something that our residents in need can utilize.”
Fairfax County’s growth has come with deadly and dangerous roads for pedestrians, congestion for drivers, and other consequences that planning leaders hope to reverse.
At a Tysons committee meeting on Thursday (Dec. 9), the Fairfax County Planning Commission cited downtown Falls Church, Merrifield’s Mosaic District, and Reston Town Center as examples of what developers and governments should strive to make: mixed-use communities where people can live, shop, work, and play.
Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn said the emergence of major thoroughfares, shopping meccas, and other projects have dramatically changed how pedestrians interact with streets, which were increasingly built with the goal of getting vehicles from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
“We shifted how we built…our roads,” she said, noting how 100 years ago, pedestrians shared roads with bicycles, horses, streetcars, and automobiles, and speed limits were about the same pace as pedestrians themselves.
She said streets used to be considered “owned” by everyone, used for everything from a marketplace for businesses to playground for kids.
“Everybody got to use the street equally,” she said.
Is Mixed-Use Development Helping?
Mixed-use projects like Reston Town Center and the Mosaic District present an alternate path forward that more consciously balances the needs of different road users, Flynn said, pointing to The Boro in Tysons, Comstock’s Reston Station, and the upcoming Halley Rise complex in Reston as other examples.
“Whenever you see people just walking in the street, you know you’ve a great street. You know it’s safe,” Flynn said.
Suggesting their walkability is closer to what might be seen in a city, she said these projects have proven successful for developers and the public, creating places where people want to live as well as destinations.
However, with lower parking requirements and other measures aimed at reducing vehicles, such projects haven’t always come with community support. The pending Campus Commons redevelopment caused an uproar over congestion at Wiehle Avenue and ultimately included changes to accommodate concerns.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also recently approved an expansion of The Boro that some feel lacks sufficient accessibility accommodations and traffic controls, particularly across Westpark and Greensboro drives. Read More
Safety, access, and equity are among the top priorities for Fairfax County residents when it comes to envisioning the future of transportation in the area.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation released a draft report on Aug. 31 for its ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, which will combine and update the county’s Bicycle Master Plan and Countywide Trails Map into an overarching plan for amenities to support walking, cycling, and other self-propelled modes of travel.
The county also received public input from 1,474 virtual community survey responses, 1,217 comments on a virtual barrier and destination feedback map, and 537 comments on virtual planned trail, bikeway network, and complete streets map.
The feedback informed the draft report, which proposes a general framework for the ActiveFairfax plan with four goals:
- Access and connectivity
- Safety and comfort
- Livability and health
- Equity and social justice.
Access and connectivity refers to the goal of providing “a well-connected, multimodal transportation network that offers safe, convenient, healthy, sustainable and affordable mobility options for Fairfax County,” according to the draft.
Objectives under that goal include a focus on planning, implementing, and maintaining a network of safe and comfortable sidewalks, bikeway, trails, and streets that link residential and commercial areas.
The “safety and comfort” goal encompasses efforts to minimize traffic injuries and fatalities with an emphasis on active transportation users, including by pursuing policies and incentives that reduce vehicle trips and travel speeds.
Addressing livability and health will “advance public health, sustainability and the quality of life by providing inviting sidewalks, bikeways and trails that encourage frequent usage,” the draft says.
In order to achieve this goal, the draft proposes providing a variety of educational and promotional programs and events to promote active transportation modes, as well as applying best practices to street designs, including adding wider sidewalks and ensuring bicycle facilities are available for a variety of ages and abilities.
Finally, the goal of addressing equity and social justice aims to “provide a multi-modal transportation system that prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable road users including communities of color, low-income communities, small children and their caregivers, youth, people with disabilities, and older adults.”
This fourth goal’s objectives include adhering to the county’s One Fairfax policy when developing or evaluating active transportation policies, programs, facilities, and practices. It also means making sure the public engagement process for transportation policies and projects is inclusive so that everyone’s needs are adequately addressed.
The county’s transportation department will host two virtual community meetings to further discuss the draft’s vision, goals, and objectives. The meetings will be held Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m., and links to sign up for each are available on the county’s site.