On September 18, 2020, Governor Northam ceremonially signed a new law that provides, for the first time, dedicated funding for Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) and HRT worked with State Senator Louise Lucas (Senate District 18), who sponsored Senate Bill 1038, and Delegate Alex Askew (House District 85), who sponsored House Bill 1726. Commonwealth of Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler, and Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) Jennifer Mitchell also participated in the signing event.
The legislation created the Hampton Roads Regional Transit Program and Fund. The goal of the Program is to provide a modern, safe, and efficient core regional network of transit services across Hampton Roads. This core network of transit routes will provide the greatest positive impacts on economic development potential, employment opportunities, mobility, environmental sustainability, and quality of life. Improved bus service will be phased in, with the first set of higher frequency routes launching in the cities of Hampton and Newport News in 2022. New buses, new customer amenities, mobile ticketing, and improved technology will make the service more convenient.
The Hampton Roads Regional Transit Fund (HRRTF), which will be managed by the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC), will be used in the HRT service area to implement the core network of inter-jurisdictional, high-frequency bus service; including construction of related infrastructure and support facilities and the purchase of necessary rolling stock. The new, dedicated funding will be generated by:
Under the new law, the region’s localities will continue to provide funding for public transit, but the new dedicated funding represents a significant improvement over HRT’s traditional funding model, which consists of HRT entering into individual contracts with each of the six localities it serves each year. That funding model has resulted in a transit system in which riders often experience inconsistent service and long wait-times.
“This legislation provides critical funding to increase access to public transit in a vital economic region of the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam.
The Governor also celebrated the future of transit in the Commonwealth. HRT is launching Virginia’s first public transit buses that are all-electric and produce zero emissions. Under this initiative, prioritized through DRPT’s MERIT prioritization program and funded by a combination of sources, including the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Clean Transportation Voucher Program, the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, and the Federal Transit Administration Low- or No-Emission program, HRT has agreed to remove an equal number of diesel buses from its fleet. Governor Northam announced in October 2018 that the Commonwealth would allocate $14 million, or 15 percent, of the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust to fund the deployment of all-electric transit buses across Virginia.
Governor Northam said, “The transition to all-electric transportation in the Hampton Roads area will help combat climate change, reduce pollution, and drive a clean energy future across Virginia.”
The six new, all-electric buses were commissioned by HRT during the bill signing ceremony, and will be exclusively used on HRT’s Route 20, the busiest bus route in the Commonwealth, which runs along Virginia Beach Boulevard between the Downtown Norfolk Transit Center and the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.