UVA’s University Transit Service, a division of Parking & Transportation that operates a fleet of 34 buses on Grounds, gives three million free rides each year. But what did students, faculty, staff and Charlottesville community members use for public transportation before UTS started in 1972? And what are some other ways to get around Grounds today, as students become increasingly environmentally conscious, and apps make other options readily available?
Public transportation in Charlottesville started as early as 1883, when horse- and mule-drawn carts, called omnibuses, traveled around town. Passengers paid 10 cents, or what would be $2.38 today, for a one-way trip from downtown to the University.
In 1895, the first electric streetcar—with University students and townsfolk riding alongside each other—began operating in Charlottesville. Run by the Charlottesville City & Suburban Railway Company, the streetcar was a popular ride: Records show that more than 2,000 fares were collected over its first two days of operation. By the early 1900s, more than 1.5 million rides had been taken on Charlottesville’s streetcars.
In the mid-1920s, bus travel began in and around Charlottesville with what eventually became the Trailways Company. When Charlottesville’s streetcar system ended in 1935 due to low ridership, buses became the main alternative to cars. Though the Charlottesville streetcar is long gone, the tracks can be seen poking through certain worn-down sections of pavement along West Main Street and University Avenue.
By the 1960s, larger bus companies such as Greyhound set up Charlottesville as a midway stop between New England and southern state passenger lines. The Charlottesville Area Transit bus service began in 1975. Today, the CAT buses offer free service to anyone with a valid UVA ID, along with a free trolley service that travels from downtown Charlottesville to the University in a figure-eight loop.
Aside from catching a bus or walking, how do students move around Grounds today? Mopeds, Uber and bikes; technology has brought a myriad of options.
In 2014, Parking & Transportation launched the U-Bike program as an environmentally friendly way for students to zip around Grounds. In its first months, about 20 students signed up to use the 120 bikes placed around Grounds. Today, more than 500 students are subscribers, according to U-Bike ambassador and third-year student Alex Wolz (Col ’17).
Users can pick up a U-Bike from any of the 20 stations around Grounds and return them to any station. Often, Wolz says, friends will text him to say that one or two of the most popular stations are empty because every bike is in use.
But other students say the stations are still lacking location-wise. “They’re great for getting around if you’re on central Grounds but I couldn’t take a U-Bike to my house because there’s no station nearby,” says fourth-year student Maggie Kalagher (Col ’16), who lives in a rented house with seven roommates.
Kalagher, who doesn’t own a car, says that even her friends who have cars rarely drive them on Grounds. “A lot of people use the buses, especially if it’s raining,” Kalagher says, and the main way people get around is walking. She also points to the trolley for downtown access, Uber rides (“if you split it four ways, it’s very reasonable,” she says), personal bicycles, Yellow Cab’s student charge system and Safe Ride as other popular options.
Will UTS still be the preferred method of transport around Grounds in the years to come? Or will everyone be starting up self-driving cars? It’s hard to predict, but one professor sees some trends that will continue.
“Information technologies are revolutionizing transportation and students and young people are the earliest adopters of these technologies,” says Andrew Mondschein, an assistant professor of urban and environmental planning at UVA. His research focuses on how transportation systems facilitate broad urban planning objectives such as access to opportunities, sustainability, community building and economic development. “It’s exciting that the University has started a bike-share program; it’d be fantastic for the city if it could grow beyond Grounds.”
Mondschein also points out how technology has improved the bus and cab systems by providing more accurate GPS and real-time information, enhancing the user experience and thus making them more popular.
“This latest generation of young people drives less than generations past, so if we can provide them with the opportunities to not get in their car, they probably more than ever before will take those,” Mondschein says.
And while Mondschein doesn’t rule out self-driving cars as a future option, he also sees walking as a mode we’ll continue to use.
“The original Grounds, the Lawn, the Academical village were built to walk through,” Mondschein says. “If anything, we need to think how we make the walkability that was so natural—we need to revisit the rest of Grounds and think about what we can do to make it more walkable.”