Tell us about yourself.
My name’s Ross Catrow, and I’m the staff person for RVA Rapid Transit, a local nonprofit focused on advocating, educating, and organizing for a frequent and far-reaching public transportation system in the Richmond region. Before taking a job advocating for better public transit, I ran a local news magazine called RVANews, and, today, run a daily newsletter called Good Morning, RVA.
What is the focus of your work?
RVA Rapid Transit exists to educate, organize, and advocate for expanding the reach and quality of the Richmond region’s public transportation system. Until very recently, just this past June in fact, Richmond’s transit system looked a lot like it did 50 years ago. Richmond has seen a decades-long underinvestment in public transit which has led to a very disconnected region. As the region grows, we need to build high-quality public transportation to connect people to jobs, affordable housing, healthy food, and educational opportunities.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Working with folks to reconnect our segregated city via public transportation is important work, and I’m lucky to be able to do it. Also, I really do love riding the bus around and exploring different parts of Richmond.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
The unique structure of Virginia’s localities paired with the State’s ban on annexation means the Richmond region must work together—as a region—to build a cohesive, frequent, and far-reaching public transportation network.
For decades, the region’s jurisdictions have had differing philosophies on public transportation and getting them all on the same page is our biggest challenge. Luckily, much progress has already been made: the City of Richmond has launched the Pulse and an entire redesign of its bus network, while Henrico will launch their biggest expansion of bus service in decades this coming September. To build a truly regional public transportation system, the region’s leaders need to hear from their constituents that public transportation is a priority.
What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?
A lot of folks think that we are GRTC, our local transit agency, and not a nonprofit advocating for better public transportation across the region. Additionally, the regional aspect of our work surprises some people. Our vision is for frequent and far-reaching public transportation across the entire region—something that we’ve never had in Central Virginia!
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
On September 16th, Henrico will launch their largest public transportation expansion in over 25 years. They’ll extend the existing #19 all the way to Short Pump and increase the operating hours on their major lines to include nights and weekends. This is huge and opens up thousands of jobs to people living all across the region. Beginning this fall, RVA Rapid Transit will kick off a yearlong project, called RVA Rides, to listen and collect transit stories from existing and potential riders. From this feedback we’ll produce a handful of short videos illustrating the transit-related issues facing the region.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Yes! We’re partnering with several organizations—Storefront for Community Design, Art 180, Saving our Youth, GroundworkRVA, and the Association of Black Social Workers—on a program called City Builders. We’re working with a group of Highland Park youth to explore the history of housing and transportation policy and how those things segregate our neighborhoods to this day.
How are you leveraging the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
The Community Foundation is a generous funder of RVA Rapid Transit, which makes it possible for me to do my job. Without the Community Foundation, and other funders, RVA Rapid Transit would be unable to do the work necessary to move our regional public transportation system forward.
Anything else you would like to share?
Riding a bus for the first time can be stressful—there’s a lot to know and figure out. I love helping folks get over their bus anxiety and learn to ride, so just let me know and we’ll find a time to ride the bus to your favorite pizza joint!