FISHERSVILLE — A new public transportation service has been given the green light in the Shenandoah Valley.
After years of planning, the Afton Express bus service is launching Sept. 1.
To celebrate, a special ribbon-cutting event was held at the BRITE Bus Transit Services facility in Fishersville on Monday afternoon.
According to the Afton Express website, the service will connect communities to the west of Afton Mountain, such as Waynesboro, Staunton and Fishersville, to Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
For Bonnie Riedesel, executive director of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, the service has been a long time coming.
“Throughout the past decade, probably even longer, there has been talk about the need for a bus system between the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville,” Riedesel said. “We are keenly aware of how many people live on this side of the mountain and commute every day to the other side.”
Transit planner Nancy Gourley couldn’t agree more, and devoted much of her time and services to the project.
To her, it was a project she said really came to life just two years ago.
“In 2019, we assembled a group of stakeholders and worked with a consultant on a service plan for the Afton Express,” Gourley said. “It was this regional collaboration, along with the support and guidance of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation staff, that has really made this service possible.”
“Additionally, these same stakeholders — the University of Virginia, the cities of Staunton, Waynesboro and Charlottesville and the counties of Augusta and Albemarle — pledged the local funding that allowed us to match state grant funds and initiate the service.”
With all of the major planning and funding finally settled, the Afton Express is ready to launch in two weeks.
Gourley said buses will provide four morning and four afternoon commutes over Afton Mountain Monday through Friday. When the service launches, boarding locations on the mountain’s west side will be located at the BRITE services facility in Fishersville, the Waynesboro Park & Ride lot and, temporarily, at the Staunton Mall.
“The first bus in the morning will begin at 5 a.m. in the Fishersville Park & Ride and arrive in Charlottesville by 6:30 in plenty of time for folks who start work at 7 o’clock,” Gourley said. “The last trip will depart from Waynesboro just before 8 and will be through its route in Charlottesville and end in 5th St. Station by 9 o’clock.”
From there, the service offers plenty of stops in Charlottesville.
Beginning at 3 p.m., the service will reverse, Gourley said. The last trip will circulate at 6 p.m. Stops in Charlottesville include Bavaro Hall and the Moore Health Services Library at UVa; near the Amtrak station; the Downtown Transit Center; and 5th St. Station, including Wegmans.
Gourley said there are plenty of opportunities for those riding the Afton Express to transfer to other means of transportation, including Charlottesville Area Transit, Jaunt and UVa buses.
The Afton Express buses also have been designed with several key accommodations for riders, including bike racks, USB ports and Wi-Fi. Additionally, Gourley said all of the busses are ADA accessible with lifts and tie-downs for riders.
“The very best news is that during the entire month of September, all rides will be free,” Gourley said. “There will be no charge for riding the Afton Express in the month of September. Beginning Oct. 1, the fare will be just $3 one way, payable on the bus, and riders will have the opportunity to purchase a cost-saving 10-ride fare card for $25.”
UVa Director of Transportation Becca White said she sees great potential in the service further connecting the Valley and Charlottesville.
White revealed some interesting numbers discovered through an additional study on the public bus service.
“Estimates suggest that this service could reduce vehicle miles traveled by 875,000 miles a year,” White said. “Imagine how much that reduction makes a difference in tailpipe emissions [and] demand for fuel.”
To go with her point, White informed the audience that those numbers are equivalent to travelling around the Equator 35 times.
Statistics aside, White argued that the service could provide crucial assistance in transiting to-and-from work to the Valley for those employed by UVa.
“Our data shows that at UVa, up to 7[%] or 8% of our entire workforce is living in the Shenandoah Valley,” White said. “That demographic probably repeats itself for every single employer in Charlottesville. I challenge everybody to step forward to support [the Afton Express].”
Frank Friedman, chairman of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, said he sees plenty of simple pleasures in choosing the new service over personally commuting over Afton Mountain.
To Friedman, saving money on gasoline, working on homework in between long commutes, meeting new community members on the drive, or just fully enjoying the natural scenery of the mountain without being distracted while driving are just some of the reasons taking the Afton Express is a great option.
“For those [who] have the opportunity to live in Waynesboro and Augusta County, and the joy of working in Charlottesville and surrounding area in Albemarle County, this gives you an opportunity to get a couple more hours of your day,” he said. “To get off the road, but still make the commute, the Afton Express is a terrific idea.”