A regional bus route that could connect Charlottesville and Washington, D.C., could be up and running this summer.
Regional officials discussed the expanded Virginia Breeze route during a virtual meeting of the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership on Thursday.
The route would travel between Danville and Washington, D.C., with at least one stop in the Charlottesville area.
The Virginia Breeze, administered by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, started in 2017 and travels between Blacksburg and D.C. It includes stops at Virginia Tech, Christiansburg, Lexington, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Front Royal, Dulles International Airport, Union Station and Arlington.
State officials are planning a 250-mile route along the U.S. 29 corridor from Danville to Washington.
Potential stops along the route include Lynchburg, Amherst, Lovingston, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Dulles International Airport and Union Station. The Charlottesville stop also would connect with Charlottesville Area Transit and the University of Virginia’s transit system.
Neil Sherman, DRPT’s director of statewide transit, said that Dillon’s, a subsidiary of New Jersey-based Coach USA, has been awarded a contract to run the service. Dillon’s also runs the Blacksburg-to-D.C. route.
On the Blacksburg-to-D.C. route, one-way tickets range from $15 to $50, depending on where passengers start and end their trip. Ticket prices from Charlottesville to Washington on the proposed U.S. 29 route could be similar to the Harrisonburg-to-D.C. portion of the Blacksburg-to-D.C. service, which is $35 each way.
Sherman and Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said the state hopes to start the service in August before UVa resumes classes.
The Charlottesville Amtrak station initially was proposed as the city’s stop, but it’s logistically too far out of the way.
“One of the problems is that it takes so long to get off 29, come through town and get back to 29 that it throws the timing of the system off,” Boyles said.
Officials are now considering a stop in the Barracks Road area, he said.
Valley to Charlottesville
The second initiative discussed was the Afton Express.
The proposed bus service would be run by BRITE, which services Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro.
Charlottesville stops would include UVa, the UVa Medical Center, downtown and the Amtrak station on West Main Street if requested by a passenger. A passenger also could request to be dropped off at the Waynesboro BRITE hub.
A 2017 feasibility study found that about 1,500 UVa employees commute from the Shenandoah Valley, with most living within a 5-mile radius of the park-and-ride lots in Waynesboro and Staunton. About 4,500 total workers travel to the Charlottesville area from Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County.
Boyles said marketing has started for the service and it could start running in the coming months.
In other business, officials discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local transit.
Federal relief funding is helping to soften the blow of the pandemic on area transit services, but as time goes on, more issues are going to rise.
JAUNT, which provides paratransit services, and Charlottesville Area Transit is receiving about $5.5 million in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, while CAT is receiving about $5.3 million.
CAT Director Garland Williams said the agency already has spent more than $1.1 million of its CARES funding. He said CAT is planning to increase service, but is not yet going to a full schedule.
Williams said about 40% of the money is going toward salaries, but that is likely a “conservative” estimate. Without the federal funding, Williams estimated that CAT would be facing a $500,000 budget gap.
JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield said the agency is covering some seats to encourage social distancing, which basically cuts its capacity in half. While the reduced capacity is not yet an issue in terms of service, Sheffield said it will become apparent as more people start feeling safe to travel.
“We will not be able to carry as many people as we have carried in the past,” he said. “We don’t tend to say no a lot, and this means we will start to say no more as these ridership demands increase.”