Sunday, August 13, 2017

GUEST POST: Service Change: Roanoke Valley Metro System

Gary took a trip on the Roanoke Valley Metro System and wrote up an interesting overview of what he saw. Thanks, Gary!


The Valley Metro is a system in southwestern Virginia that comprises of thirty-one local and two express routes, special event shuttles, and the Starline Trolley.

Their paratransit system, called “S.T.A.R.” which stands for Specialized Transit-Arranged Rides, is operated by R.A.D.A.R.

Valley Metro is mostly comprised of Gillig buses, the newer buses being the low-floor “Advantages” and the older buses being the high-floor “Phantoms.” Their Starline Trolley is a trolley-body bus that is manufactured by Hometown Trolley. Their primary express service is called the “SmartWay” which utilizes MCI coach buses and operates two legs, a Blacksburg-Roanoke leg which serves the students of Virginia Tech, and a Roanoke-Lynchburg leg which connects to Amtrak Northeast Regional trains. With the Amtrak service coming to Roanoke proper this fall, I am not sure if the service will continue to operate.

The main terminal is Campbell Court, which is a parking garage that includes bus bays and berths for Greyhound, Megabus, and the Valley Metro, as well as a decent indoor passenger area with restrooms, vending machines, and ticket windows. The Amtrak station will operate on the other side of Salem Street from the main building.

The “SmartWay” bus is the only service that operates seven days per week and 365 days per year. It’s also the only service that runs past nine in the evening.

The local buses make up the bulk of the service, but are set up in the following manner:

  • Most routes operate a 30 minute weekday only peak frequency, with midday, Saturday and the remaining routes such as the 91 and 92 to Salem being strictly hourly. The FINAL run departs at 8:15 PM, NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • You can NOT purchase a day pass (called a “24 hour pass”) or any other pass on board the buses; you MUST do so at Campbell Court. Also at Campbell Court, purchases are CASH ONLY. That caused a mild degree of inconvenience as I had to go find an ATM once I got to Campbell Court.
  • Drivers are NOT required to use the shoulder strap for wheelchair passengers; the operator said the policy exists as most wheelchair-bound passengers stated that they preferred NOT to be strapped in.
  • The majority of the routes leave outbound from Campbell Court as one route, then interline at the other end of the route onto another route. This makes the routes look somewhat loopy, and it got confusing for me, as from the hotel we boarded a route 51 outbound but had to board an inbound 55 to return to the hotel on the same routing, if we were travelling to or from Tanglewood Mall.
  • The Starline Trolley is the only route that operates in fifteen minute intervals, WEEKDAYS ONLY from 7-7.

Valley Metro buses making their way through downtown Roanoke.
System: Roanoke, Virginia “Valley Metro”

Ridership: Ridership, as I have observed, varies from one route to another, with there being routes that are busier than others.

Pros: The buses are generally clean and on-time. They also serve a majority of the primary activity nodes people would want to get to. They also connect to Blacksburg Transit and Radford Transit (connections to Radford University).

Cons:
1. You can NOT purchase a day pass on board.
2. There is NO Sunday service outside of the “SmartWay” route.
3. The frequency for a couple of routes could be improved.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lots of stuff. Roanoke Convention center, two shopping malls, Virginia Western Community College, the Virginia Tech, several medical centers, a Veteran’s Administration hospital, Blue Ridge Mountains, downtown Roanoke, Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs (ice hockey), and OF COURSE, the real reason I went there in the first place: the Virginia Transportation Museum, Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum, and the Brain Injury Center of Southwestern Virginia.

Final Verdict: 8/10
It is a REALLY good system, and I would give them a 10 if it wasn’t for the issues involved with simply buying a day pass, as well as their lack of Sunday service, which I am sure is a hassle for the locals. The pleasantness of the operators, customer service staff, the cleanliness of their buses and the stunning views help, however.

More information on the Valley Metro can be found here.

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