Last of two parts.
Travelers — especially college students — should be happy to know that the state is proposing a new bus service from Danville to Washington. The route is expected to serve Charlottesville and Dulles International Airport, along with other stops — including Amherst, Lovingston and Culpeper in our region.
Additional service would make life easier for travelers.
However, if the route ends up competing unfairly with private carriers, that’s a problem.
Megabus connects Charlottesville to Dulles and Washington; Trailways and Greyhound go to D.C., although getting to Dulles can require longer travel times and connecting trips via Metro, partly on foot or by other bus routes.
This is unlike train service, in which private companies stopped offering passenger service and left state and federal governments to become the only providers. In that case, there is no competition between public and private entities.
Whether the proposed Virginia Breeze route would cut into private business is an open question. Megabus prices from Charlottesville to Dulles are around $25 one way. Based on prices from an existing Blacksburg-Washington route, tickets from Charlottesville to Washington could run about $35, and prices to Dulles could be slightly less.
In that case, no competitive advantage would be imposed. The value of the state-sponsored route, instead, would be in the accessibility it provides: One of Virginia’s goals is to provide better transportation options to underserved communities, those that — virtually by definition — are not adequately served by private providers.
The new route serving Charlottesville would start in Danville and follow U.S. 29, with potential stops in Altavista, Lynchburg, Warrenton, Gainesville and Union Station in D.C., in addition to those already mentioned. However, some of those stops are tentative, as appropriate infrastructure either doesn’t exist yet or has not been identified; the only sure locations so far are Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Dulles and Union Station.
A second route is proposed from Martinsville to Richmond. It would serve South Boston, as well as Danville, Hampden-Sydney and Farmville, homes of Averett University, Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood University, respectively.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation already operates a bus route between Blacksburg and D.C., serving Virginia Tech, VMI, Washington and Lee, Mary Washington, James Madison University and others.
Launched in 2017, that Virginia Breeze route has been wildly successful. It drew more than 14,500 riders in its first year, nearly double expectations, reports the Daily News-Record. In the first quarter of last year, ridership jumped 28% over 2018’s numbers. Clearly, there is a demand for the service.
The two proposed new routes also would come under the Virginia Breeze brand. Service could start as early as this spring, the state says.
Virginia contracts with a private transportation firm to serve the existing route. Current service is operated through Dillon’s, a subsidiary of New Jersey-based Coach USA. DRPT is reviewing proposals for the new routes, The Daily Progress has reported.
In that sense, the state is putting money back into the private sector.
We haven’t heard pushback from private operators over the competition issue, but if that’s a conversation that needs to be had, let’s get it started.
But if private operators are not harmed by the operation of a public intercity bus service, then we can rejoice in the expanded options provided to travelers — including college students coming back to school after the holidays.