This article first appeared in The Tartan on November 02nd 2010 //
Radford City expects to begin operating a new public transit system within the next year.
The new service will be provided in a joint effort between the city and Radford University. The target date is August 2011, just in time for the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.
The city has been discussing and planning this new venture since the fall of 2008, when the city manager convened the City of Radford Public Transit Committee to begin exploring transit issues and needs. Thus began a process of analyzing the needs of local citizens as well as the faculty, staff and students of RU.
The Public Transit Committee has 16 members and is made up of city staff, RU staff and members of local community service entities. The university is represented by four members, including President Penelope Kyle and a member of RU’s Student Government Association.
According to a report provided by James Hurt, Radford’s city engineer, the committee conducted research on existing regional transit studies that were focused on employment mobility, commuter patterns and human services transportation. They also met with regional public transit providers to discuss interconnectivity between the City of Radford and surrounding localities such as Blacksburg and Christiansburg.
City council passed a resolution endorsing the submission of a technical assistance grant application to Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The city was awarded the grant at more than twice the amount requested.
The Department of Rail and Public Transportation hired KFH Group to conduct transit surveys within the community as well as RU students, faculty and staff. The surveys were distributed to students via e-mail and city residents received the surveys with their utility bills in September 2009.
The survey yielded a good response and the city and university began to move forward. Presently, Radford is preparing to submit a request for proposals, which would initiate the bidding process for outside companies who are interested in running the bus system.
The buses were purchased by the City of Radford with federal funds. The operation costs will be shared between the city and the university. In total, the city will purchase 10 vehicles to operate the transit service: three large buses and seven smaller 19-passenger buses. The vehicles are expected to arrive in Radford in the spring of 2011.
The university agreed to pay a share in the costs based on student usage of the transit service. Student fares would be paid through some means yet to be decided on, so RU students may be recognized as “free riders” when providing a student ID. Any other riders would pay a small boarding fare which is not set at this time.
According to a January 2010 memorandum from the city’s Transit Committee to the mayor and members of city council, the total cost of start-up and operation for the first year is $1,778,080. The university will pay $202,539, and the city will contribute $87,983 towards the cause.
One of the main goals of the initial survey was to develop routes for bus services. The current proposed network would provide service to the entire city and the RU campus with connections to the downtown area, Fairlawn, Carilion New River Valley Medical Center and a regional connection to Christiansburg and Blacksburg.
Proposed RU routes would go between East Radford and Fairlawn weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from noon to 10 p.m., every 60 minutes. East and West Campus, Dedmon Center and Green Hill would have service operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, every 20 minutes. A Radford-Christiansburg-Blacksburg route would operate Thursday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 3 a.m., every 60 minutes. Campus to Fairlawn weekend service would operate from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., every 30 minutes.
The proposed City of Radford routes would operate between Radford, Fairlawn and West Side on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from noon to 10 p.m., every 60 minutes. A Radford-Carilion service would operate on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., every two hours.
The university services are proposed to run during the school year only, while the city services are set to run year-round. However there would still be access to transit in the campus area during the summer months. The service would operate on a more abbreviated schedule, depending on demand during summer sessions.
Radford has had public transit in the past. In the 1910s and 20s, Radford operated an electric trolley system. It was one of only three trolley systems in the region, the other two existing in Roanoke and Staunton. Radford’s trolley system eventually turned into a bus system and operated successfully until the late 1970s. Due to decreased ridership and a lack of revenue, it was shut down in 1980.
The immediate Radford area is currently served by two transit alternatives: Community Transit, which is a service of New River Valley Community Services, and Tartan Transit, operated by RU for students, faculty and staff.
Radford tried to bring back public transit a couple of times, but has never been able to find enough community support to make it happen. This is why Hurt is happy the city and the university have teamed up to bring about new public transit.
“It would be very difficult if we were trying to make this happen without the student population,” said Hurt. It would be nearly impossible for the university to have a viable bus system without the local community’s involvement. So it is natural that the two work together.”