Amtrak, new bus service ridership are up in Virginia

WASHINGTON — Virginia saw higher than expected usage over the past year of Amtrak routes and a new intercity bus service connecting the D.C. region to Harrisonburg and Blacksburg.

Through the end of November, Amtrak ridership in Virginia was up 5 percent year-over-year, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Jennifer Mitchell said.

“Very good results,” she told the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

The increases included 2.4 percent on trains to and from Richmond, 6 percent on trains to and from Lynchburg and Roanoke, and 7.8 percent on the Norfolk route.

“We’re very pleased to see those ridership increases. We were a little worried earlier in the year because of some drops that we were seeing, but it’s good to see that it has actually rebounded,” Mitchell said.

In addition, first-year ridership numbers for the Virginia Breeze bus service running between Blacksburg, Lexington, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Front Royal, Dulles Airport and downtown D.C. showed significantly higher usage than initially expected.

The bus that launched Dec. 1, 2017 was originally projected to carry 7,125 riders a year. In its first year, it carried 19,300 riders with spikes in usage of the daily service at the beginning and end of college semesters and around Thanksgiving.

DRPT estimates about half of riders are under 30 and about one-third are over 50. There has been an upward trend in usage since the service launched.

The state is partially funding the bus as a way to connect rural or underserved areas to the larger regional and national transportation system. Tickets are covering 83 percent of the costs.

About 7 percent of riders have continued past Washington on Megabus to places like New York or Philadelphia.

“This success supports DRPT’s plan to expand service to other parts of the Commonwealth,” a presentation said.

The state plans to finalize recommendations this summer for additional intercity bus service, then move to hire contractors to operate the routes.

A 2013 study considered several routes, like one down Route 29 from D.C. through Culpeper, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg to Danville; another between Norfolk and D.C. through Fredericksburg; and another between D.C. and Martinsburg, WV along Route 7 or Interstate 66.