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As the pandemic eases, officials want to get more Virginians back on public transit

The Pulse, Richmond’s bus rapid transit line. Virginia officials are trying to lure passengers...
The Pulse, Richmond’s bus rapid transit line. Virginia officials are trying to lure passengers back to transit as the pandemic subsides.(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 6:20 AM EDT
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At a recent meeting of the board that oversees the Virginia Railway Express commuter train system in Northern Virginia, CEO Rich Dalton noted the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival and the transit service cuts that came with it.

More riders were starting to come back, Dalton said, but the data he presented for March showed ridership numbers were still about 80 percent below pre-pandemic levels. For the week ending March 18 in 2019, VRE’s average daily ridership was 18,658. For the same week this year, that number was 3,876.

With two lines starting in Fredericksburg and Manassas that carry lots of federal workers to D.C., system officials said they were working with HR reps at federal agencies to try to get more of their employees back on the trains.

“We know that there’s a lot of agencies right now trying to get people to stop driving because their parking lots can’t take it anymore,” Dalton said. “We want to be the first option that those benefit coordinators push to their staff.”

Board member Libby Garvey, a member of the Arlington County Board, threw out another idea to lure riders back.

“Have we considered having like a week or something where everybody comes on and they get a doughnut or some cookies?” Garvey said. “Just that kind of a warm touch. I don’t know. We might get crumbs on the train.”

As more Virginians return to semi-normal routines, public transit agencies throughout Virginia are launching new efforts to convince people buses and trains are a safe, environmentally friendly, and— with gas prices high — low-cost way to get where they need to go.

But many officials acknowledge the future looks uncertain, with no one able to predict how many workplaces will ever return to pre-pandemic expectations that employees would show up to an office five days a week.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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