By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
Seven weeks after launching the Afton Express, an extension of BRITE transit, the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission reports that an average of 25 to 30 commuters rode the bus each weekday for the first two weeks in October.
“Ridership continues to grow, which is the trend that we would hope for,” said Nancy Gourley, transit manager for the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission. “It’s a positive trend.”
The public transportation opportunity is made possible by partnerships between the cities of Staunton, Waynesboro and Charlottesville, Augusta and Albemarle counties and UVA. Funding comes from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and matching funds from the partner localities for pick-up sites at the Staunton Mall, the Fishersville Park & Ride lot, and the Waynesboro Park & Ride Lot by Target.
Four morning times between 5 and 8 a.m. on weekdays give commuters options for catching a ride over Afton Mountain for work, doctor’s appointments and shopping, as well as four afternoon rides back to Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County between 3 and 6 p.m.
Drop-off sites are at Bavaro Hall on UVA campus, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library on UVA campus, West Main Street in Charlottesville near the Amtrak station, the Charlottesville Downtown Transit Station near the historic downtown mall, and the Fifth Street Station near Wegman’s.
Weekend pick-up and drop-off times are not yet available.
According to Devon Thompson, transit planner with the CSPDC, bus drivers on the Afton Express take daily counts of passengers.
“It’s just been growing,” Thompson said of ridership. The daily counts will enable the commission to make daily tweaks and create more options for riders.
Two weeks ago, Gourley said that riders were surveyed about their Afton Express experience.
“We got very, very positive responses,” she said.
Some riders made suggestions about adding pickup and drop off times that would help them as individuals, and the CSPDC is looking at making improvements to the schedule in early 2022. However, time slots are limited by funding and the number of buses available to the program. The commission is considering moving pickup times to better accommodate passengers.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re looking at,” Gourley said.
She added that respondents of the survey expressed appreciation for the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery provided by the ride from Staunton, Waynesboro or Augusta County to Charlottesville, or the opportunity to take naps.
“People really, really appreciate the WiFi on the buses,” Gourley said of the survey results.
She said it’s interesting how many passengers are using the WiFi, because the commission was unsure that would happen.
“We encourage people to give [the Afton Express] a try,” Gourley said.
For commuters who have tried the Afton Express, they have continued to be regular riders.
“I think the community is appreciating the availability of the service,” Gourley said.