The Old Dominion’s inter-city bus service – Virginia Breeze – is making some progress after being knocked sideways owing to COVID.
Ridership on the system rose 56 percent year-over-year in March, according to figures from the state government.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) launched the Virginia Breeze bus program in 2017, aimed at providing a vital transportation connection between rural Virginia communities and the national bus network.
Breeze started with the Valley Flyer (Blacksburg-Washington), and then added two new routes – the Piedmont Express (Danville-Washington) and Capital Connector (Martinsville-Richmond-Washington) – in summer 2020. The Highlands Rhythm route connecting Bristol and Washington launched in November 2021.
“The Virginia Breeze opens the doors for people who don’t have cars or don’t drive, who have limited means, to connect to other parts of Virginia and beyond,” said Jennifer DeBruhl, the acting Virginia DRPT director.
“Intercity bus services are essential transportation infrastructure because they operate in areas that lack transportation options for Virginians.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the intercity bus industry hard, including the Virginia Breeze halting its service for almost four months (April to July 2020). Since then, ridership has steadily increased on all four routes. In March of this year, 4,834 people traveled on the Virginia Breeze across the commonwealth.
Ridership for the Valley Flyer, which runs along Interstate 81 in western Virginia and is the busiest Virginia Breeze route, has returned to levels seen prior to the pandemic. In March, the Piedmont Express had its highest ridership since beginning service in August 2020. The Capital Connector also saw year-over-year growth. And the Highlands Rhythm has nearly doubled its ridership since the route started.
Service is funded through the Federal Transit Administration’s Intercity Bus Program. Additionally, the Highlands Rhythm, which travels along most of Interstate 81, was among the first multimodal projects to receive funding through the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is conducting a study to explore the possibility of adding a fifth Virginia Breeze route, serving eastern Virginia.
For information, including how to purchase tickets, see the Website at virginiabreeze.org.