Ridership on the Virginia Breeze intercity bus service has been rebounding, with overall ridership up 56% from March 2021 to March 2022.
With the Highlands Rhythm launching last year, Radford has demonstrated itself to be a popular stop for riders. Ridership on the new route has nearly doubled since it started in November.
Highlands Rhythm launched in November 2021 with 639 riders. It had 1,126 total passengers in March 2022. After Harrisonburg, Radford is the second-most popular departure location with 86 people departing from there in March 2022. Another 85 people rode the Breeze to Radford as their destination stop, again, the second-most popular destination stop after Harrisonburg.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) launched the Virginia Breeze intercity bus program in 2017, providing a vital transportation connection between rural Virginia communities and the national bus network. The Virginia 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, Acting Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. “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 from 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.
The Virginia Breeze program 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 Interstate 81 funding offsets a portion of the Highlands Rhythm operating costs and will fund improvements at some stop locations.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is currently conducting a study to explore the possibility of adding a fifth Virginia Breeze route, serving eastern Virginia.