ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR)– Roanoke’s public transportation system, Valley Metro, will bring back its bus fare fee starting Wednesday.
Through their Free Fare program, funded by the CARES Act, Valley Metro has been offering bus rides free of charge since March 27.
Passengers like Hanee Al-Qahhar say they have enjoyed the waived fares while they lasted.
“It’s very helpful. That way I could keep some extra change in my pocket. You know what I mean? You know I just don’t have to worry about transportation right now,” Al-Qahhar said. “We wish they could hang on for a little bit longer, but I’m still going to have to ride the bus, but I hope that the fee doesn’t get outrageous.”
Ronnie Parker, Valley Metro’s Assistant General Manager, said, “the fares will return to $1.75 per trip across town, and that helps [anyone] get anywhere in Roanoke, to all the essential places and businesses across the valley.”
The free fare’s purpose was to prevent people from stopping at the fare box, providing another level of social distancing. However, this is not the only step that transportation managers are taking to protect both passengers and bus operators.
“Each person who gets on should wear a mask when they get on the bus, each person should,” said Parker. “And we’re still limiting passengers to 15 passengers per bus.”
During the busy season, the 80 drivers on staff for Valley Metro could transport more than 6,000 riders in a day. After hitting a low of about 3,000 rides a day in April, Valley Metro transported nearly 5,000 passengers in one day just last week.
“Currently our ridership is down 51-percent as a result of the COVID 19 response,” said Kevin Price, Valley Motors General Manager. “But recently we’ve seen the ridership starting to return.”
Compared to the 160,733 passengers that boarded Valley Metro busses in April 2019, Valley Metro only served 87,972 this April. Likewise, May 2019 saw more than 150,600 passengers that month while only 79,592 were transported this May.
Besides the fares coming back, not many COVID-19 policies are changing for riders or bus operators, but Price hopes that passenger numbers will continue to rise as Virginia heads into Phase Three of reopening on Wednesday, July 1.
Bus operator, Jermaine Mitchell, anticipates to see this return as well.
“Hopefully the people will feel comfortable you know, so they can get to work you know and stuff like that, because I’m used to seeing a lot of people ride the bus,” said Mitchell.
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