Good news arrived last week when Danville City Council approved grant funding allowing buses to run routes from Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties to Danville for at least the next three years. There will be no cost to the city or counties.

The buses will stop at major job sites along highways 58 and 29 and education and medical centers.

Each one-way trip will cost $2.

Danville is asking for more bus drivers to accommodate their shortage. Once enough drivers are hired the program will start.

This project has been brewing for the past few months while everyone waited on whether or not the grant money would come through.

Danville Transportation Director Marc Adelman and Greg Sides, Assistant Administrator for Pittsylvania County, stopped by the Hurt Town Council meeting back in the winter to update Mayor Gary Poindexter and council members about the proposed bus routes that will offer regular transportation that will make it a little easier to go to doctor appointments, school, or even work.

During the meeting, Adelman explained that the City of Danville is making application for state demonstration grant funds to support a regional bus service. “This funding source is intended to finance up to 80% of the operating budget,” he said.

The estimated operating cost for the first year of the proposed regional bus service is $250,000, which is the demonstration grant budget. This would include additional staff, including a full time and part time position for office staff and four driver positions.

A Virginia Tobacco Commission grant (a local match requirement) secured by the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center for $317,490 will support the operation of two systems in Pittsylvania and Halifax counties. This grant is for a three-year period, to allow the localities time to adjust budgets to account for the cost once the grant ends. It also covers an adequate time period for officials to determine if enough people are using the bus to justify maintaining it once the grants run out.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation already awarded money in July 2018 for three buses that will be used for these services. The 14-passenger buses have been delivered with signage still to come. A deployed ramp will let passengers on and off. It is believed that this particular ramp will provide quick and easy access for the handicapped in particular. One bus will be assigned to each area with one being used as a “spare.” Drivers will be hired from the area. NOTE: a CDL is not required to drive this bus.

Officials are taking a look at where the best points are to embark/disembark within each service area. Sides said, “The biggest challenge will be convenience” as the group talked about choosing the proper stops and publicizing the bus service.

Accommodations to go off the designated route up to a quarter of a mile are available upon request. Those with disabilities can go off route up to 3/4 mile.

Transfer connections are possible at the Danville Transfer Center to all of the city’s fixed routes with prior arrangement.

Adelman explains that riders can pay as they go or they can buy packets of tokens. “You don’t have to buy such a big group of tokens. There are smaller packets so you won’t have so much money tied up in them.”

You can get off the regional bus to transfer to a city bus to go to some other area of the city for shopping or doctor’s appointments, for example. Additional charges will be necessary for the Reserve a Ride service in Danville city limits. With an application, you can transfer to a city bus for $1 and fifty cents for the disabled. Reserve a Ride transfers cost $4 and $2 for the disabled. Prior day reservations are required.

Adelman shares that the Reserve a Ride program has expanded greatly in the last year after getting off to a relatively slow start. Now, they must stop reservations when they reach a certain limit every day.

Working with employers (especially in South Boston) to get workers back and forth to work or school is a huge goal of the program. Both routes along 29 and 58 make a number of stops along the way. The medical center in Hurt was the original destination locally, but the mayor pointed out that another stop east of the railroad, in the main residential area of Hurt would be most appreciated since it may be hard for those who don't drive to get to the medical center bus stop.

A test run will necessary to see if the bus can safely get through the one-lane railroad underpass on W. Hurt Road in order to go up the hill.

Signage will be installed at the stops make them seen more easily and to provide contact information.

Aboard each bus is a panic button to call 9-1-1 for emergency help if taken ill during the bus ride. Seat belts are installed and the audio system can go live. There are cameras inside and out and automatic chains can be deployed in case of risky road conditions. Buses are also WiFi capable.

If everything goes according to plan, Adelman hopes to have the regional bus services started by the first week in September. However, in addition to the grant funding being applied for on Feb. 1, there are other factors that need to be addressed before startup, including the appropriation of state and local funds for the operation, revising Danville’s fee ordinance to the proposed fare structure, recruitment of drivers, marketing of the service, and the installation of bus stop signs.

After spending the last year meeting with the counties over a variety of service options, Adelman outlined the two proposed fixed routes and a bus schedule through Pittsylvania and Halifax counties. The Pittsylvania County route would include stops at Unique Industries/Woodwick Candle factory, Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center, Tightsqueeze/Pittsylvania County Social Services, North Main Street in Chatham, Northside Drive in Gretna, and Hurt.

The Halifax County route would have stops at Fanueil, Dollar General, Annin, Presto, ABB, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Sentara Behavioral Health, Imperial Lofts, Miller Homes, Tanglewylde Apartments, and Sentara Hospital.