Citizen input shapes Vinton’s plans for Valley Metro stops

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The Town of Vinton held a Community Meeting on October 30 to gain citizen input on proposed changes to Valley Metro routes within the town. The proposed changes in routes were initially along Washington Avenue from Bypass Road to Gus Nicks Boulevard, both eastbound and westbound. Proposed changes affect regular bus riders, not RADAR bus services.

Following citizen input at the meeting and online responses prior to the meeting, discussion has come to include other options, such as keeping several stops on Washington Avenue while eliminating some with low ridership on Cleveland Avenue. Nothing is set in stone at this point.

Several town officials, including Mayor Brad Grose, Councilwomen Janet Scheid and Sabrina McCarty, Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters, Vice Mayor Matt Hare, Town Executive Assistant Susan Johnson, Finance Director Anne Cantrell, and Vinton War Memorial Events and Operations Manager Chasity Barbour were on hand to welcome and talk with guests. They were joined by officials from Valley Metro. Roanoke County Board of Supervisors candidate Ben Shepherd also attended the meeting with questions of his own.

Several maps were on display to facilitate the conversations, showing past, existing, and proposed Valley Metro routes, indicating levels of ridership with color coding.

About 12 stakeholders attended the community meeting and completed the “Town of Vinton Bus Service Informational Survey” with 18 responding to the survey online thus far. Surveys will remain available online at www.vintonva.gov up until the public hearing date on the topic set for the Town Council meeting on November 7 at 7 p.m. Results and responses will be documented for presentation at the public hearing.

Surveys ask those responding to identify which of the 16 Valley Metro stops they currently use on Washington Avenue. Another question asked how the rider got to the bus stop— by walking, being dropped off by someone, riding a bicycle, riding another bus, or riding with someone who parked.

They were also asked their destinations— work, home, shopping, restaurant, college, medical appointment, or school/church/personal business. The survey asked how the rider planned to get to their final destination after they disembarked.

Other questions asked how frequently they used the bus and at what times, whether the rider had a personal vehicle, how many vehicles were in their household, and what transportation they would use if the bus stops they used were eliminated.

According to Vinton Councilwoman Janet Scheid, eliminating the Washington Avenue stops would reduce the town transportation budget by between $16,000 and $20,000— no small sum in a town with a relatively small budget. That amounts to about 20 percent of the public transportation budget of approximately $120,000, which covers fixed and paratransit (RADAR) routes.

Comments came from those who thought the proposed changes may be shortsighted, given that Macado’s will soon open the restaurant on Washington Avenue with one bus stop located on their doorstep.

One disabled attendee on a fixed income said that if the regular bus stop is eliminated, he might be forced to use the more expensive RADAR services.

Another family said that they bought a house in Vinton just across from a bus stop specifically because bus service is available. They also expressed fears that eliminating routes might be a step toward eliminating bus service altogether which would definitely cause them to relocate.

Another participant in the community meeting said that he had been riding the bus since he was a child and now brings coffee and doughnuts to the bus driver on a regular basis because they have known each other for so long.

The high ridership stops in the Town of Vinton include those at Lake Drive Plaza and Bojangles, with moderate activity at First Citizens Bank, the Vinton Public Library, and the Pilot station on Virginia Avenue. However, many Vinton stops have little activity and could be considered as candidates to be eliminated.

Valley Metro, at the request of the town, conducted a ridership survey early in 2017. Results have led to continuing discussion by Town Council on possible solutions to reduce the high costs to the town without eliminating essential services to citizens.