Danville City might expand its bus service to Pittsylvania and Halifax counties in coming years.
Danville City Council is considering whether to apply for grant money from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation for the bus service expansion.
The expansion would come at no cost to the city and, if funding from various sources is approved and City Council gives the OK, service could begin in spring or summer 2019.
Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, has led the effort to expand the bus service. The purpose is to increase transportation options for residents seeking training for precision machining and other trades at Danville Community College, SVHEC and Southside Virginia Community College.
“Lack of transportation is a critical barrier to education and employment in Southside Virginia,” Adams said Tuesday. “I understand how important education is for getting people out of poverty. The next important resource is transportation.”
Bus service wouldn’t be limited only to those who are pursuing education, however. It would be available to anyone wanting to travel among the three localities for other purposes such as shopping, recreation and other activities.
The SVHEC and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation conducted a transit feasibility study for an 11-county area in the state. The report, completed in May, identified U.S. 29 between Danville and Chatham, and U.S. 58 between Danville and South Boston, as the two corridors with the highest demand, and recommended service for them.
“By removing barriers to education and employment, this expansion not only helps strengthen our economy, it also enhances quality of life by providing citizens with increased access to health care, food and recreation,” Adams said.
The need for expanded service became apparent when a center for manufacturing excellence — a cross-disciplinary, industrial-based program — was established at SVHEC by the Virginia Tobacco Commission in 2014, Adams said. The school partnered with DCC and SVCC to focus on providing training and developing pipelines to credential-based technical training, she said.
Danville would provide the service, but funding would come from state and federal money and the two counties, said Danville Transportation Services Director Marc Adelman.
The system would require three buses, Adelman said. The city would operate the service under the condition that counties would pay for the service and buy the vehicles needed.
Adams said she has applied, on behalf of the localities, for Virginia Tobacco Commission money to cover the first three years of the counties’ costs for the bus service, including part of the costs for the buses themselves.
“That will give them time to work this into their future budgets,” Adams said.
City Council was expected to discuss — during its work session Tuesday night — whether to apply for grant money from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to expand the service.
Department officials have said state Demonstration Grant money could be pursued for the first year of service to subsidize net operating costs up to 80 percent, according to a letter to City Council from Adelman.
Also, a grant for federal and state money could possibly finance up to 90 percent of the cost of vehicles for the expanded service. Additional federal and state money could be available to help pay for operations in the future, Adelman added in the letter.
The city would maintain the buses, have drivers in place and help with marketing and submitting grant applications, Adelman told the Register & Bee. The current grant applications would be done by the city on behalf of the counties.
Funding levels, if the applications are accepted, would vary depending on applications received by the state, Adelman said.
Service levels have not been determined, he said.
“We’re taking this one step at a time,” Adelman said. “We do not have anything that is set in stone.”
Each bus would cost a little more than $100,000, with the total cost to be about $330,000 for the buses, Adelman said.
Operating costs would range from $150,000 to $230,000 a year, relative to the service provided, he said.
City Manager Ken Larking said the expanded bus service would provide residents with added opportunities to get to their workplace or to pursue an education. It could also be another amenity for prospective businesses to consider when deciding whether to come to Danville, he said.
“It’s a factor companies would consider as part of their evaluation of the community,” Larking said.
Danville Economic Development Director Telly Tucker said it could play a small role in determining whether prospective industries would locate here – depending on the businesses’ size.
“I don’t see transportation as a huge issue here,” Tucker said. “But I think it could help.”