Gas prices drive demand for bus service

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Public bus service has long been a fact of life in cities, but thanks to high gas prices, it’s fast becoming part of the lifestyle of many rural residents. For example, Four County Transit, a publicly funded bus service based in Tazewell, reports that volume rose 52 percent last year to 149,000 passenger trips and is already up another 30 percent in first part of 2008. The bus service runs 21 fixed routes, as well as demand-response service, throughout Buchanan, Dickinson, Russell and Tazewell counties.

Joe Ratliff, Four County Transit’s general manager, says gas prices are driving some people to take the bus, but he adds that some of the demand is the result of increased awareness. The bus service, introduced in 1998, is gaining a higher profile through marketing efforts and word of mouth.

As a result of increased demand, the bus service is growing. “You’ve got to take your transportation to where the demand is,” Ratliff says. “We’re expanding bus routes and making little changes to existing ones to make it easier for people to use.”

While gas prices have been at record levels, fares have not increased. A round-trip ticket between Tazewell and Richlands still costs just $1, for example, the same as it did more than two years ago. By contrast, a bus ride within the limits of Roanoke costs $1.50.

The Four County Transit, which has a $1.6 million annual operating budget, gets 22 percent of its funding from the state, 50 percent from federal sources (distributed by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation) and the remainder from local funding and fare revenues. To offset its own increasing fuel expenses, officials from the Four County Transit will ask the state for increased funding. Ratliff says that he is still tallying the amount that he’ll request.

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