-By Maynard Keller
Maynard Keller from Northwest Roanoke
Be honest. How many of you have taken the public bus to work, to the grocery store, or to a doctor’s appointment? Although I’ve lived in northwest Roanoke since 1994 until last fall, I knew very little about the Valley Metro and the gigantic buses that speed down the boulevard. In fact, I didn’t see a compelling need for bus service in the Roanoke Valley.
That all changed in September when the Bus Riders of Roanoke Advocacy Group (BRRAG) invited all Roanoke City Council candidates to one of their monthly meetings to learn more about bus travel in the Roanoke Valley. As a candidate, I tried to attend as many meetings and events as my busy schedule would allow. The bus service sounded fascinating – a mystery to be solved. The learning curve can be steep for bus newbies; and since the best way to learn is by doing, i decided to take the bus to work.
How do I get to work regularly? On average I ride my bike four days a week as long as it’s above 15 degrees. Driving to work is not a problem as I have driven across America with the Roll Over Cancer team. I occasionally drive to work in an older car. One of my hobbies is collecting and restoring antique cars, and I am President of the Roanoke Valley Region Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA).
Since I was new to the bus system, I downloaded the Valley Metro app; but apparently there was no service in my area. Well this app was for Valley Metro of Phoenix, Arizona! However, the VMGO app for Roanoke Valley Metro wasn’t very helpful either. It wasn’t until I downloaded and printed out the entire bus route map from ValleyMetro.com that I was able to understand the bus system. On google maps I selected the bus icon to find the best route and times to my destination.
To reach my bus stop on Melrose Avenue, I walk half a mile over rollercoaster hills. Around 7:54 am, the 92 bus picks me up and makes frequent stops at Third Street Station, the main hub. My downtown office is a five-minute walk from the train station. All buses leave Third Street Station at 17 minutes past the hour, starting at 6:17 am. They complete their routes and return to the station on the hour to repeat the cycle. The last buses leave the station at 20:17. Passengers may have to transfer to another bus free of charge to complete their journey.
Pros of taking the bus: Less stressful than driving a car. Reliable transportation. Cheap bus tickets. No car maintenance costs. No car insurance costs. Meet new people. Great exercise walking to and from your bus stop.
Disadvantages of taking the bus: Confusing routes and maps. Limited routes to Salem and Roanoke County. No service on Sunday. Only one stop per hour. Requires additional planning. Poor condition of some bus stops. Limited usefulness of the mobile app.
Who drives the bus? people from all walks of life. Many go to and from work. My daughter, Sarah, a graduate student in Education, regularly takes the bus to Roanoke College. In fact, she prefers the bus because “it’s less stressful than driving.” One of Governor Youngkin’s current priorities is human resources development and Virginia’s competitive position relative to other states. An excellent public transportation system makes Roanoke more attractive and competitive to potential employers. Public transport is an essential resource and part of an infrastructure that benefits the regional economy and deserves bipartisan support.
Learning to use the bus system was an incredible journey. When it comes to transportation, I take an all-of-the-above approach. Buses, planes, trains, cars, bikes and pedestrians can work together. Thank you dr Laura Hartman, for your leadership and for inviting us to the monthly BRRAG meeting.
-Maynard Keller and his family have lived in Northwest Roanoke since 1994. He is a business owner, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, an elder in the Hope of Israel Congregation, and a community volunteer. He has served on numerous citizen-led commissions, committees and task forces and is a candidate for city council.