NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — When it takes people two hours just to get to work in the same city, and veterans are missing their medical appointments, the system isn’t working.
That’s just two of the examples cited by the Newport News chapter of Virginia Organizing, a grassroots group fighting for better transit service on the Peninsula.
They went to City Council on Tuesday night with a list of demands, including more connections to Jefferson Avenue and Warwick Boulevard and expanded hours on weekends and holidays.
10 On Your Side’s investigation “Left at the Curb” found that system-wide, HRT missed about 2.5% of any portion of its trips from July 2018 thru August of this year. An HRT spokesman told us even that was too high and the “goal is always zero.”
Patricia Woodbury, a city council member who’s also on HRT’s board, says when money and drivers are short, you have get creative and pull out all the stops.
“We have a shortage of drivers and that has been a problem for HRT and across the country.”
For Jackie McIntyre, who works for the Newport News school system, it’s about being able to make a living.
“I’ve had experiences where I needed to be at work at 8 o’clock, and the bus didn’t get there until 10,” McIntyre said. “My employer really don’t understand that.”
It’s not just about getting to work, but getting to badly needed medical care for the many veterans who live in the city.
“They get out on the corner and wait for a bus that doesn’t show up or is late, and therefore their appointment is blown, and that becomes a very stressful situation,” said Jay Johnson of Virginia Organizing.
The group came to council Tuesday night with about 20 members and supporters.
Woodbury says she’s listening and HRT is working on creative solutions. For example, trying to combine bus service with ride sharing companies like Lyft to get people to the bus routes.
“They keep saying to us more service means more money,” Johnson said. “I’m saying, no, it’s possible that more creativity could mean more service as well.”
Woodbury says HRT has a 10-year plan. But it’s not an express route to solving all of the service problems.
“The whole board wants better service. It’s not gonna be next month, but maybe baby steps.”
Woodbury says HRT’s partnership with Tidewater Community College and Norfolk’s Economic Development Office has helped recruit and train drivers on the Southside, and she says a similar arrangement could work on the Peninsula with Thomas Nelson Community College.