Gas prices barreling toward $5 per gallon. Unemployment and underemployment leaving people with no money to repair or replace broken-down cars. Even concern for the environment and a desire to contribute fewer carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
All have contributed to a dramatic 5.7 increase in ridership on HRT commuter buses since 2005. The greatest increase in bus use, as reported in the April 19, 2011, Daily Press, has taken place on long-established routes in Hampton and Newport News, Virginia (VA). Regardless of the reason, such Hampton Roads Transit bus routes have seen a 10 percent growth in passenger trips over the past six years.
That increase in HRT use has come in the same period that saw numerous crashes involving school buses and commuter buses in the cities that make up Hampton Roads. Few passengers on HRT buses have suffered injuries in crashes such as the one in Hampton, VA, on February 8, 2011. That wreck did cause a woman in a car to lose her life, however.
School children and interstate tour bus riders have been less protected in the rash of bus accidents since the beginning of 2011. My colleague Kevin Duffan reported on two separate Suffolk, Virginia, wrecks that harmed kids in a single week of March. Those accidents occurred in the wake of a deadly tour bus crash in New York and sparked recollections of Mount Olive, North Carolina (NC), school bus crash in January that sent 12 elementary school children to the hospital with injuries.
The Suffolk wrecks also occurred within days of the city’s school board reaching a cash settlement with the family of a teenager injured in a crash involving a Nansemond River High School bus.
Each of those accident has underlined a fundamental truth of mass transit: Bus drivers and bus companies/operators have to protect passengers’ safety from bus stop to bus stop and through the entire trip. I’ve written before that HRT’s ongoing expansion of commuter options, from ferries to light rail, must come in conjunction with an ever-sharper focus on safety. Now, with more passengers opting to make use of HRT’s services, the transit agency must prove it can deliver on its stated mission “to serve the community through high quality, safe, efficient and sustainable regional transportation services.”