Commuting between the Roanoke and New River valleys is getting smarter. In a big way.
The Smart Way has introduced a larger, 57-seat motorcoach manufactured by Motor Coach Industries (MCI) that will replace the current fleet of 32-seat buses traveling between Roanoke, Christiansburg and Blacksburg.
The new, 45-foot-long MCI coaches features more space, additional luggage capacity, lumbar seating, overhead luggage bins, wireless Internet access, six 10-inch video monitors and LED lighting. There’s even a wheelchair lift and bike rack. The bus was introduced during special events in Roanoke and Blacksburg this week.
Smart Way ridership is up 6.2 percent this year, and officials believe the new buses will help to drive additional demand. Through October, 48,927 commuters have traveled the Smart Way this year alone – an average of 4,892 per month.
“The Smart Way has been recognized for providing quality and convenient service that helps to reduce traffic along Interstate 81, saves our riders commuting costs, and contributes to our region’s increasing focus on sustainability,” said Carl Palmer, General Manager of Greater Roanoke Transit, the company operating Valley Metro and Smart Way. “Our new motorcoaches will enhance that service by offering larger coaches with greater capacity for a more comfortable ride to connect the valleys.”
Four buses are joining the Smart Way fleet. Each bus costs $490,000, paid for through federal, state and local sources. The new motor coaches begin servicing the Valleys on Jan. 4, 2010.
“Commuters are seeing the benefits and value of taking the Smart Way to travel between Roanoke and the New River Valley,” said Beverly T. Fitzpatrick Jr., Executive Director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation and chair of the Smart Way Advisory Committee. “This larger bus, with all the latest amenities and technology, reflects our region’s efforts to embrace public transportation.”
Officials in both valleys welcomed the Smart Way expansion.
“The Smart Way truly is a smart choice to travel between the valleys because it provides a convenient, environmentally friendly transportation solution and it helps to connect two communities that rely on each other,” said Roanoke Mayor David Bowers.
“We look forward to seeing the new Smart Way buses in the New River Valley,” added Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordham. “Now, commuters and visitors can ride in style while supporting our region’s efforts for sustainable transportation solutions.”
“Virginia Tech is excited to support the launch of the Smart Way motorcoach,” said Sherwood Wilson, Vice President of Administrative Services for Virginia Tech. “Our students will appreciate the extra room and luggage space when they travel to and from the airport, and our staff, faculty and visitors will enjoy an even better ride to campus.”
The Smart Way Bus is the regional public transportation service operated by Valley Metro. It links the Roanoke Valley and the New River Valley for a current fare of only $3 each way. The Smart Way begins service at Campbell Court, with stops at the Hotel Roanoke, the Roanoke Regional Airport, two park-and-ride lots along Interstate 81 at exits 140 and 118A, the Christiansburg K-mart, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Main Street in downtown Blacksburg, and the Squires Student Center on the campus of Virginia Tech. Maps, schedules and additional information are available at: www.smartwaybus.com