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Virginia Breeze bus route shows early success

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Virginia Breeze

Fernandes Turner, a bus driver on the Highlands Rhythm route from Bristol to Washington, D.C., loads luggage on the bus before its 11 a.m. departure back in May.

BRISTOL, Va. – A new daily bus service between Bristol and Washington, D.C., continues to exceed ridership projections after only a few months of operation.

The Virginia Breeze, which provides bus service over four routes across the commonwealth, initiated its Highlands Rhythm route connecting Bristol with the nation’s capital in November, with a projection on 365 passengers per month. Ridership for March, the most recent figures available, totaled 1,126, according to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

That accounts for nearly 24% of all Virginia Breeze passengers for the month of March, which was the highest ridership month yet for the service.

“We had our highest ridership in the overall system in March and that’s really driven by the service we operate in the I-81 corridor,” DRPT’s acting Director Jennifer DeBruhl said Wednesday. “We saw a 615 ridership between March 2021 and March 2022.”

The agency is “thrilled” with the ridership response, she said.

Western Virginia hosts the two most popular Virginia Breeze routes, the Valley Flyer which starts and stops in Blacksburg had more than 2,500 riders in March.

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The Highlands Rhythm route launched with 639 riders last November, 623 in December, 520 in January and 723 in February. The route has carried more than 3,600 passengers in its first five months of operation, which is roughly double the projected ridership, agency figures show.

“The addition of the Highlands Rhythm which connects Bristol on up the corridor to Wytheville, Radford, Salem, up to Harrisonburg and Dulles Airport and D.C.; adding that service certainly helped us provide additional frequency in the I-81 corridor, opened up some new service points for us.

“And I think people are looking to get out and travel more and looking for an option instead of driving alone or sitting in traffic, they can ride the Breeze, enjoy our Wi-Fi, relax and let our professional operators do the driving for them,” DeBruhl said.

With connections at Dulles International Airport and the Amtrak system in Washington, D.C., riders can access a wider network of transportation options.

“That makes us an attractive connection point for people who are going beyond our service corridor,” she said.

Asked if strong ridership response might, in any way, influence decisions regarding passenger rail service – which the agency also oversees – DeBruhl said it can play a role.

“It actually helps make the case for intercity connections. We work with both intercity bus and intercity passenger rail but they tend to serve different needs and different connection points,” DeBruhl said. “With intercity bus we have a lot more intermediate stops and make connections to cities rail is not connected to. There is always a place for both, but it helps build the case there is a desire to travel from Bristol to Washington, D.C., and beyond.”

Virginia Breeze buses run four different routes, seven days per week, every day the year. Ticket prices range from $15 to $60 depending on stops. | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC |

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