Reporter: David Tate
Roanoke, VA - It's been a month since the Smart Way Connector bus linked Lynchburg's Kemper Street Station with Roanoke - and even the New River Valley on weekends. The idea is to gauge the interest for a possible rail link in the future.
The initial response has been so good that officials aren't planning on using the two brand new buses currently on order.
If Jimmy Spinner's sister had decided to visit Roanoke from New Jersey a month ago he would have had to pick her up at the Amtrak station in Lynchburg at 10:15 at night.
"It's a two hour round trip. It's perfect. The bus comes here, it's convenient," said Spinner.
That is not the case this month or for future months to come.
"I see a lot of people getting on and off the bus and everybody seems to be happy with it. Made me happy," said Spinner.
Spinner isn't the only one taking advantage of the new connector. Pre-project estimates suggested just 16 round trip users per day, which hasn't even been close.
"Much better than expected and that's a good problem for us to have. We have grown over the last month an average of 10 riders per day from roughly 32 per day to 42," said Carl Palmer, who heads up Valley Metro.
Palmer is in charge of this experiment to see if rail service back to the Star City could work. It all has gone so well that Valley Metro will be sidelining the two 16-seat buses specially ordered for the project and keeping the temporary 52-seater in service.
It's something Spinner thinks as the connector catches on, it will eventually lead to true rail connection.
"Goes to show you it's working... it's working. The more people that find out about it, more people use the service it will be better for the city of Roanoke," said Spinner.
Those two new buses, set to be delivered in October, will be idle until Valley Metro can determine if this high usage becomes a sustained trend. If it is a trend, the buses will be moved to the central fleet and likely be used for special needs passengers.