By: Tracy Agnew; Suffolk News-Herald
People who rely entirely on public transportation are now trapped in the city after Hampton Roads Transit ended its MAX 962 route that carried riders from Suffolk into Portsmouth and Chesapeake.
“I used to ride the route every day,” said Raymond Wilson. “I was in the process of looking for a job. By them canceling that, it stopped a lot of the job search for that direction. It’s an inconvenience.”
The end of the commuter service, which came June 24, marks the end of HRT’s involvement in Suffolk. In January, the city took over two routes that the regional bus service had been running within the city, believing it would help save money.
However, the MAX route, which stopped at the Suffolk Bus Plaza on Saratoga Street and at the park-and-ride lot on Portsmouth Boulevard, still provided Suffolk residents who needed to get to HRT’s other service areas a way to connect to the system.
The route had been paid for by a temporary grant to see if there was enough demand to justify continuing it, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said.
HRT found an average daily ridership of only 78, which includes both inbound and outbound routes and those who simply rode between Portsmouth and Chesapeake, neither boarding nor getting off in Suffolk.
“HRT advised us that this was the poorest-performing MAX route in their system,” Roberts wrote in an email.
Two routes within the city now are serviced by Virginia Regional Transit. Roberts said there are no plans for VRT to add service out of the city.
“We would not anticipate the ridership numbers going up if we ran it,” he said.
HRT spokesman Tom Holden agreed the MAX route did not have enough demand to run.
“There’s just not enough people on those buses,” he said, noting that all of the MAX routes initially were funded by a federal grant. “You would need a lot more than that to justify the expense there.
“That’s partly what happens when you try to establish this service,” he continued. “There is a little bit of risk involved. If demand does not materialize, we need to pull that service, because you don’t want to waste the money.”