VRT could lose millions in annual government subsidies
According to a memo sent by County Administrator Tim Hemstreet to the Board of Supervisors, funding for the Virginia Regional Transit Authority could lose several million in annual government transit subsidies.
In the memo, the latest Decennial Census Report, places most of their “rural” service into “urban” classification.
This change is significant because the funding VRT receives must be used in areas classified as rural, which means they are no longer eligible for these types of subsidy payments.
Leesburg Town Council member Marty Martinez has said that due to this re-categorization, most, if not all, of the bus services in Leesburg could be gone after Sept. 30.
“Leesburg has been reclassified from rural to urban and because of that reclassification, we have realized we are no longer eligible for some funds from the state and federal that would allow us to continue the VRT program that we have,” Martinez said. “We are looking at all the options and we can fund what we are doing today until the end of September, but once that's done we may have to stop everything.”
Martinez and the rest of the Leesburg Town Council have been hard at work pushing both state and federal local legislators to make the necessary changes needed to keep the VRT running as is.
“The good news is Mark Herring, Randy Minchew and Joe May are all working hard to get funding for the VRT and it looks promising,” Martinez said. “But until we can actually come back and say yes they did it …. But we are still very hopeful.
“Because of this we are going to have to figure out different ways of funding this. How we get there, I don't know, but once we get a response back from our legislators at the state, we will probably better be able to determine which path we are going to go,” Martinez said.
While waiting for state legislators to get back to them, Martinez, the rest of the Town Council and Town Manager John Wells are trying to find other ways to fund the program through grants or federal funds to make sure the Town has options to continue service.
According to Martinez, the current bus system has been popular.
Martinez has been a vocal presence as a council member about getting buses out to neighborhoods, Ida Lee Recreation Center and the airport.
His experiences as a youth have pushed him to make sure people can get around easily via public transportation.
“I grew up in east L.A., where the only way I ever got around as a teenager was taking the bus and I can remember being an expert in getting buses and bus transfers,” Martinez said. “It really surprised me to come out here and find out we virtually had no bus service for residents in town and I have been working hard to change that.”
Martinez aspires to eventually have a rural system that will take people from Winchester and Purcellville and head eastbound to get to places like Tysons Corner on a single bus.
Martinez is urging citizens to contact their local legislators to voice their concerns about losing the bus service.
“If people lose the ability to drive a car due to the cost of fuel, we have to find alternate ways for people to get around and a regional bus service is an ideal way to do that,” Martinez said.