OmniRide Has Bright Plans for the Future

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By Wendy Migdal

Sponsored by OmniRide

It’s almost certain that you’ve seen the brightly colored buses with the green and blue “OmniRide” name emblazoned on the side. Your local public transportation agency is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Did you know the following?

  • Local rides are currently free through June 2022.
  • You can pay your fare with your Metro SmartTrip card.
  • The bus goes directly to many central work locations in Washington, D.C. and Virginia.
  • You can use OmniRide on Saturdays to travel to destinations such as Potomac Mills.
  • OmniRide will provide you with a guaranteed ride home if you have a family emergency during the work day, up to four times a year.
  • OmniRide has services that will help match you up with others who have similar work schedules so you can form your own carpool. They also offer

And that’s only part of it. Even if you tend to rely on your car, it’s worth checking out their website to see if there’s a program you didn’t know about that may be of benefit. OmniRide changed a great deal over the years and not just in terms of number of buses and routes. The strategic plan involves growing and changing in a way that is flexible and responsive to the way people live now and to the needs of people in Prince William in particular.

Recently, Prince William Living magazine sat down with Joe Stainsby, Chief Development Officer, about where OmniRide has come from and where it’s going in the future.

What’s New in Public Transportation in Prince William?

OmniRide has a number of plans in development, but possibly the most innovative is the idea of microtransit. “Our plan is to become more than simply a bus company, more of a mobility company,” says Stainsby. “We want people to have flexibility in their options. To choose fixed route or on demand.  The need for this was exacerbated by the pandemic, but not caused by it.”

Microtransit in practical terms is something in between a fixed route and a taxi service. Customers would request a ride through an app, website, or call center. OmniRide would then provide a vehicle (which may be a smaller vehicle) and driver, and only when a ride was booked.

“We find that there are some underperforming routes, and regular bus service is extremely expensive unless it’s very well utilized. We need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and grow ridership to make those fixed transit routes viable or look at different service modes like microtransit,” says Stainsby. Some concerns are that it may seem a bit tech-savvy and off-putting to older users, and some people just like the idea of a fixed service. “At this point we haven’t decided whether we would replace regular routes or offer it as an overlay. And in the end, it’s up to the elected officials to approve it. We simply come with the potential solutions.”

One project that will definitely be piloted in 2022, however, is the mobile ticketing app. The app will allow people easier access to services in the short-term, but down the road, it might be used to access networked fare products, such as with the Virginia Railway Express. Customers may be able to buy a week of unlimited service, for example, including everything OmniRide offers plus VRE service.

OmniRide buses currently run Monday through Saturday, but Sunday travel will hopefully be coming in the future. “If you want people to rely on public transportation, it has to run seven days a week, not five or six,” says Stainsby. “But all of this is contingent on getting funding, of course.”

Growth of OmniRide Mirrors the Growth of Prince William

In his nine years with OmniRide, Stainsby has seen a lot of growth and development in the programs it offers. Chief among them is the new facility in the western part of the county. OmniRide used to focus mainly on the north-south, I-95 corridor. But with the construction on I-66 and the development around it, they’ve expanded their footprint to include much more of the Prince William area, and the new facility allows them to add many more routes. Service has also crept farther south to now include North Stafford. He also saw the vanpool program grow to 700 vans operating daily at its height, prior to COVID-19.

Effects of the Pandemic on Public Transportation

Like every other locality in the world, Prince William and OmniRide have been affected by the pandemic. And like every other locality, some options have been curtailed while new opportunities have been created.

“Our vanpool ridership has been cut by more than half. On the buses we could occasionally have 11,000 trips per day and now we have 5,000. The commuter side of OmniRide, which is tied to the federal government, is only about 40% of what it was,” says Stainsby. “But since everyone else in the country was affected the same way, we’re still the fifth largest vanpool operation in the United States and the largest east of the Mississippi. Also, our local service is doing better than our commuter service. It’s at 60% of what it was a year and half ago, but when you consider other providers in the region who have been more heavily impacted it certainly could be worse.”

Something that has most likely aided the local patronage was the decision to make local transit free. OmniRide is proud to able to transport first responders, hospital workers, and food service workers to their jobs at no cost. It also means contactless boarding, and it makes good financial sense.  There’s a cost associated with collecting fares, such that “you’re spending dollars to collect cents.” OmniRide was also proud that it did not have to lay off workers or cut back on local service during the pandemic.

Getting Input from the Public

OmniRide is always seeking to increase the public’s awareness of and engagement in their programs. To that end, they’ve created three Mobility Councils: the vanpool council, employer council, and Hispanic council. These are areas in which they solicit feedback from the people they serve.

For example, Stainsby notes that there are some routes, such as along route 68, that go through predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and yet OmniRide’s services are underutilized. The council has made efforts to reach people through the Latino supermarkets and a Facebook page. They’ve identified certain bus shelters where a program soliciting decorative murals and artwork, in partnership with Keep Prince William Beautiful, might be effective at making people aware of the services offered. Hispanic neighborhoods are one target location.

To find out more about all that Omniride offers or is planning to offer, view schedules and maps, learn about commuter benefits, and much more, visit their homepage.

Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the northern/central Virginia area since 2000. She loves traveling around the area to explore new parks, attractions, restaurants, and especially history. She has written extensively for The Free Lance-Star, including a monthly history column, feature stories, and book reviews. A former middle school teacher, Wendy now works as a freelancer for online education companies. She also enjoys reading, sewing her own clothes and other creative enterprises, and walking her dog.

 

 

 

 

 

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