After a wait of almost 10 years, local bus service will be available on weekends for the first time in Prince William County's eastern end.
Buses were scheduled to begin picking up passengers yesterday at 7:30 a.m. along OmniLink's Woodbridge/Lake Ridge, Dumfries/Quantico and Dale City routes, officials said. The routes will run every 90 minutes on Saturdays. The cost is the same as during the week: $1 per trip and 50 cents for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
"Local bus service makes a difference in people's lives -- getting people back and forth to jobs, back and forth to doctors, to shopping," said John Grzejka, chairman of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), which operates OmniLink and OmniRide, Prince William's local and commuter bus services, respectively. "This will just extend it to weekend service. It's a need that's been there, and now it will be delivered."
Weekend service was a long-standing wish for many residents and a priority for PRTC since it began running local buses nearly 10 years ago, officials said. Daily ridership on OmniLink and OmniRide has more than doubled in the past four years -- from 4,000 to 8,100. There has always been a demand for weekend service, but the funding wasn't available, said county Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge), who serves as PRTC secretary.
"We had other priorities that had to go first," Barg said. "You just can't do it all at one time."
Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park divide the service costs, with Prince William paying for the eastern routes and the three governments splitting the costs of the western routes. This spring, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved the $175,000 initial cost of providing Saturday service, officials said.
Barg said she thinks the new service will allow some residents, especially those in local service jobs, to work on Saturdays for the first time.
"It's really a wonderful thing for somebody that's got just one car," she said. "A lot of the kids [take the bus to] go to the libraries and colleges. . . . They really use the service."
OmniLink weekend service on the county's western end is also being considered. To test demand, PRTC management recommended that the new service initially stick to the three eastern routes, which traditionally have larger ridership.
"If the customer response to Saturday service on the eastern side routes turns out to be as much as management anticipates, Saturday service on the Manassas and Manassas Park routes is a distinct possibility, though Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park would have to agree to sponsor Saturday service on these two westerly routes," PRTC said in a statement.
In addition, OmniLink replaced its entire fleet last month with 16 new buses that cost $250,000 each.
"We just couldn't live with these unreliable buses," said Eric Marx, PRTC's director of planning and operations. Although they were just three years old, the buses were a "maintenance nightmare" from the start, he said.
At 29 feet long, the new buses, made by California-based Gillig Corp., seat 30 passengers and are about the same size and capacity as the old fleet, Marx said. The buses have low floors and easy-to-use ramps, making them easier for people with disabilities to get on and off, Marx said.
PRTC officials hoped they wouldn't have the same maintenance problems.
"Gillig has been building buses for years and years and has an incredibly positive reputation in the industry," Marx said. "They're considered almost universally high quality."
Replacing the old fleet was the last major step necessary to ensure better service reliability, Marx said. Local, state and federal funding paid for the $4 million price tag.
Also, PRTC officials recently started an OmniRide commuter bus route between Gainesville and the West Falls Church Metro station.
The Metro Direct Line runs to and from the Virginia Gateway Shopping Center, near Linton Hall Road and Route 29, zigzags north to Interstate 66 and proceeds to the West Falls Church Station. Commuters can board in Gainesville from 5 to 7:30 a.m. and from 4:10 to 6:40 p.m. at West Falls Church for $2.50 each way, officials said.
OmniRide's Lake Ridge commuter routes have also been extended along Prince William Parkway and Ridgefield Road. Those lines end at the Pentagon, Crystal City and in the District. They cost $5.50 each way. Fares are reduced substantially if passengers buy packs of 10 tokens, Marx said.
For more information about OmniLink or OmniRide, call 703-730-6664 or go to www.prtctransit.org.