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This fall 2023 special series dives into how Richmond's neighborhoods promote — or hinder — residents' well-being.

How these Richmonders commute on public transit

A person walks down broad street while speaking on the phone
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
A person walks down Broad Street on Sept. 7, 2023 in Richmond.

One transportation advocate said keeping free bus rides will help ensure transit stays efficient and equitable.

Over the summer, advocacy group RVA Rapid Transit released a report outlining the state of Richmond’s public transit and several recommendations for improving the service.

The report noted that only 26% of bus stops in the city have a bench or shelter. The Greater Richmond Transit Co. says it plans to at least doublethat number over the next few years.

Richard Hankins, RVA Rapid Transit programs manager adds that keeping the pandemic-era, free-fare bus rides in place will help ensure transit is efficient and equitable.

“We've talked to so many people who would have not been able to afford the bus fare, or who would be walking four to six miles to work. We talked to one lady who found people walking from Southside to Willow Lawn for their job,” said Hankins.

VPM News spent time in September with some regular riders who talked about their public transit experiences. Follow along with each of their stories below.

Debbie Johnson

Groceries, including fresh meat, sits in a paper bag while a person waits for the bus
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Debbie Johnson waits for the bus with her groceries at the Willow Lawn Pulse station on Sept. 7.

All my life I've been riding the bus. I'm heading right downtown to Jefferson and Broad and get on down to Leigh Street — where we just moved to.

Lately the bus drivers are getting kind of, you know, out of character. They leave people at the bus stop, like the lady just pulled out. We were right there at Bus Stop 50; she was stopped right there at the red light. When she saw us with our grocery cart she didn’t open the door, she just pulled off.

The noise doesn't bother me unless I'm on the phone. This is a noisy area anyway. This is a high-traffic area and they always speed.

I got on the bus the other day, a bedbug just bit the devil outta me. They don't ever clean the buses. You can smell the dirt on the seats — they're filthy. Yeah, they must not have anybody to clean the buses. They don’t, because I ain’t never seen the buses dirty like this no more. Yeah, but I guess since it’s free, they don’t care.

"Lately the bus drivers are getting kind of ... out of character. They leave people at the bus stop."
Debbie Johnson

Thomas Alleman

I didn't ride the bus. I used to bike around a lot because — one, you know, I didn't need to. But I got an injury and then I had to ride the bus. And I was glad it was free. Because I always tell them, I go, ‘I don't think I'd pay for your service all the time.’ It's sometimes off, there are stops that are A and B.

You know, we're the on-the-ground people who ride the bus — and the people who don't, don't understand it.

I always say you got to build a system from the ground up, like people with handicap really have a hard time getting from A to B. And if — put yourself in a wheelchair and ride the bus, and see how effective it is. That's what I look at.

I really hope they keep it free. That's a big deal to people who ride the bus, and it really makes it easier for everybody. I didn't ride it only because I was like 'Well, it's expensive.' It gets expensive really quick.

And now I feel like I can go anywhere in the city. It's kind of nice. It really is nice.

Melissa Pryor

A Pulse bus makes its way eastward on broad street
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
A GRTC bus with a driver in training passes the Willow Lawn station on Thursday, Sept. 7.

I’m coming from work, but I'm heading back home — Northside. I catch the bus on Broad Street to Kroger's, so it’s reliable.

I get up at 4 and I get myself together: Get dressed, put my uniform and stuff on, drink my coffee black. And I just sit there and look at the news and wait till the time we go out at 6:25. Going to the grocery store, doctor's appointments, stuff like that.

I love riding the bus — until they stop and we gotta pay again. It’s real helpful. You know, I don't have to rely on paying nobody to you know, take me where I gotta go. I can just get on the bus for free.

I know everything is fine. I mean, I get where I gotta go from point A to point B. And I'm loving it. All right, thank you.

Les Thomas

Read more from the Healthy City series

Shaban Athuman was born in a Tanzanian refugee camp and grew up in Roanoke, where he fell in love with photography.
Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.