Supervisor Jeff Black (Western Caroline), Building Official Kevin Wightman, and I showed up in Bowling Green around 6am this morning to take a ride on Fred Transit. As many Caroline Residents know, there is some debate about whether or not Caroline County should be spending over $100,000 a year for a service few residents are using. However, it’s one thing to look at numbers. It’s another thing to jump on board and meet the folks taking advantage of Fred Transit’s low $1.25 fairs.
The ride started off anything but fast. The Bowling Green Town Hall is the 7th stop on the morning route and the bus is supposed to make it to the Community Center by 6:45 am. The bus didn’t even make it to the Town Hall until 6:52 am. No riders were picked up on the first 6 stops, so there was very little excuse for being so late. That said, we happily boarded the bus and headed off on our adventure.
It was interesting to discover that no one was apparently using the bus to go to Fredericksburg. Everyone was commuting within Caroline County itself. Especially from Bowling Green (where there are no jobs) to Carmel Church (where there are jobs). Two of our friendly passengers made the trip from Bowling Green to Carmel Church. Another gentlemen who boarded in Belmont was heading to Ladysmith.
A 4th gentlemen who boarded at the Community Center stayed on the bus after we transferred in Thornburg, obviously heading back toward Route 2. In Ladysmith we picked up a gentlemen, much like us, who was just enjoying riding around on the bus for the day. He transferred with us to head to Fredericksburg Central, by Umi’s (great Sushi!), near Cowan BLVD on Route 1.
3 People used Fred Transit to get to work this morning. Despite the county paying over $100,000 a year, riders are still required to pay $1.25 (as of July 1st) to ride. Also, you have to pay another $1.25 when you transfer out of Caroline to Spotsy in Thornburg.
Fast & Furious
So, as you know our original bus was late. One of the riders seemed very worried and was on the phone with his company making sure that no one had to come pick him up, that the bus was finally there. Another rider was very chill. She said her employer knew she took the bus and that she’d get there when she’d get there (Cool Boss, it was clear that this lady was the person who really kept the trains running on time at her establishment. Maybe FRED could use her services).
However, FRED Transit doesn’t want to be late. They are, as we three discovered, committed to getting you where you’re going on time. In Thornburg, we transferred to a new bus and a new driver, who took us on an exciting adventure, rocking the bus this way and that, toppling over and around safety barrel cones, and flying by empty bus stops at over sixty miles an hour. It was scary as hell, but exciting. If you can’t afford Kings Dominion, you’ve GOT to try Fred Transit.
I imagined the brakes glowing red every time we made an immediate stop at a red light. The Crew Chief in my head was warning the driver to lay off the brakes, conserve fuel, we can win this race if we can make it on fuel! I was half expecting the driver to jump out of the window of the bus as we pulled into Fred Central, the MONSTER Energy girls would be there, someone would hand her a Gatorade. “I’d just like to thank Mary Washington University and 93.3, who plays the very best country music in Fredericksburg.”
All in all, what I saw was a massive county expenditure being taken advantage of by a small number of wonderful people.
I think it was important to take this ride today, to get a chance to talk with the real people who do depend upon this service. These are good, responsible, hard working people doing what they have to do to get to work. However, Caroline County will spend over $1 Million on Fred Transit over the next 10 years. There are less than 12 county residents using this service. No one wants to see them harmed and we should have discussions about community transportation in Caroline County, especially between Bowling Green and Carmel Church, and eventually to Ladysmith once/if the Walmart opens.
Our schools are always looking for more money. The county is constantly forced to consider tax increases. Well, here’s $100k a year that we could save, or reinvest for a similar purpose, finding some alternative to Fred Transit.
This is a topic that we should discuss over the next 9 months as our Board of Supervisors considers whether or not to keep the program.
Before Supervisor Black and I left Town Hall, the Fred Bus had returned. Once again, there was no one on the bus. It was as empty as a politician’s promise.