HRT celebrates one million riders on The Tide

Posted at 9:46 PM, Apr 17, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-17 23:39:08-04

Hampton Roads Transit celebrated a huge milestone Tuesday afternoon - one million riders on The Tide. Those numbers do not include the thousands of people who rode The Tide for free during the first week and a half after it opened.

This milestone comes five months earlier than expected.  On average, about 4,900 people are riding light rail every day. That's about 2,000 more than was initially predicted.

Officials say those numbers are only improving as the weather gets nicer and people become more accustomed to riding The Tide.

With the higher ridership numbers, revenue from ticket sales is slightly higher than HRT had budgeted for, which means the city is paying less.  An HRT spokesman also said that the number of people hopping on board The Tide without purchasing a ticket is very low.

A big question many still have about light rail, though, is if and when it might expand beyond its 7.4 mile track.

It's something the Virginia Beach city council is looking into. They'll be voting at their meeting next Tuesday on whether or not to hold a public referendum about the issue.  If it's approved, the question would be presented to voters on the November ballot.

Virginia Beach Councilman Bill DeSteph says before the issue is presented to voters, there are still some big questions that need to be answered: How much will it cost to expand? What are the projected annual costs for operations and maintenance and how will the city pay for it?

As far as the estimated cost, a study on bringing light rail to the Beach won't be completed until late 2013, but preliminary numbers were released in 2011. They showed that extending light rail to Town Center would cost about $254 million; going all the way to the Oceanfront would be more than $800 million.

DeSteph says he is still waiting on HRT to provide answers to his other questions.

William Harrell, President and CEO of HRT, says they are working on getting the information the Virginia Beach city council requested.  It could be sent to them as early as Wednesday.