Bereaved: Funeral strands bus riders

Charlottesville Transit Service founder and long-time manager Helen Poore was so highly esteemed that the city shut down bus service between 9:30am to 3pm January 30 so CTS employees could attend her funeral.

That well-intended gesture to honor a beloved city employee left some would-be bus passengers without a ride in near-freezing temperatures that Friday.

City manager Gary O'Connell, who made the decision to suspend service, notes Poore's 30 years of service and her contributions to Charlottesville's bus system. "Helen has been involved so much locally, state-wide, and nationally," he says. "She found grant money, and she had the vision to make it grow."

The city sent press releases January 28 and 29 to local media about the shutdown. "We put notices in every seat, on all buses, and at bus stops," says O'Connell. "The hours are our least-used time."

The notices directed riders who needed emergency transportation to call 296-RIDE. Interim CTS director Charles Petty defines "emergency" riders as people who needed to get to doctors' appointments or to work. "Something not frivolous," he says. "We wanted people to get to things they had commitments for."

Six drivers who were relatively new employees provided rides in vans to the five people who called during the five-and-a-half hours that service was suspended, says Petty.

Despite the publicity, some riders were unaware of the shutdown. Vernetta Jones doesn't ride the bus very often. She had waited at a West Main bus stop about five minutes when a reporter informed her the buses weren't running. She decided to walk.

"I really don't think they should close down for that length of time," she says. "It does inconvenience people."

UVA student Lucy Figueroa was waiting for a bus to get downtown for a volunteer stint but offered no complaint when a reporter informed her about the suspended service. "It's understandable," she said.

Debbie Jones needed to get to Kmart, and was sitting at a bus stop on West Main around 12:30pm January 30. She'd heard the system was shutting down, but thought buses were running until 3pm.

Jones doesn't own a car and doesn't think stopping service was such a good idea for the people whose only transportation is the bus. "Some people can't afford a taxi and don't have family or friends to give them a ride," she said. Of her canceled trip to Kmart, she said, "I'm disappointed. I'm going home."

Margie Hughes had to get to work at 2pm. She, too, heard about the shutdown on TV the night before, and she also thought service was stopping at 3pm.

Hughes didn't notice the sign posted at the bus stop. "I would have been waiting here for a long time," she said.

Hughes is a regular rider on the Number 3 bus. "I really do rely on the bus because I don't have a car," she said.

City Councilor Kevin Lynch considers the shutdown an appropriate way to honor Poore, whom he credits with giving Charlottesville a "world class" transit system.

"I certainly apologize to those inconvenienced. I hope they take time to reflect on the normal convenience they enjoy, and to a large extent, that's through Helen's efforts," he said.

Councilor Rob Schilling, "with all due respect in a time of grief," had some questions when he heard about the decision to stop service temporarily. "I think it would have been more in her honor to keep buses running, because that was important to her," he says.

Public transportation advocate Stratton Salidis, a member of Alternatives to Paving, agrees. "I think a much better way to honor a passing bus founder would be to start Sunday bus service and free trolleys to 29 north and Pantops."

He says the transit service's marketing strategy targets "choice riders" those who have other options such as a car– instead of "captured riders," those who don't have other transportation. "They're the people most vulnerable to this disruption," he says.

Yet other public transportation advocates support the decision to suspend service for someone who had done so much to expand bus service in Charlottesville.

"In a small, tight-knit community like ours, I can sort of understand why the city could do this," says Len Schoppa, the secretary of the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation.

He thinks it's a nice sign that the transit system staff is so close, "compared to a city like New York, where bus drivers wouldn't know the head of the transportation department."

Helen Poore, center with plaque, was a founder of the City's bus system.


Infrequent bus rider Vernetta Jones decided to walk to Morris Tire Service.


Regular rider Debbie Jones had to postpone her shopping trip to Kmart.


Margie Hughes had to be at work on Carlton Avenue at 2pm, so she accepted a ride from
Hook  photographer Jen Fariello.

[Note: In the print edition of the Hook, these captions contained mistakes that have been corrected here.]