Blacksburg Transit is ramping up its operation to prepare for an influx of Virginia Tech students in the fall.

The agency is planning to hire 10 full-time bus drivers and increase incentives for drivers to handle the spike in enrollment.

“The main part of the plan is to get as many driving hours on the street as possible,” said Tom Fox, Blacksburg Transit’s director.

The existing routes and vehicles can handle the influx of students, Fox said. Virginia Tech is expecting a record freshman class of more than 7,500 students.

Fox said there are no plans to create additional routes. The transit company already operates about 50 buses and 13 routes in Blacksburg and Christiansburg.

Students who will be living at the Holiday Inn Express on Plantation Road will increase the riders on the Prices Fork Road corridor, but they can be absorbed by the existing buses. He said students will be encouraged to leave a little earlier to ease crowding on buses.

Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., 14 buses per hour will service the area near the Holiday Inn Express. Articulated buses, the larger ones that bend in the middle, will be utilized along the route.

Tech’s Alternative Transportation office will also work to highlight the range of alternative transportation options for students. That includes having department members at student orientation, events, reaching out through social media and other efforts to engage with students, according to Jeri Baker, university director of parking and transportation.

Last week, Blacksburg Transit moved to get an additional $338,000 appropriation from the Town Council from transportation grant funds to hire 10 full-time bus operators and an additional transit supervisor. The additional employees are necessary because of enrollment growth at Tech, according to a memo from town council requesting the funds.

Blacksburg Transit’s budget for 2019-20 is $15.6 million. The bus service is funded by riders, the town, as well as Virginia Tech and Christiansburg. Tech is slated to pay $5.2 million over that period, according to the town’s budget.

Blacksburg Transit anticipates 4.9 million passengers in the upcoming fiscal year.

Fox said that extra full-time drivers and incentives for part-time drivers will help keep buses running on time. He said Blacksburg Transit currently has 20 full-time drivers and will have 30 after it hires the 10 additional drivers.

Full-time drivers can be more flexible and can work more overtime if necessary, he said.

Typically, the agency has 120 drivers, mostly part-timers. He said it’s possible the 10 full-time drivers will come from the part-time pool.

A strong economy means drivers are finding work elsewhere, so keeping the pool of drivers available for routes has proven tricky, he said.

“We believe we can handle the growth with the vehicles we have, we just need more operators,” he said.

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Robby Korth covers higher education, primarily Virginia Tech.

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