Study pushes bus service to LFCC

An effort by the Winchester-Frederick County Metropolitan Planning Organization could bring public transportation to Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown.

LFCC remains the only community college out of the state’s 23 without public transportation.

Localities likely would need to help fund the service but officials say numerous grants available could help cover the cost.

A feasibility study indicates that Winchester, with financial aid from local partners, could apply for a grant to extend bus service from the city to the college. In the mid-term, Virginia Regional Transit could apply for a grant to extend its service from Front Royal to the college. The long-term plan could see Virginia Regional Transit create a route between the college and Strasburg as well as Woodstock with potential links from areas northwest of Winchester to the city transfer location as well as one from Berryville.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission approached LFCC officials about the matter because Winchester representatives asked if a lack of public transportation created a barrier to education, Brandy Boies, the college’s director of marketing and research, said Thursday. Frederick County officials also participated in the discussion.

“Was transportation a concern, and we didn’t know the answer to that,” Boies said, noting that this question prompted the grant-funded study.

“I’ve worked in student services for years and I do hear from students that ‘oh, well, I couldn’t get a ride’ or ‘I had to stop coming to school because my ride stopped coming,'” Boies said. “As advisers, we’ve heard all these things but we’ve never done a study and in the situation of dropping out of college or deciding not to come anymore, we don’t have the ability to survey those students and find out why they stopped coming.”

The college started a ride-share program to help students find ways to make it to school but that effort didn’t pan out, Boies recalled. The regional commission came to the college around the same time and asked if they wanted to talk about transportation needs, she added.

“The study came back and it showed that there is a need, that there are citizens in our area that desire a transportation service to the college,” Boies said.

Limited access to transportation – families with only one car, for example – as well as high gas prices keep many people from attending the college, Boies said.

“LFCC is interested because, first, we want to retain the students that we have,” Boies said. “We don’t want for transportation to be a stress in their life, to wake up in the morning and have to worry about someone picking them up for class or do they have enough gas in their car.”

The study identified transportation as a barrier for many people in the community who desire to pursue higher education, Boies said, adding that it also showed that the annual cost to provide the service from Winchester to the college would exceed $300,000 but grants could cover more than half the expense.

“There are bigger dreams of having the bus going into Shenandoah County, Warren County and so forth,” Boies said.

Parties would need to cover the remainder, she noted. Aside from pursuing funding from localities, officials are looking into ways local industries who see this as a benefit to their employees could help fund the service, Boies said.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization commissioned the $35,000 feasibility study that indicates a public-transportation plan could provide service from morning to evening Monday-Friday. The bus service would run from Boscawen Street in downtown Winchester down Valley Pike to the college’s Middletown campus on Skirmisher Lane. The hourly service could cost $1 per hourly ride.

Karen Taylor, with the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission in Front Royal, said Thursday that the MPO board acknowledged a consultant completed the scope of work on the study. However, no implementation plan is in place yet, Taylor said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137, ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.

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