Apr 27, 2010
Life, Liberty & Lynchburg [March 2]: Liberty and GLTC’s partnership benefits city and university
by Emily DeFosse
Without mass transit Liberty’s campus would look something like a scene from one of the many end-of the-world movies where everyone is packed in their cars, heading the same direction trying to drive toward safety but not getting anywhere.
Liberty and GLTC first teamed up in January 2006 according to Director of Financial Research and Analysis and Director of Transportation Services at Liberty University Richard Martin.
Martin said GLTC attempted to team with Liberty for years, and other than a small project in the late 90s Liberty did not see the need.
“We didn’t see it at the time,” Martin said. “(GLTC) always said (we had) a transportation and logistics problem. We always thought it was a parking problem, and we approached it as a parking problem.”
Liberty first ran an independent bus system but eventually decided to partner with GLTC, which helped alleviate the traffic problems on campus, reducing student vehicle miles travel by 3,300 miles per day according to Martin.
There was also a 4 to 5 percent reduction in the number of on-campus students who brought vehicles to campus after bus services were implemented, Martin said.
The partnership between Liberty and GLTC not only helped Liberty’s on-campus community but it revived GLTC’s business.
“GLTC had a spotty reputation on service,” Martin said. “Busses were catching on fire, lots of missed service issues.”
GLTC’s reputation changed drastically by 2009 when it won the American Public Transportation Association Award for Outstanding Public Transportation System in the category that provides service to between 1 million and 4 million passengers yearly.
Liberty is directly responsible for this growth, with over 93 percent of the student body using GLTC service on a yearly basis according to Martin.
“Right now we have about 14,000 to 17,000 rides a week, with 20,821 rides on Feb. 19, 2010,” Martin said. “In terms of total impact we carry about 2.1 million passengers during a year … Liberty usage surpasses the City of Lynchburg and the City of Roanoke combined.”
This puts Liberty among one of the top five campuses that use transit services among colleges, with the average Liberty student riding a bus 184 times per year according to Martin.
The transit system has come a long way since its beginnings when four Liberty busses serviced the entire campus. Today the GLTC transit system utilizes a 14-bus, 10-route system, including park-and-ride services from the mall, routes to Wards Road, Snowflex and Cornerstone Apartments according to Martin.
The quality of the busses has also improved over the years, which has allowed GLTC to develop a more environmentally friendly service.
“We went from running old 1970s church busses, to now where about 85 percent of our fleet are busses that are less than three years old,” Martin said.
According to Martin each of those new busses costs about $375,000. There are also two hybrid busses that run on campus, costing about $500,000 each.
“We are one of the very few colleges to run hybrid bus technology as part of the regular campus transportation,” Martin said.
While the new busses are primarily used for daily transportation, now Martin said older busses are still kept on reserve for times when the newer busses need maintenance.
“Unlike a car that may work great for five years before you run into your first problem these busses have to be continually maintained,” Martin said.
Another benefit of the partnership between GLTC and Liberty is the impact it has had on the Lynchburg community as a whole.
Assistant General Manager of GLTC Scott Willis oversees the Liberty University operations and works closely with university officials to develop the system.
“Without Liberty we would still be here functioning however, the partnership of Liberty allowed us to add about 30 full-time bus operators and two full-time mechanics,” Willis said. “That is definitely a benefit to the community.”
Along with the jobs that have been added to the community during these tough economic times, Liberty funds three routes that have a direct impact on the public according to Willis.
“LU has funded a second 4F bus from seven in the morning to five or six in the evening … The 4F goes from the Plaza to the mall via Fort Avenue and then over to Liberty University. Normally that bus leaves the Plaza every hour but with Liberty funding the extra bus it now leaves every 30 minutes.”
This allows many daily community customers to receive quicker service to the mall and Wards Road area.
Citizens near the Cornerstone apartments also have more available access to the city thanks to Route 15 that runs during the school year between campus and Cornerstone.
Route 14 runs between Liberty, Wal-Mart and Target. Willis believes this route is also beneficial to community members who want to travel between many of the main department stores in the Wards Road area so they do not have to wait longer for the 4E route.
Right now, Liberty is the only establishment taking advantage of the GLTC Upass program, which allows all students, staff and faculty to ride city busses for free with school ID.
According to Willis, the Upass program is available to any college or business that wants to take advantage of it.
Liberty has invested a lot of money into GLTC to make this program work.
“GLTC is an extension of the city so they receive federal funds, state funds and the city also puts in money … They take fares and then they receive money from us,” Martin said. “This year we will probably end up at about $1.5 million … We surpass the city’s own investment in their own transportation system.”
Last year the city’s investment in GLTC totaled $1.3 to $1.4 million according to Martin.
Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine took notice of GLTC after it won the 2009 Outstanding Public Transportation System award.
“GLTC’s use of hybrid-electric busses and development of local partnerships with universities have the potential to increase ridership while reducing traffic, greenhouse gasses and fuel consumption,” Kaine said.
Contact Emily DeFosse at