I've made 43 roundtrips on The Tide as a Data Collector (11 on Opening Day), and some additional trips off-duty. (I'm back on-duty this evening.) I've seen plenty of it, and would like to record my observations.
Among those I've seen onboard are Chesapeake City Councilman & TDCHR Commissioner Cliff Hayes, City of Virginia Beach chief lobbyist Bob Matthias (I explained the passenger counting system to him), City of Virginia Beach Transportation Planning Coordinator Mark Schnaufer, Future of Hampton Roads President Ray Taylor, and The Virginian-Pravda's Debbie Messina. When Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim boarded at Harbor Park on August 20, the passengers gave him a round of applause. Yesterday I ran into HRT President Phillip Shucet as we both alighted at MacArthur Sqaure. (As we'd been sitting in different halves of the train, we didn't spot each other onboard.)
However, special mention goes to the passenger on my train opening night: Reid Greenmun, Chairman of the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA). Yes, Reid Greenmun rides The Tide! In his habitual arrogance, yesterday on Pilotonline he declared himself an authority on The Tide based on that single trip. (NEWS FLASH: there are some Data Collectors who have been working 6-7 days per week on the trains.)
On August 19, I took the first Cutback Inbound 20 of the morning to Newtown Road Station, arriving at 5:55 A.M. As the bus pulled towards the Station, we could see the place was packed.
Despite the attempt of Virginia News Source to later inflate the figure, there were no more than 20 protesters when I arrived.
My first train was the 6:30 A.M. run that morning. As I waited on the platform for it, a pair of senior ladies spoke to me. One recognized me from St. Gregory's. The other grasped that the objective of the protesters was to keep "a certain element" out of Virginia Beach.
By Sunday, August 21, passengers had begun calculating how they could utilize The Tide. They could save money by taking the train into downtown for shopping, entertainment, and Tides games.
Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University students were taking The Tide to MacArthur Center. The former were going NSU Station - MacArthur Square Station. On Saturday a pair of ODU coeds were on the Inbound Route 16 with me, taking it to Fort Norfolk to catch the train.
Last week there was a party in Ingleside. A group of 8 was on my train going there, and they would have certainly driven prior to August 19.
Saturday a family from Portsmouth was sitting behind me. They had drove over to a park and ride, and spoke of enjoying parking on High Street and taking the ferry over. I pointed out to them that the same $3.50 Day Pass would work on both the ferry and train. (Guess what they'll do next time?)
Yesterday I went downtown for an early dinner. I obviously would never do the 75 minute bus ride for dinner alone, but The Tide comes to within two blocks of the restaurant.
Let me answer some of the arguments against they have come up.
First, an opponent on opening morning was claiming extending The Tide into Virginia Beach would take money away from public schools. Not only false, but the contrary is true. Under the schools funding formula, all mass transit expenses come out of the City side of the Budget. The redevelopment induced by The Tide would increase the money to schools in outlying years.
Second, people will stop riding once the newness fades away. Reread the Utilization section and you'll see where the repeat customers will come from.
Third, the train's speed. However, the TPO would let you know that at rush hour our interstates roll at 25 mph or under, urban door to door travel is 15 mph, and our bridges and tunnels are under 10 mph. That will only get worse.
Let me point out the Virginia Beach extension, having no street running, would have a much higher average speed than Norfolk.
TICKET VENDING MACHINES (TVMs)
Once fares began being charged, two issues popped up. First, people didn't know how to use the TVMs. Second, they didn't know which farecard to buy.
A smaller version of the Tide Guide program has been launched to help deal with those issues.
With the deluge of people opening weekend, the running joke was repeating the opponents "No one will ride it" mantra.
On a Saturday night train, the ACS system was still stuck on Military Highway Station as we approached the Fort Norfolk Station. I quipped to the off-duty Bus Operator standing next to me "You can transfer to the 23 at either one."
As our Outbound Train turned for Harbor Park with a Tides game that evening, a pair of women launched into a terrible rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame. A group of teenage girls responded with (to the same tune) Throw Them Off Of The Tide Train.
One evening we could see westbound 264 backed up as we passed. Passengers began yelling "You should have taken The Tide!"
The group that told us "No one will ride it" was left with zero credibility by opening weekend. While no one ever pretended numbers that high were sustainable, it showed that a huge slice of the public is interested in light rail.
In the past week since fares began being charged, ridership has been 1.75 - 3 times the benchmark.
Randy Wright was right. He said if we built a starter line, when people saw it and rode it, they'd embrace it. The regional light rail to be built question was settled on August 19, 2011.