“In Blacksburg it’s much more difficult because the community partners have never financially supported transit,” she says. “We needed to go out in the community to explain to our potential partners the benefits of partnership.
“The harder part at BT was explaining the benefits of partnerships and getting intial buy-in,” Martin says. One of the partnerships they’ve been working on this year is with apartment complexes. BT provides service to many of the apartment complexes and, of course, carries a lot of the residents.
“We have been working with apartment complexes, requesting finanical support of the system,” explains Martin. “It doesn’t have to be a lot. If each apartment complex even gives $10,000 or $15,000 annually, that would help us with our operating.”
She adds, “We could give some advertising in return, but the idea was that you’re not purchasing advertising, we really want more than that.
“We need relationships with the movers and shakers in our community so that when we go through our hardship, which every system does, we have dedicated partners to help us,” Martin says. ”We have everything in place to help us versus us just going out and reaching out our hands, which is kind of where we were when I first came.”
To establish relationships, Martin explains they look to hotels, apartment complexes, and a variety of local businesses. “We meet with them, we get involved with their department councils. They all know us now.” She adds, “They understand that it’s a win-win for them to support the local cost of the transit system.”
Keeping up with the University
The town of Blacksburg is a small town. As Martin describes it, it’s the type of town where you know your neighbor’s name, everyone takes care of everyone else, the kind of town you want to raise a family. Sitting in this small town is a large university, Virginia Tech.
“You’ve got this huge school that brings in so much because they’re the biggest resource,” she explains. “We’re constantly working with them. They do research with us, we go after grants together, it’s wonderful.”
She adds that it makes BT keep up with technology. “You have to keep up with technology to be a partner with the university and to stay on the cutting edge.
“The one thing we just started was our streets program, which is our AVL/GPS,” explains Martin. “Now we actually know where our buses are in real time and can get a lot more information about on-time performance and ridership.” This system was just launched with the start of the school year and she anticipates the benefits it will provide. “We will be able to get so much more data quickly.”
Once this system has been in place and is running as expected, she says she would like to have the bus information sent out to cell phones. “The idea is that you could access your cell phone to see if you’ve missed your bus, or when the next bus is coming.”
In 2003 the town began a similar-type program and BT was involved from the beginning. “Blacksburg Alert” is a system that allows people to sign up for up-to-the-minute information. The information can be directed to email or to a cell phone. Bad weather, route changes or emergencies, BT can notify passengers immediately about anything affecting the ride.
Employees are required to sign-on to the alert and it was through that system that Martin said BT was provided updates about a shooting on campus at Virginia Tech on April 16 of this year.
“We had heard about the shooting,” Martin says. “We had minor detours on the system early in the morning.” Martin was referring to the shootings that happened when two people were shot and killed at a dormitory on Virginia Tech’s campus.
By the end of the day, there would be 33 people killed.
“My staff was at shift change, which is right down on the drill field,” says Martin. “So my staff was within eyesight of what was happening.
“Our first indication was that our supervisors called in shots.” She continues, “We took a kid with a broken leg to the hospital. We learned he had jumped from a window and had hurt himself. That’s when we really knew how serious things were.