At the beginning of 2021, members of the New River Valley Chapter convinced Blacksburg Transit to bring back bus service needed by the community. Below, read the account of the leader of the campaign, Charles “Dustin” Robins, in his own words:
My name is Charles “Dustin” Robins, and I’ve been with Virginia Organizing since 2016 at the very start of the formation of the New River Valley Chapter. Right away, I loved how we lift up voices of those who feel they have no power and no voice where they are.
Back in August of 2020 I was presented with a problem. I had to get back to work at Virginia Tech. I had been laid off since April due to no students being on campus at the time and was told they would be returning for the fall semester.
Before Covid 19 public transit was readily available in Christiansburg to help me get to my job in Blacksburg where Virginia Tech is, but it was shut down for safety reasons. I don’t own a car and the bus was my only way to work. I needed that job! Thanks to the CARES act I was able to stay afloat during the long time off but still needed a reliable source of income to live just like anyone else.
Because I use the bus service and talk daily with those who rely on it to get to their jobs, or essential services like those at the social services offices, food banks, or even just a simple doctor’s appointment, I thought I’d put to use the many ways Virginia Organizing has trained me and find a way to convince those in power to bring back the buses and lift up the voices of people who simply may not have known how to get their rides back. Afterall I talk to these people daily and know exactly how and why they use the buses.
I contacted Blacksburg Transit and asked why the buses were canceled. They said they were afraid the smaller buses used in town could be the source of an outbreak. This was confirmed by the Town Manager of Christiansburg as well as the Mayor. Between August and December, I tried to find alternative means to get to work that wouldn’t put such hurt on my already empty wallet. There simply wasn’t anything. The closest thing was the Smartway bus operated by Metro Valley Transit in Roanoke, for which you had to pay four dollars one way. It had 2 stops on opposite ends of town and simply wasn’t feasible.
I asked my local organizer if Virginia Organizing could help me bring more voices to the town council and their bus committee, to show them the service was needed and greatly missed. It’s generally those on the council and this committee who make recommendations to Blacksburg Transit.
On January 12th a small group of chapter members got together and attended the first council meeting of the year. Members spoke during the public comment section of the meeting and were asked many questions and told what information needed to be gathered in order to ensure not only that the service be started up again but also how it could be done safely. We were shocked to hear a comment from a woman ahead of us who came to speak to the same subject who was collecting voices as well.
Three of us were invited to a not so public bus committee meeting via zoom where many things were discussed and it was ultimately decided the bus service would come back starting February 15th and that in May, as a group, we could help Blacksburg Transit assess the need to keep the service in place.
It was a great surprise victory. It wasn’t just my personal lobbying but the powerful voice Virginia Organizing as a chapter that was able to convince the council and committee in such a short time. It also shows the training Virginia Organizing gave me over the last 5 years and what it means to help empower those who feel they have no voice because now with the chapter’s help those who need to ride the bus now do.