Passenger Rail, the Long-Distance Commuter and Megaregions



The greater region starting north of Charlottesville and extending to North Carolina and Tennessee is strategically situated between megaregions.

Megaregions are commonly defined as a large network of metropolitan regions that are tied together economically in such a way that they are becoming the new competitive units in the global economy. 


Carpooling and Economic Development – Part 2


In the previous blog concerning economic development, I argued that carpooling plays an “unsung hero” role in economic development by facilitating face-to-face conversation between professionals in the same industry cluster.  This is an internal opportunity to improve information exchange and coordination within our regional economy and industry structure.  This blog extends that argument and asserts that there are also external opportunities, related to reputation and regional brand, for carpooling, vanpooling and transit to further contribute to our economic development.

The Roanoke Regional Partnership, through its site, has made great strides in positioning the region’s spectacular outdoor amenities in its regional economic development marketing mix.  Likewise the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau touts outdoor adventures as part of its tourism marketing message.  Clearly, the natural environment and outdoor amenities are key to our regional reputation and our regional brand.

There is one cloud on the horizon that could tarnish our external reputation (external brand) and set back our recent progress.  We could become air-quality non-attainment, with regards to federal standards, for ground level Ozone.  It is important to note that our regional air-quality has consistently improved since the late 1990s.  However, the federal standards have gotten progressively stricter over time.  The national standard is up for a new review this year.

The last time that we were in danger of becoming non-attainment, the local governments entered into a voluntary program to reduce emissions that was successful in keeping us in attainment.  This time the private sector can pro-actively join in and voluntarily help reduce vehicle emissions through carpooling, vanpooling or transit.  If we become air-quality non-attainment it will hurt our reputation, brand and regional economy, through increased state level emissions regulation.  Our clear regional strategy is to proactively ensure that our air remains clean enough to meet the new standard.

There are three simple actions that you can do to help us avoid losing our regional brand equity:

  1. Sign up for RIDE Solutions and carpool, bike, walk or take the bus to work at least one time a week, and become eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home program in case of emergency.
  2. Refer the HR Department at your work to the RIDE Solutions Workplace (free) program.
  3. If you are already a RIDE Solutions Workplace refer one of your suppliers, partners or customers to RIDE Solutions so that we can get that industry cluster based communication benefit that was the subject of the first blog.

It is that simple.  Together we can have clean air and avoid becoming non-attainment.

Can Carpooling help with Economic Development?


From “Cluster Analysis for NewVA Region (2004)”

The concept of industry clusters and cluster based strategy has been a vibrant topic in economic development circles over the past couple of decades.  Specific cluster related studies or profiles that cover the combined New River and Roanoke Valleys, Alleghany Highlands and Region 2000 (Lynchburg) have been completed in the past decade and have been useful in regional economic development initiatives.

The famous Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter defines clusters in “On Competition” as:

[A] geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities.”

He goes on to say that:

Many of the competitive advantages of clusters depend on the free flow of information, the discovery of value-adding exchanges or transactions, the willingness to align agendas and to work across organizations …networks, and a sense of common interest undergird these circumstances. The social structure of clusters thus takes on central importance.

It is precisely in helping to improve the free flow of information, and to solidify professional relationships that carpooling, vanpooling and transit use can make a surprising, and often overlooked contribution to regional economic development.  In a recent blog it was argued that carpooling and vanpooling help facilitate the person-to-person conversations that generate ideas and facilitate teamwork in organizations.  This same effect can be multiplied when carpool, vanpool or transit commuters are from the same industry clusters, but not necessarily the same companies.  The potential for serendipitous discovery of innovative ideas via face-to-face conversations shouldn’t be underestimated.  Carpooling, vanpooling and transit may provide the only opportunities for in person conversations with certain other professionals in the same cluster that otherwise wouldn’t cross your path during your busy workday.  This networking effect was even observed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. CNN did a story on the Davos shuttles being the ultimate networking tool at the Forum in some cases even more so than the sessions and events themselves.  If even the world’s business, economic and political elite find value by having face-to-face conversations while sharing a ride, just imagine the hidden potential for regional economic development in our part of Virginia.

The NRV Bike Kitchen Enters Second Year, Adds New Director

James Glass of the NRV Bike Kitchen | from the NRV Bike Kitchen Facebook page

James Glass of the NRV Bike Kitchen | from the NRV Bike Kitchen Facebook page

The NRV Bike Kitchen, through a sub-grant  from VT Engage’s Americorps VISTA program, will bring James Glass to oversee operations starting February 18, 2013.

The NRV Bike Kitchen is a community service program of the New River Valley Bicycle Association, a non-profit organization.  The Bike Kitchen serves as a community hub for increasing opportunities to access essential neighborhoods and services on a recycled bike.  With 19% of the people living below the poverty line and 6% of households in the New River Valley being carless, a great need for affordable transportation exists.  The Bike Kitchen fills that need by offering bicycles to people who can use them the most.  Tuned up and fully operational bicycles are offered for $25.  Additionally, the Bike Kitchen will work with local transit to maximize the use of the bicycles it distributes.

Under the direction of the Bike Kitchen’s Advisory Board, Glass will expand and develop the Bike Kitchen’s programs.  In 2013, the Bike Kitchen will build a strong volunteer base, increase revenue through donations and grants, and conduct outreach programs.  The Bike Kitchen recognizes the need for bicycle education, outreach programs, and a user support structure above and beyond the distribution of bicycles.

Glass, a local specialty building contractor and consultant, is taking 2013 off from his business to volunteer full time at the Bike Kitchen, and we welcome him aboard.

Beginning February 18th, the Bike Kitchen will have regular hours, six days a week and volunteer training classes will begin in early March. For more information, visit us inside the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore at 1675 North Franklin Street, Christiansburg, Virginia or email us at:

You can also follow the NRV Bike Kitchen on their Facebook page.

New Carpool Opportunities – Week Ending 1/27/13

RIDE Solutions has registered the following new rideshare opportunities in the Roanoke and New River Valleys.  To see if you are a potential match, register online and we will send you a match letter with contact information for all potential carpool partners.  You can also view of map of all current carpool origins in the Carpool section of the RIDE Solutions website.

  • Radford to Christiansburg Shift
  • Blacksburg to Christiansburg 8am-10pm
  • Blacksburg to Dublin 8:30am-5:30pm

RIDE Solutions offer free carpool matching and Guaranteed Ride Home benefits for everyone who carpools, bikes, walks, takes the bus or telecommutes to work instead of driving alone.  We are a free public service of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission and the New River Valley Planning District Commission.

By providing transportation alternatives in the Roanoke area, RIDE Solutions improves regional air quality, reduces traffic congestion, and helps create a sustainable transportation infrastructure.

Want instant updates?  Follow us on Twitter or become a Facebook fan.


Unsung Reason to try Ridesharing

Carpooling can break down barriers within organizations and foster networking and information sharing.

Carpooling can break down barriers within organizations and foster networking and information sharing.

Those who encourage ridesharing often focus on cost saving or environmental arguments to persuade people to try ridesharing. While these are important benefits of ridesharing, one very important benefit often goes unheralded. Ridesharing can be beneficial in improving organizational and team communication and effectiveness.

I personally vow to carpool at least one time per week with another staff member. At first, this arrangement was mostly an effort to “practice what we preach” by making sure we carpooled every week. Over time it became increasingly apparent that carpooling was actually helping us become more effective in our jobs. Although we don’t have a large staff, 11 people, staff members are distributed among two floors in the same building. The effect of a “stairwell barrier” is alive and well even in a small organization. My carpool partner and I have offices on separate floors, and carpooling has been indispensable in fostering communication on joint projects and generating ideas for synergies between seemingly separate projects. It would be hard to estimate the level of economic value that unexpectedly comes from carpooling. I have no doubt that in our case it is real.

As organizations of all sizes flatten and cross-functional teams become the norm, carpooling and vanpooling may become surefire ways to ensure that adequate communication is taking place between workgroups. Likewise, technology has enabled new telework and hybrid distance working arrangements. On those days when part-time teleworkers are coming into the office, person-to-person conversations in carpools or vanpools may prove indispensable to team and workgroup effectiveness. Finally, employees involved in travel, telework or distance work often miss-out on the regular personal in-office networking opportunities that, despite rapidly changing technology, are necessary for effectiveness and career advancement. Carpooling or vanpooling, as little as once a week, could help employees keep up their personal professional relationships.

Readers of this blog who are employed in large organizations, or organizations that make extensive use of workgroups and teams, please encourage your employer to become a best workplace for commuters and to use carpooling or vanpooling to help strengthen team communication and effectiveness.

Could the Elimination of the Gax Tax also Eliminate Transit Fares?

Roanoke Valley Metro Bus 3Well, probably not.  But let’s think about the logic behind the gas tax and what the switch to sales tax funding might mean.

Transit and rail service is generally described as being subsidized, in that the total cost of their initial capital outlay and ongoing operation is not covered by transit fares.  The subsidy in question comes from the gas taxes (and related vehicle and transportation fees) that fund the rest of the state’s transportation system.

So:  the gas tax is the user fee paid by drivers, and transit fares are the user fees paid by bus and rail riders.  Now, we know that gas taxes fall short of paying for the full cost of running our transportation system, so both drivers and transit users are subsidized, but for purposes of this argument let’s pretend that gas taxes do pay for 100% of the transportation system and leave a little left over for transit and other projects.

Now, if Governor McDonnell’s plan passes, we switch from a gas tax to a sales tax.  There is no longer a “user fee” for driving.

But if transit fares persist, there’s still a user fee for bus and rail.

Further, wouldn’t transit users effectively pay twice?  Under the current system, the transit fare replaces the gas tax that the rider would have paid if they had driven.  That’s their contribution to the service.  But under the new system. they would continue to pay the fare, and would see an increase in their sales taxes.

Drivers, meanwhile, have something close to a revenue-neutral proposition: no more gas taxes, but higher sales taxes.

So, again: if the gas tax goes away but transit fares remain, bus and rail riders will be paying twice for the services they use, once through fares and again with increased sales taxes, while drivers will only pay once.

Suddenly, rather than the idea that buses and trains are subsidized by drivers, who are paying for their own infrastructure through gas taxes, it is highways that are subsidized by transit users.