37th Anniversary Celebration
OmniRide is celebrating its 37th anniversary. While this may not be a milestone anniversary year, another year of providing safe and reliable service to our community deserves recognition and celebration. And in honor of our anniversary, we thought we’d stroll down memory lane to commemorate our achievements and milestones and see how far we've traveled on our 37-year journey.
A Look at PRTC Through the Years
The Early Years
The inaugural meeting of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission was called to order on August 6, 1986, at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Stafford County. At that time, the primary goal of the agency was to establish commuter rail service, or the Virginia Railway Express. In 1990, PRTC assumed responsibility for operating the COMMUTERIDE commuter bus service and ridematching program for car and vanpoolers from Prince William County. By the fall of 1990, PRTC's average daily ridership exceeded 2,500.
The early 1990s were filled with planning for the Virginia Railway Express and the local bus service that would later be named OmniLink. In June 1992, the first VRE trains rolled down the tracks, providing service to 16 stations. By 1995, PRTC had feeder bus service on four routes serving the VRE stations. OmniLink local buses began operating in the spring of 1995 along three corridors, expanding travel options for many area residents. At the time, OmniLink was considered a unique "flex-route" system, allowing buses to serve locations up to 3/4 mile off the standard route. By fall of 1995, OmniLink expanded service, starting two more routes to serve Manassas and Manassas Park.
In late 1997, the agency moved to the current Transit Center; for the first time, administrative, operational and mechanical functions were under the same roof. The garage and bus yard provided ample space to maintain and store PRTC's fleet of 77 buses, with room for growth. New services were established in the late 1990s - Cross County Connector and Prince William Metro Direct - and OmniRide services were expanded in response to increased demand during Mixing Bowl construction. Meanwhile, OmniLink switched to a more convenient, automated scheduling system for reserving off-route trips.
PRTC Grows Up
In 2000, OmniLink ridership nearly doubled when the service extended its hours of operation. Meanwhile, PRTC's overall average daily ridership surpassed 5,000. The year 2000 was also a milestone year for VRE, with ridership hitting 10,000 average daily riders.
In 2000 and 2001, PRTC began the modernization of its fleet with the arrival of 13 new OmniRide buses and 16 OmniLink buses, providing a more comfortable ride for passengers. In just a few short years, PRTC went from having one of the oldest bus fleets in Virginia to having a fleet with an average age of just four years old.
Continuing to steadily grow, in December of 2002, OmniRide surpassed a calendar-year record by carrying more than 1 million passengers. In 2003, PRTC's overall average daily ridership surpassed 7,500, fueled in part by the addition of Saturday OmniLink service along three routes.
A sixth OmniLink route began operation along the Route 1 corridor in 2005, and PRTC introduced OmniRide service to Rosslyn and Ballston in 2006. In 2007, bicycle racks were installed on all local and Metro Direct buses - a convenience for passengers wanting to ride their bikes on both ends of their trip. VRE began making improvements to Crossroads Yard and dedicated new parking garages at the Manassas Station and Burke Centre in 2007 and 2008.
Continued Growth and Expansion
PRTC began accepting SmarTrip cards in 2008 - a simple electronic form of payment that has benefited numerous regional transit providers and their customers. In 2009, PRTC began operating Tysons Express, a direct service between Woodbridge and Tysons Corner funded by Virginia Megaprojects to help mitigate traffic during HOT lane construction. The agency also updated its image in 2009 with a new set of bold, easy-to-read bus-stop signs to replace the faded ones that had been on the streets for more than 10 years.
In February 2010, PRTC and VRE welcomed a new member - Spotsylvania County. Between 2005 and 2010, VRE purchased 71 Gallery-style rail cars. Recently, VRE set a ridership record on July 12, 2016, with 23,309 trips. VRE carried 4.4 million passengers in FY2016 (which ended June 30, 2016), an annual daily ridership of 17,666 riders. In 2017, VRE celebrated 25 years of service on the Manassas and Fredericksburg lines.
PRTC and VRE continued their growth during 2018 – 2021. VRE cut the ribbon in 2018 on the platform extension project at the Lorton Station. The agency also partnered with regional stakeholders and assisted in development of the Long Bridge project's combined environmental impact statement and record of decision that will permit VRE to operate more efficiently and expand services. Last but not least, VRE recently executed an $80.6 million contract for the purchase of 21 new bi-level passenger rail cars, with an option to purchase up to 48 additional cars.
In 2018, PRTC initiated a rebranding campaign. Our logo was refreshed, we selected new agency colors and all our services were rebranded under the OmniRide name. The commuter service became OmniRide Express, OmniLink became OmniRide Local, Metro Direct became OmniRide Metro Express, the Cross County Connector became OmniRide East-West Express and our ridesharing service went from OmniMatch to OmniRide Ridesharing. We initiated a bold, new paint design for the fleet, we've been retiring our teal and white look.
That same year, a new OmniRide Express route began between Haymarket and Rosslyn/Ballston. In 2019. The organization also began service from the new University lot in Gainesville. Also in that year, Local routes in the Manassas area were revamped and OmniRide Access Paratransit service was inaugurated.
OmniRide broke ground in more ways than one between January 2019 - June 2021. The organization literally held a groundbreaking on the Western Bus Maintenance and Storage facility in January of 2019. Starting with the June 2021 service change, buses were dispatched from the Western Facility for the first time. This new facility allows for OmniRide to improve and expand transit services for western Prince William County residents and the business community, and will help to reduce congestion along the I-66 corridor.
Also in 2019, the OmniRide app became available, providing passengers with real-time information. Additionally, OmniRide launched new services outside the Prince William County area for the first time – two new routes from Stafford to Pentagon and Stafford to L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C.
In 2020, OmniRide was awarded the prestigious TSA BASE Gold Standard Award. This is the top honor given by the TSA for demonstrating outstanding performance in enhancing security programs.
Most recently, in August 2022 eastern Local and the Prince William Metro Express routes began operating on Sundays and for the first time ever, OmniRide was offering service seven days a week on those routes. In December 2022, OmniRide Connect Microtransit service was launched in Manassas Park, replacing the underperforming Manassas Park Local route. Microtransit was introduced in Quantico/Dumfries/Triangle in May 2023.
Looking to the Future
OmniRide is continuing to rebound from the effects of the COVID pandemic. Express commuter routes are at 57% of their pre-pandemic levels when comparing ridership from January 2020 (156,174) to January 2023 (88,408). Conversely, local routes reflected a 9% increase in ridership during the same period compared to pre-pandemic levels. At the August 2023 service change, we will launch Saturday service on Local routes in the Manassas area, along with the East-West Express. Later in FY 2024, Local routes in the eastern service will be restructured to expand the service footprint.
PRTC has come a long way in 37 years of service and anticipates bigger and better changes for the future to meet the needs of our growing community. Here's to 37 more years of service to OUR community!
See Our History in Pictures
Browse through our photo gallery at some memorable images over the past 37 years.