Luis Parrales, ’18, became a Bonner Scholar when he got to Richmond because he wanted to connect with the city as part of his college experience. “I wanted to find what types of things that I, as a college student with energy and time, could contribute to the city of Richmond, and in what ways going into the city could help me grow as a person,” he says.
As a Bonner, he committed to four years of ongoing community engagement and received funding for summer internships, which is how he ended up spending his summer walking along Jefferson Davis Highway, talking to business owners and community members about public transportation.
Parrales was an intern for RVA Rapid Transit, a citizen’s advocacy group that is working to bring enhanced public transportation to the region. The group has been active for three years and has several initiatives underway, including working with Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) to re-route existing bus lines and develop a rapid transit bus along Broad Street that will offer additional options for those without access to a car.
“My main focus was on a study being done on Jefferson Davis Highway in Chesterfield County,” Parrales says. “I canvassed businesses and neighborhoods, getting information on the perceived need for public transportation.” He also attended various community meetings where transit options were discussed, and brainstormed with his RVA Rapid Transit colleagues and supporters about how to carry their message forward.
Through his internship, Parrales has become convinced that public transportation can have a big impact on the quality of life in Richmond. “Transit can help make Richmond a distinctive city,” he says. “Millennials are attracted to places where they don’t have to buy a car and baby boomers are considering how they can age in place, so public transportation is important in that sense.” Connecting residents in the East End of Richmond to businesses along Broad Street and into the West End also provides better access to employment opportunities.
Looking beyond the city, Parrales sees a strong need for transportation in the surrounding counties. “Chesterfield County has one GRTC bus that covers a limited area, but other than that, no public transportation options,” he says. “While Chesterfield doesn’t have the percentage of people under the poverty line that the city of Richmond does, it has plenty of people who would benefit from an hourly bus down Jefferson Davis Highway to access jobs. It was important to hear stories of people who really needed bus service; many were very touching and put things in perspective for me.”
Parrales also took on the challenge of sharing his perspective with those who had differing viewpoints. “I talked with a lot of people who wanted public transportation to pay for itself; there isn’t a public transportation system I know of that pays for itself,” he says. “RVA Rapid Transit’s perspective is that you should look at it in the same way you look at police or fire services; these are goods that aren’t bringing in a profit, but the community agrees to sustain it because they see the value it provides.” While many of the people Parrales spoke with remained skeptical, most at least understood where he was coming from and were open to the conversation.
While classes may now be back in session, Parrales’ work with RVA Rapid Transit won’t end any time soon. “I’ll still be following up with the contacts I built throughout the summer and coordinating meetings with catholic churches throughout the region as part of the Clergy Committee for Rapid Transit,” he says.
And as the Broad Street rapid bus line and the GRTC bus re-routing projects are implemented in the next few months, Parrales says, “it will be exciting to see the work that I’ve been doing realized in person.”