NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – It’s been five years since Hampton Roads Transit’s Light Rail started carrying people around the city.
HRT threw a birthday party for for the system Friday. To celebrate the anniversary, HRT is allowing free rides all weekend.
Officials call the Tide a success. They say areas around the stops have flourished and now they are looking forward to the future.
“Clearly, the Tide has made a difference in the City of Norfolk,” said HRT President and CEO William Harrell.
There are some who hope the Tide keeps rolling.
“I’d like to see all the cities in the area connected so we could go anywhere we want,” said Tide passenger Mike Achkenas. “I use it every chance I get. I love light rail.”
“We’ve come on opening day and this is the fifth anniversary, so we are happy to be here to support,” added Virginia Beach resident Julia Zay.
In November, Virginia Beach residents will vote on a referendum about bringing the line to the area.
“We are excited about the potential of extending the line to Virginia Beach,” Harrell said.
“We want light rail, don’t we?” Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms asked.
But there are others who can’t wait to see it hit the brakes.
“I’m trying to prevent a cancer from leaving Norfolk from Virginia Beach,” Virginia Beach Treasurer John Atkinson said.
Between the Tide supporters was Atkinson, who has been very outspoken about not wanting to spend money to extend the tracks. Atkinson was standing with an anti-light rail sandwich board strapped to him.
“I’ve had a few thumbs up and a few thumbs down,” Atkinson said. “I’m in the enemy camp.”
So is Robert Dean.
“This whole thing here is to bail out the City of Norfolk and their red ink they are accumulating daily, because of the lack of ridership,” Dean said.
“It’s a successful celebration for those who built it and made money off it, but it’s is a disaster for tax payers,” Atkinson added.
Ridership has dropped over the past three years, but HRT officials aren’t worried about that.
“Ridership is a function of a lot of things,” Harrell said. “There are gas prices and incentive programs. You know nationally we’ve seen some decline in transit across the country as gas prices have gone done. We are excited and believe that it will go back up with some of the exciting things that will happen.”