About a year ago, a Virginia Tech student was desperately searching for a way to get home from school. It was spring break, and he needed to find a way back to his home in New Jersey.
After scouring travel Websites for a flight that wouldn’t cost a year’s tuition, he came across a small bus company headquartered in Blacksburg, Va.
This bus company — Home Ride of Virginia — wasn’t like others. Its buses specialized in helping college students get home for breaks and weekends.
“We are one of the very few companies that are organized primarily for college students,” said Steve Schade, owner of Home Ride. “Our business is taking students home for breaks.”
Every Friday afternoon, Home Ride picks up students from four universities across Virginia — Virginia Tech, Radford University, James Madison University and the University of Virginia.
Students can take buses to different locations in the state, such as northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. In some of these cities, students can catch subways and trains to get even closer to home. On Sunday evening, the buses pick up the students and return them to their respective colleges.
You might think a company like this would need a large staff. Not quite. Schade purchased Home Ride in 2003. He runs the company out of a small office in downtown Blacksburg. “In the home office it’s just me and a part-time assistant,” Schade said. “We sell the majority of our tickets at the [university] bookstores.”
Home Ride keeps its staff lean by using contracted drivers and buses. “There are a couple of companies we charter from,” Schade said. “The new ones we use for Virginia Tech students are manufactured by Prevost. We charter other ones for Tech and Radford from Abbott Trailways in Roanoke. The charter companies supply the drivers.”
Home Ride has been around for two decades. The company was started in the mid-1980s by enterprising Virginia Tech graduate students. The business lasted a few years, but the students eventually graduated and sold the company. Under the new owners, the company fell apart.
In 1991, however, one of the original owners and former New York Giant football player Bill Ellenbogan purchased the company. “It continued along well [under] Ellenbogan,” Schade said. “Two years ago, it was sold to me.”
And it has prospered under Schade. Dozens of Virginia college students rely on Home Ride every week. On an average fall weekend, more than 200 students ride the buses. “On some of the bigger weekends, we need as many as 12 buses,” Schade said. FRANCIS GODFREY