Hop on the Holiday Express

November 18th was not your average Saturday in Downtown Norfolk.

Thousands of excited people filled the streets to cheer on and experience the festive beginning of the holiday season at the 33rd Annual Grand Illumination Parade. The theme this year was “From Sea to Shining Sea,” acknowledging it as an official Norfolk Naval Station Centennial Event. The parade featured spectacular floats, energetic marching bands, giant balloons, lively dancers and even Santa himself.

Hampton Roads Transit has played a vital role at this parade since light rail opened in 2011. We work closely with the City of Norfolk and the Downtown Norfolk Council to make this a success. More than 10,000 people took light rail downtown to watch the parade and a couple thousand more took bus or ferry. HRT wrapped two light rail trains to look like vintage holiday steam engines and called them the “Holiday Express” trains. They were unveiled at this parade and were quite popular with the crowd.

This year, HRT had 10,195 people ride Light Rail, 5,647 people ride the Elizabeth River Ferry and 974 ride the bus. Newtown Road light rail station has continued to see the most boardings, capturing all the Virginia Beach riders.

Because of the large crowds, several HRT staff members were recruited to volunteer and assist customers riding transit to this event. “Tide Guides” assisted customers using the Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) with purchasing their tickets, answering customers questions about the parade and the train schedule, and safely boarding the train as it arrived every few minutes. This year, we had 12 “Tide Guides” stationed at the various busiest light rail stations and ferry docks.

HRT’s Safety and Security department also played a huge roll as safety is always HRT’s top concern. Four members of their five-person Safety and Security team were on deck in addition to all Norfolk’s extra duty officers and security guards spread between the four busiest light rail stations.

Operations had six members of its training staff present, 14 light rail operators, 14 bus operators and two light rail track maintainers. Finance had six TVM Technicians ready to fix any issues that arose at the TVM’s. And last, but certainly not least, customer service had 13 staff members selling light rail, bus and ferry tickets to customers at the two busiest light rail stations and two Portsmouth ferry docks to help with efficiency.

It was an all hands-on-deck, team effort, to say the least.

The parade kicks of “Holidays in the City” – six weeks of performances, activities, events, and more in Norfolk and Portsmouth. The Holiday Express trains, the ferry and bus can all get you there safely and on time.

Alisa Crider
Public Relations Coordinator, Hampton Roads Transit