Stephen Story is a new member of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is responsible for building and operating a variety of public facilities and offering public services, especially transportation related. Its $17.2 million budget is financed primarily by user fees.
Story, the president of James River Transportation, brings an important private transportation perspective to the 16-member group. He’s the only owner of a private bus company on the authority.
Story’s new appointment reflects his and the company’s success in building long-lasting relationships with public entities in the Metro Richmond region’s transportation ecosystem.
Part of the process
“We participate as stakeholders in different groups because we want to be part of the solution instead of letting things just happen to us,” Story said. “We’ve been able to discuss how some changes affect our industry, and we’ve been able to help bring some changes in the rules and sometimes the laws and the administrative process.
The key to his organization’s success in these endeavors is understanding that no one gets everything that they want and trying to be moderate and reasonable in their approach.
“We have an unusually good relationship with our transit organization. We’ve partnered together on large moves over the years.”
Before the pandemic and the current driver shortage, JRT partnered on shuttle transportation for Richmond’s NASCAR events, serving as the subcontractor overseeing the transit fleet and their drivers.
“We’re probably one of the few private charter companies in the country that really has a good relationship with their transit organization. So often a private charter company and a transit agency are competing against each other. But we’ve always worked with transit, and they’ve been accommodating to work with.”
Diversification helped weather the storm
The company also does transit work for corporations, colleges, airports, and the military.
“We do a tremendous amount of government and military work. It’s a big variety of services, including a service for Amtrak,” said Story. “We’ve had transportation contracts with Amtrak for almost 40 years.
“It just makes sense to have a multimodal, bigger-picture view so you work well together and you create a good relationship. Hopefully, you grow the whole pie, so your piece of the pie ends up being bigger.”
The company began to diversify its transportation model in the late 1980s, concerned about relying too much on a school contract business. Story credits diversification for helping the business weather 9/11, the insurance crisis, the Great Recession, and COVID.
During the pandemic, when business dropped dramatically, many of its contracts made it an essential service. That provided some steady work, allowing the company to keep staff at the main office and to call back all drivers by the end of 2021.
“We still finished the year with almost 40% business because of some of the essential services that we provided,” Story said. “Part of that was Amtrak, military runs and shuttling airline crews and hospital shuttles.”