I got my first story published in the commonwealth times today. It is about VCU’s transition to a new bus line. 

http://www.commonwealthtimes.org

VCU to debut new buses Nov. 1

September 12, 2012, at 10:08 pm

Sam Isaacs
Contributing Writer

Full-scale buses will replace the shuttles currently ferrying students between campuses starting Nov. 1, giving riders a much more spacious experience.

The Commonwealth Times reported in August that a fleet of Groome Transportation shuttle vans began running this summer, covering the Campus Connector routes and taking over from the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC). The current shuttles seat 34. The new buses will seat 59.

“VCU’s contract with GRTC ended June 30 so a few months earlier, we issued a Request for Proposal,” said Robin Mack of Parking and Transportation. A Request for Proposal is an invitation to private vendors to fulfill a specific need, which for VCU was a new
line of buses to take over all the campus stops.

“As a public agency, GRTC was not allowed to take part in the bidding,” said Joan Straszewski, GRTC’s public relations manager. “VCU compared the pricing responses to GRTC’s existing price, and decided to accept the proposal of a private vendor.”

VCU took bids from various companies for the opportunity and settled on Groome Transportation.

With the launch of the new buses, VCU will be working closer than ever with the fleet with hopes of offering students a greater sense of accessibility and convenience  “There will be GPS tracking on all the buses that allows students to use a phone app to track the buses and routes at all times,” Mack said.

Visually, the buses will sport custom branding, allow students to easily discern the campus buses from the white, grey and purple GRTC vehicles.
The buses will have a GPS unit built in so students can track the routes and bus locations at all times.

“The app is something I would definitely use,” said Iris Davis, a student and frequent Campus Connector rider.

The new fleet also offers a card reader, which reads and records every swipe a rider makes to get on the bus, giving the university an insight on route volume and frequency. This data gives the university insight into ride volume and frequency, which enables informed decisions to be made regarding the stops, Mack said.

Out of all the stops on campus, the Route 84-Campus Connector shuttles the highest volume of riders. The CT informally surveyed 40 random riders last Thursday and Friday (Sept. 6 and 7) and Tuesday, Sept. 11 about the new transit system. The CT asked a series of questions regarding the new busses. 25 out of 40 noticed a difference in the speed in which the buses arrived since the switch to Groome Transportation shuttles on July 1. 30 said they liked the idea of a smartphone app and would use it to track their routes. 15 were frustrated with the smaller sized vehicles and felt cramped on the ride between campuses, an issue that should be alleviated once the new, larger buses arrive in November.

Students will still be able to ride for free on any GRTC bus with the use of their VCU ID cards. This comes from a separate “swipe card” contract that VCU recently renewed.

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I wrote this restaurant review for a VCU ran food blog called “Shafer Bird.” I visited Carytown’s Don’t Look Back, and this is how I felt about it.

http://shaferbird.com/

Don’t Look Back:The Tacos of Your Dreams

Words by Sam Isaacs

Don’t Look Back is just a 20 minute walk from VCU’s Monroe Park campus

Don’t Look Back, the heartwarming story of a beloved, closed down taco truck getting a shot at throwing its hand into the Richmond restaurant scene. It is a story that raises one’s interests. The question is however; does Don’t Look Back live up to the high expectations? Or is it just another case of a Richmond hype restaurant with all buzz and no delivery? To put it simply, this place sets a new standard for what I consider fantastic tacos.

They are open every day until 2 A.M.

The restaurant, located in Carytown right across from the Byrd Theatre, features a sleek and inviting atmosphere with walls full of an eclectic mix of prints. It can be a pretty tight fit but the layout is set up to perfectly accommodate small groups of people. So, I would not recommend showing up with a party of more than six, particularly during a busy part of the day. The restaurant also offers takeout, which is a nice feature.

The menu has a handful of different tacos, including vegetarian options. There are also daily specials, so be sure to ask your waiter because you don’t want to miss out on anything. Taquitos and tostadas are also featured plus the option of essentially turning any style of taco into a burrito. In addition, you have the choice of the traditional corn or flour tortilla. Each taco can be served two different ways: traditional with cilantro and lime, or gringo with lettuce, cheese and sour cream.

Our waiter was kind, attentive and knowledgeable. I ordered a carnitas taco served traditional style and a chicken skin taco, one of the daily specials, served gringo style based off of his recommendation. My friend ordered the pulled chicken burrito and a side of chips and salsa. The chips were great, the salsa was refreshing and the tacos were, wow.

When I first laid eyes on them, I was skeptical. My thoughts were, “What a joke, I can’t believe I paid three dollars a piece for these.” However, these tacos were surprisingly filling and not to mention, delicious.

I have eaten so much overcooked pork in my life so I don’t frequently order it, but this was one instance where it was cooked perfectly. The cilantro mixed with the crunch of the onion added great texture, but it was the acidity from the lime that pushed it over the top and made this hands down the best taco I have ever eaten.

Their daily specials usually have a specialty taco type.

The chicken skin taco was succulent and unlike any taco I have ever eaten. Choosing the gringo option made it very zesty, with the cheese, lettuce and sour cream working in tandem to make a very smooth tasting dish.

My friend’s burrito was gargantuan. The chicken was tender and the ingredients were fresh and tasty. He was full and satisfied after tackling it.

After eating here, the one thing I would advise everyone to do is ask your waiter for their suggestion on whether to go with the gringo or traditional style. The different styles of preparation can make a taco taste completely different. I would not have enjoyed my tacos nearly as much if I had chosen different options.

Now, you also check out their new brunch menu on Sundays.

What you won’t find here is a plate stacked high of sloppily prepared and tasting Mexican food. The dishes here are quality and well worth the money spent, especially with such a nice wait staff thrown in.

What you will find here is a perfect spot for lunch that is under 10 dollars. I truly can not speak highly enough of this place, so grab a couple friends and go out and try some of the best tacos you will ever eat.