Posts by Matt Johnson
|Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer.|
The Metrobuses on 16th Street NW carry half of all traffic during peak hours, using only 3% of the vehicles. But buses share street space with cars. If they had their own lane, WMATA could save close to $8 million a year.
It goes without saying that it costs money to run buses. But it's less obvious that the speed of a bus is directly related to the cost of providing the service. Simply put, if we double the speed of a bus, we can provide the same service for half the cost. Or for the same cost, we can provide twice as much service.
Bus lanes are one of the tools we can use to make buses move faster and be more efficient. On 16th Street, since buses carry such a large proportion of the users of the street, bus lanes are a perfect tool. Talk of a bus lane has even made it into the mayoral race, though it's not entirely clear how strongly each of the candidates would support it.
WMATA's Priority Corridor Network study looked at several corridors, including 16th Street. It determined that, if nothing changed, by 2030 a bus would take about 40 minutes to get from Silver Spring to McPherson Square. However, if there were a bus lane, buses in 2030 would be able to cover the same distance in just over 20 minutes.
That means a bus lane would cut transit travel time in half. It would also mean that a bus rider could cover the distance between Silver Spring and downtown DC faster than a motorist, which would make transit more competitive.
But even with one fewer lane, estimates show that motorists' travel time wouldn't increase significantly. With the bus lanes, a 2030 car trip would be 4 minutes longer than without them.
Right now, it costs $16.1 million dollars each year to run the 16th Street buses, the S1, S2, S4, and S9. Bus lanes could cut those costs in half. And that means there's an opportunity cost of not installing the lanes. That cost is about $8 million dollars a year.
Of course, because the 16th Street Line is a regional route, that money wouldn't all go back to the District's coffers. It would go back to all the jurisdictions. DC would save about $3.3 million, Prince George's would save about $1.4 million, and Montgomery and Fairfax would save about $1.1 million each.
The District should support bus lanes on 16th Street not only because it's good for transit users. They should also support the bus lanes because they represent a more efficient use of the space (remember, buses move 50% of the people on 16th Street already). But just as importantly, the District should support bus lanes because there's a real monetary cost to the region for not supporting them.
Twice this week, attempted suicides have caused single-tracking during busy times. In both cases, Metro sent trains in one direction express through the single-tracking zone. Why would it do this?
The Metro system has two tracks on each line. There are interlockings, where trains can change tracks, every so often. Whenever they single-track, the track that's open has to take turns carrying trains in each direction. Generally, Metro will send a few trains going the same direction through at once and then reverse the track.
Of course, the reason that delays accrue quickly is because it can take a train 4 or 5 minutes to clear the single-tracking section. While a train goes through in one direction, trains going the other direction are holding (and stacking up) on the other end.
On Wednesday, when a person jumped in front of a train at Rhode Island Avenue just before the start of the evening rush hour, Metro sent outbound Red Line trains through normally. But inbound trains were run through without stopping. By doing this, Metro mitigated the delay.
This is because Metro trains lose about a minute stopping at each station. The train is generally stopped only for about 30 seconds, but there's also the time lost to deceleration and acceleration.
The normal travel time between Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue is about 4 minutes. If Metro sends 2 trains through in the same direction (with the second about 90 seconds behind), the time it takes Metro to reverse the single-tracked section is about 6-7 minutes.
That means the cycle time is about 12-14 minutes.
But if inbound trains skip intermediate stops, they can save time, which reduces the cycle time. If outbound trains take 6 minutes to clear, but inbound trains can do it in 3 or 4 minutes, the cycle time is reduced from 12-14 to 9-10 minutes.
It does create additional delay for anyone boarding or alighting at those stations, at least those going in the direction skipped. But anyone going through the zone saves time.
However, Thursday's incident at Waterfront was more problematic. Metro sent northbound trains through from Navy Yard to Archives without stopping. That meant that northbound Green Line trains skipped L'Enfant Plaza, and riders couldn't transfer to or from the Blue or Orange lines. A passenger at Waterfront who wanted to catch the Orange Line would first have to take a Branch Avenue train to Navy Yard, then a Greenbelt train to Archives, then a Branch Avenue or Huntington train back to L'Enfant Plaza.
Metro did try to mitigate problems somewhat by running all Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt, and those trains did stop at L'Enfant. But it was still a mess. Of course, given the delays, it likely would have been a mess no matter what Metro did.
But aside from the L'Enfant Plaza issues, skipping stations in one direction looks like a promising way to mitigate delays during an unplanned service disruption.
Almost 6 years ago today, I stumbled across a new urbanism blog, and my immediate reaction was, "why couldn't I have thought of a creative name like that?" But more importantly, I was amazed at how great the content was, and how much of it the single author turned out. I subscribed right away.
From the start, Greater Greater Washington was a great introduction to the issues. At the time, I was in planning school at the University of Maryland, and I'd only lived in the region for about 7 months. But very quickly, I was learning all sorts of things about planning and policy in the District and the region as a whole.
Over time, David was joined by Michael Perkins, Jaime Fearer, and others. The coverage of urbanism and policy continued to get better as the site grew as more people joined the cause. I came on board in December of 2008 after David asked to crosspost a piece I had written wondering if President-elect Obama was going to be progressive on transportation.
Over time, Greater Greater Washington grew. More contributors joined, and we were producing more and more content. David was the sole editor at the time, and while his demanding standards made sure our quality never suffered, the workload was too much for David alone. In the summer of 2010, he asked the contributors for editorial help, and I volunteered, because as a planner I could see the positive impact GGW was having. And I didn't want to lose it.
Today, I know of several elected officials who read the site regularly, and I don't know a planner who doesn't. But our impact isn't just because planners and politicians read the site. It's because you do. It's because we have been successful in getting more people educated about the issues and helping them get involved in the process.
I certainly wasn't alone in wanting to help. As the workload grew beyond what David and I could handle, other contributors volunteered to become editors. But they weren't alone. Because you have always stepped up. Several times, Breakfast Links has been in trouble of disappearing. And every time, new readers volunteered to take on the most difficult (and most popular) part of GGW: curating links.
Since its inception, Greater Greater Washington has been working to change the dialogue. Not only by creating a forum for discussion here, but also by getting new groups involved in the process. Planning is complex and can be daunting for people who haven't been involved before. But building our communities is something that everyone should have a role in. GGW has made planning more accessible to many.
I think that's the true value of the site. Greater Greater Washington has served as a source of education for many, and it's helped make planning more accessible to all. Helping everyone have a say in how to make their communities better. Greater Greater Washington has provided many people with an accessible introduction to the issues facing growth: from gentrification to streetcars, from inclusionary zoning to fare policy, from budget policies to fantasy Metro maps.
In order to keep growing and to keep serving the region, we need your help again. Hiring an editor to fill Dan Reed's shoes is a necessary step to allow the site to continue to grow, and really just to stay where we are. If you can't wait for Breakfast Links to go live every morning, if you enjoy the dialogue we foster, if you value the impact that GGW has on building a better Washington, I hope you'll support us however you are able.
Every little bit counts. And your support will help us continue to work for a stronger, more diverse, more walkable, more livable region.
Metro is planning to raise bus, rail, and paratransit fares this year, and last week Michael Perkins talked about the transfer discount. In the comments, some talked about the difference between bus and rail farebox recovery. But those numbers aren't really comparable.
"Farebox recovery" is the amount of operating expenses that fares cover. For example, if a system costs $1 million to operate every year and takes in $500,000 dollars in fares, it would have a farebox recovery of 50%. A profitable system would have a number above 100%.
In the WMATA system, Metrorail has a farebox recovery ratio of 67.5%. Metrobus has a farebox recovery of 24.3%. Both on Michael's post and on Twitter, readers asked whether rail passengers were subsidizing bus passengers. Why should rail passengers pay 67% of the cost of riding, but bus passengers pay only 24%? Unfortunately, that's not the whole story.
Not every rail rider pays 67% of the cost of his or her trip. Not every bus rider pays only 24%. The farebox recovery varies from route to route. At any rate, the Metrorail and Metrobus farebox recovery rates aren't directly comparable because each service has different goals and measures success differently.
Ridership versus coverage
Jarrett Walker, author of the book Human Transit, divides transit service into two broad categories: ridership service and coverage service.
These two types of service come from the conflicting goals transit providers face. On the one hand, they're supposed to cover all of their service area. On the other hand, they're supposed to have as many riders as possible for as little subsidy.
Generally, agencies solve these competing goals by providing both types of service. In the WMATA service area, there are clear examples of ridership service. The overcrowded 16th Street Line is a perfect example. The busy H Street Line is another.
While some lines are clearly ridership lines, much of the Metrobus network (and especially the jurisdiction-operated bus services) are coverage lines. These are lines that are never going to compete with car trips, but they serve areas that WMATA and local governments feel should be covered. If the agency was only concerned with profitability, these areas wouldn't have any service.
Lower-performing coverage routes include the 2T in Virginia and the R3 in Maryland, each with about 14.8% recovery. But even in the District, some lines are coverage lines. The 64 is a borderline case. It runs down 11th Street NW between frequent service lines on Georgia Avenue and 14th Street, and is within walking distance of both. But for those who aren't willing to walk further, it's a coverage service, though it has a decent farebox recovery of 37.9%.
Apples and oranges
And this is where the problem with comparing rail and bus comes in. In this region, and in most regions, most rail service is ridership service. This is for several reasons. At least in modern systems, Federal Transit Administration rules only allow rail lines to be built if they'll have good ridership. And transit agencies themselves don't make large capital investments in rail unless they're going to have good ridership.
Buses, on the other hand, fall into both ridership and coverage categories in almost every region. So when we compare rail, which is almost entirely composed of ridership lines, to bus, which is a mixture, we are comparing apples to oranges.
Farebox recovery is not a good metric for coverage lines, because their goal is not to generate ridership, but rather to provide service to areas the agency thinks need to be served, regardless of productivity.
Since the Metro rail lines are all ridership lines, they have a very high farebox recovery ratio. Some bus lines in DC have good farebox recovery. But much of the network has worse farebox recovery because by design it's supposed to.
Several of WMATA's bus lines cover more than half their cost through fares, including the X2 bus on H Street and the 70 bus on Georgia Avenue. One bus line, the 5A to Dulles Airport, actually has a farebox recovery ratio better than the rail average.
What does this say about WMATA bus fares?
Really, this doesn't say anything about WMATA's bus fares.
The farebox recovery ratio measures how much rider fares cover the cost of service, and that's it. In the WMATA budgeting process, the agency figures out the cost of providing the service, and then they determine how much money they'll get from the jurisdictions. The remainder has to come from fares. Essentially, the agency (and the funding jurisdictions) determines what the farebox recovery ratio is going to be.
On individual lines, farebox recovery gives us a sense of the productivity of the route. But just because a route is performing poorly in farebox recovery doesn't mean it shouldn't exist or that the fare is too low. Sure, if it's below a certain threshold, the agency can look to determine how to make it more productive or whether to keep it. And WMATA does do this. But they track a whole set of performance measures, not just farebox recovery.
Some people say that we should strive to make the bus and rail farebox recovery ratios the same, or at least closer to each other. But that's not a goal that works. At least not as long as we have coverage-type services in one set, but not in the other. If anything, we shouldn't try to make bus have a higher farebox recovery ratio; we should try to make rail have a lower one.
Nationwide, heavy rail systems like Metro have an average cost recovery of 47.2%, much lower than WMATA's 67.5%. On the other hand, the US agencies that operate both heavy rail and bus systems have an average bus farebox recovery of 28.0%, barely higher than WMATA's 24.3%.
Over the past few years, Metro has kept bus fares lower as a conscious decision because many people who rely on buses have limited incomes. That's a perfectly valid policy decision. And the result, of course, is a low farebox recovery ratio.
When you keep track, it's funny what patterns appear in Metro trips. I've been doing it for 2 years. During that time, I have ridden 75% of the WMATA fleet, and been delayed about 2% of the time, but more so far in 2014.
In February 2012, I decided to start keeping track of a few attributes of my trips on Metro. The primary motivation was to track the cars I'd ridden on, but I also log delays, hotcars, and other information about every trip. It's important to point out, though, that this is anecdotal information. It's not a statistical sample, but rather just my experience.
My commute regularly takes me on the Green and Red lines. On a normal day, I ride 4 trains, two in the morning and two in the evening. Of course, I also make non-commute trips, to go downtown for dinner or out on the weekends. However, I don't actually keep track of "trips," per se. I log rides. So my normal commute involves 2 trips, which I log as 4 rides.
On average, I ride Metro 18.25 days each month. December (15.5 days/month) is always the lowest, since I spend time in Georgia during the holidays. August is the highest, at 21.5 days per month. On average, I ride 3.99 trains each day.
Over the past 24 months, I've ridden a Metro train 1,758 times.
I log any delay in excess of 3 minutes. On average, generally less than 2% of my rides were delayed.
In terms of counting delays, if I'm aboard a train that stops mid-journey, the clock starts immediately, but I only log the delay if it exceeds 3 minutes. When waiting for a train, I start the clock as soon as the scheduled headway has elapsed. For example, during rush hours, the Green Line is supposed to come every 6 minutes, so I start counting delay after 9 minutes waiting.
In 2012 (March through December), I took 758 rides and experienced 15 delays, which means that 1.98% of my rides were delayed. Since most of my trips comprise 2 rides, that's roughly equivalent to having 3.96% of my trips delayed, though that's not an exact number, since I don't record "trips."
In 2013, I took 866 rides and experienced 15 delays, which means that 1.73% of my rides were delayed. In 2014, so far, I've taken 134 rides and experienced 11 delays, which means that 8.21% of my rides were delayed. That's a significant increase.
Most of the delays I encounter are relatively minor. 75.6% of the delays I've experienced since February 27, 2012 are less than 12 minutes. Delays of 12 to 19 minutes make up 12.2% of my delays. Only 12.2% are 20 minutes or longer.
Since I started recording car numbers, my commute patterns have not changed. I ride between Greenbelt and Silver Spring, changing from the Green Line to the Red Line at Fort Totten.
In overall numbers, 48.9% of my rides were on the Red Line. 43.0% were on the Green, and 7.6% were on the Yellow. I have rarely ridden the Orange or Blue lines. Those numbers don't move much between years.
However, we can see a difference if we divide the data set into before and after June 18, 2012, the date that Rush Plus started. With Rush Plus, three Yellow Line trains per hour continued north from Mount Vernon Square to Greenbelt during rush hour, in addition to the existing 12 Green Line trains per hour. As a result, my commute used to be almost exclusively on the Green and Red lines, and now there's a better chance of getting a Yellow Line train.
Before Rush Plus, my rides were almost evenly split between the Red and Green lines, with 48.7% of rides on the Red and 49.5% on the Green. The Yellow was at a paltry 1.5%. After Rush Plus started, the numbers have changed a bit. The Red Line still makes up about the same amount at 48.9%. But the Green has dropped to 41.7% and the Yellow has risen to 8.8%.
Since i started logging car numbers, I've ridden 74.1% of the WMATA rail fleet. I've ridden 91.3% of the 6000 series cars, 82% of the 4000 series, 78.7% of the 3000 series, 74.5% of the 5000 series, 69.7% of the 2000 series, and 56.1% of the 1000 series.
Of the 818 unique cars I've ridden, I've ridden 323 only once. The remaining 495 I've ridden more than once. I've ridden one car, #6058, 9 times. Two more, #4005 and #4086, I've ridden 8 times.
One question I've been asked several times is whether the cars move between lines very often. Surprisingly, they seem to. Of the 495 cars I've ridden more than once, 60.4% have been on different lines.
However, since the Yellow and Green lines share a rail yard at Greenbelt, it wouldn't be surprising to see those cars on Green one day and Yellow the next (in fact, sometimes a Green Line train from Branch Avenue becomes a Yellow Line train to Huntington when it leaves Greenbelt). So, I looked at the numbers counting the Green and Yellow as one line. Even counting them the same, I've ridden 54.4% of cars on more than one line. I've ridden three cars on 3 lines, the Red, the Green/Yellow, and one other line.
I'll continue to keep track of my Metro trips. I've found that having the data available makes it easier to note trends. For example, so far in 2014, I've found myself much more frustrated with Metro. Since I actually record my delays, I can go back and look. That's how I can say for certain that my delay rate has quadrupled.
But it's also really interesting to know that I've ridden on just under 75% of the cars Metro owns. Since the 1000 series is going to be retired starting in the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether I'll manage to ride them all before they disappear.
Vehicle speed kills. Even a small increase in speed can mean the difference between life and death for a pedestrian. But laws limiting speed camera enforcement make them less effective at making our streets safer.
At 20 miles per hour, when a motorist hits a pedestrian, the pedestrian has a 90 percent chance of surviving the crash. At 30 miles per hour, the chance of survival has dropped to 50%. At 40 miles per hour, the pedestrian has a 90% chance of dying.
Graphic from PEDS Atlanta.
In Maryland, speed camera tickets can only be issued to motorists going at least 12 miles per hour over the speed limit. That severely blunts the effectiveness of the cameras for saving lives.
In my neighborhood on the east side of Greenbelt, the city has installed speed cameras on 2 neighborhood streets near Eleanor Roosevelt High School. One of the cameras is near a well-used, mid-block crosswalk that many students use. The speed limit in these areas is 25 mph, which means that drivers have to be going 37 mph before they get a ticket.
A collision at 25 mph would be less than 50% likely to kill a pedestrian. But a collision at 37 mph would bring an almost 90% chance of death.
On Monday, I witnessed a driver flying down the street, well above the speed limit. But I wondered if he was even going fast enough to get a ticket from the speed camera. Even on a quiet neighborhood street, drivers in Greenbelt can go fast enough to cause almost certain death for pedestrians without fearing a speed camera ticket.
That's the real effect of Maryland's speed camera restrictions: It allows drivers some leeway, but puts vulnerable road users at risk.
But it's actually worse than that, because the speed limit itself is actually determined using the arcane "85th percentile speed" in many places, including by the Maryland State Highway Administration. While that's not a factor on my street, it is on other streets nearby, and throughout the state.
Essentially, highway engineers look at how fast people drive. And they set the speed limit for what 85% of motorists drive. So, for example, on a street, if 85% of drivers go 40 mph, the speed limit is set at 40, even if circumstances (like the presence of a school) suggest that it should be lower.
And remember, that our highways are already designed for speed. The concept of driver forgiveness means that engineers try to design broad curves, wide lanes, and open spaces so that if a driver makes a mistake, it won't be fatal (for the driver). But these design choices also give subtle psychological hints to drivers to go faster.
And then they set the speed limits based on how fast drivers actually go. And then we limit automated enforcement to 12 mph over that. The result, of course, is that when a pedestrian is struck, the chance of survival is far too low. Especially in the suburbs.
Maryland could help by lowering the threshold for automated speed enforcement. In the District, there is no threshold for speed cameras. A driver can be ticketed for going just 1 mile per hour over the limit.
Early Friday morning, 61-year old Joseph Brown was walking to Metro. The sidewalk he wanted to use on the Sousa Bridge was full of snow plowed off the street, and he chose to walk in the roadway instead. When a driver killed him, DC police gave him a posthumous citation.
We've talked a lot in recent weeks about the failure of property owners to clear their sidewalks. Unfortunately, snowy sidewalks are often more than an inconvenience. And this weekend the abysmal condition of one DC sidewalk turned deadly for Brown. To add insult to injury, according to NBC4, the Metropolitan Police issued him a citation for walking in the roadway. As if he had a choice.
We could look to the adjacent property owners, I suppose. After all, under DC law, they're required to clear the sidewalks in the public right-of-way adjacent to their property. But we won't get far. This incident happened on the Sousa Bridge, where Pennsylvania Avenue crosses the Anacostia
In this case, the responsibility for clearing this sidewalk rests with the District government, and the Department of Public Works does actually work to clear bridges. But at the time of Mr. Brown's death, less than 24 hours after the snow ended, they hadn't yet cleared the Sousa Bridge sidewalks.
Does the system work?
Sidewalks are a vital and integral part of the District's transportation infrastructure. They're not just some accessory put there to make the street look nicer. People rely on sidewalks to get around the city. Additionally, sidewalks are fundamental to transit access. If the sidewalks are impassible, people can't walk to the bus stop or Metro station.
If not all, most of the jurisdictions in the region rely on property owners to clear sidewalks. That's the law on the books, though it doesn't appear any of the jurisdictions enforce it. Whether or not that policy makes any sense (after all, we don't rely on property owners to clear the street in front of their homes and businesses), it wouldn't have made any difference to Joseph Brown.
Some people do shovel the walkways in front of their properties. Sometimes they even do it for their neigbors. But other property owners don't, leaving a patchwork of sidewalks that are inaccessible and often dangerous.
There are penalties for not clearing the sidewalk in front of your property, but that law is rarely enforced. And without enforcement or a government effort to clear the walk, the snow remains for days. In places where plows have piled it on sidewalks, it can last for even longer.
What that says is that many local jurisdictions think it's okay to close down one fundamental part of the network. Hundreds of workers are dispatched to sand and salt roads and plow snow across the region. But when it comes to sidewalks, the District and the other jurisdictions prefer the Atlanta approach: wait until it melts.
And if we just had a few inches of snow, that might not be so bad. But across the region the sidewalk is simply the place plows deposit the snow. Those massive deposits take forever to melt, and with no crews (or neighbors) to help clear them, they can make sidewalks impassible for weeks.
After two inches of snow crippled the Atlanta region for days and stranded commuters in their cars on freeways for more than 24 hours, Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal took tremendous heat for not doing enough.
In Metropolitan Washington, we generally don't let our roadways turn into ice rinks. We're prepared. But when it comes to sidewalks, none of the officials in the region do anything. And they rarely seem to get heat for it either.
When tragedy strikes, it's far easier to simply blame the victim. After all, he's the one who walked in the roadway. Never mind that the sidewalk was essentially closed for the winter, like many sidewalks in the region are, even today.
When passenger crowding becomes problematic, many transit agencies look toward expensive engineering solutions. But sometimes, the situation can be improved with some low-cost techniques and education. That's the approach Santiago took at one of its transfer stations.
Tobalaba station is a transfer point between two lines in the Santiago Metro. The layout of the platform is that the transfer exit is in the middle of the platform, and the direct street exit is at the "head" of the platform, toward the front of the train.
The problem is that some transferring passengers riding in the front half of the train head toward the middle to transfer, while some exiting passengers riding in the back half of the train head toward the front, and the two groups collide, causing significant congestion.
The real issue for the transit agency is a reduction in capacity. Due to the platform congestion, the next train can't be platformed until the platform is clear. That had resulted in a train througput decrease from the 24 trains per hour (TPH) design capacity to just 22 TPH.
So, instead of opting for an expensive engineering solution, agency officials decided to try education. They installed a staffed gate midway along the platform. Anyone who is in the front half of the train must exit. There is no access to the rear half of the platform. Anyone who exits from the rear half of the train can only proceed to the direct exit after the platform has cleared.
As a result, people who exit from the front of the train can head for the direct exit unimpeded. People who exit from the rear of the train headed for the transfer are unimpeded as well. And everyone learns which part of the train to be in.
More importantly, the interval between arriving trains has dropped from 2 minutes and 40 seconds to 2 minutes and 10 seconds. The carrying capacity of the line has increased by 15%, or 4,000 more passengers per hour.
While an approach just like this might not work on Metro, it does show that innovative low-cost solutions can help. Gallery Place has severe crowding problems, especially on the narrow Shady Grove-bound platform. The Green/Yellow platform isn't centered under the Red Line, instead being located at the far eastern end of the Red platforms.
As a result, passengers crowd under the crossvault, and especially when 6-car trains come in, waiting customers rush along the platform toward the end of the train, colliding with people exiting Red Line trains to transfer to the Green and Yellow Lines downstairs.
WMATA does nothing to encourage people to move down the platform. At Gallery Place and other transfer stations where exits aren't optimally situated, like Fort Totten and Union Station, signage, announcements, or other solutions could reduce dwell times and increase customer satisfaction.
Of course, given the growing crowds at Gallery Place and the narrow platforms, an engineering solution is likely to be necessary in the future anyway. But WMATA could easily take steps to more evenly distribute customers now.
When the Silver Line's first phase opens sometime this year, there will be three new or altered bus routes connecting its temporary terminus at Wiehle Avenue to Dulles Airport. While they all serve a similar purpose, they'll have different branding and uncoordinated schedules.
Currently, the airport has a few bus options. Metrobus runs the 5A express from L'Enfant and Rosslyn to the airport. Fairfax Connector operates their 981 from the airport to Reston and Tysons Corner. And the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) runs the Washington Flyer express service between the airport and West Falls Church on the Orange Line.
Right now, each of these services serves a different market. The 5A connects airport workers and budget-minded travelers with downtown. The 981 serves to connect Fairfax County residents to other bus lines, Reston, and Tysons. The Washington Flyer is oriented more toward travelers, and gets them swiftly to the Orange Line for a steep $10.
But with the Silver Line's opening just a few months away, each of these operators is revising its plans. The first phase of the new line will end at Wiehle Avenue in Reston, just 6.5 miles short of the airport.
The new plan
Once the Silver Line is open, the Fairfax Connector 981 will operate only between the airport and Wiehle Avenue, making a few local stops in Reston. The fare will be $1.80. The 981 will come every 20 minutes Monday through Saturday, and every 40 minutes on Sundays.
The Washington Flyer will operate similarly. It will run between Dulles and Wiehle Avenue as an express, not making local stops. The fare will be $5.00 and must be paid with cash or credit only, since SmarTrip isn't accepted. The bus will run every 15 minutes during peak hours, and every 20 minutes at other times.
The 5A will be unchanged. It will continue to run between the airport and downtown DC, with stops at Herndon and Rosslyn. The fare will likely go up to $7.00 with Metro's proposed fare increase. The 5A will run every 30 to 40 minutes.
What this means is that a transit rider at Dulles has several options to get into the city. But the options will have separate branding, will use different stops at the airport, and will cost different amounts to ride. That's not efficient, and it's not particularly helpful to the user.
Potentially, up to 7 buses per hour will be leaving the airport headed toward Wiehle Avenue. That's a bus every 8.5 minutes!
This is the perfect example of a place where coordination is best for transit users. If Metrobus, Fairfax Connector, and MWAA pooled their resources, the agencies could easily offer a commonly-branded bus service connecting Dulles and Wiehle Avenue.
And an ideal service would take SmarTrip and offer transfer discounts to other bus services and Metrorail. Buses could even carry a unique paint scheme to brand them as an airport connection. MWAA is buying new buses to replace the coaches currently operated on the Flyer route, and this would have been a perfect opportunity to have a fleet of airport-oriented buses.
But the lack of coordination between these agencies means that a passenger waiting for a Fairfax Connector bus that takes SmarTrip may watch one or two Washington Flyer buses go by. That's frustrating to riders, and inefficient for agencies.
It's been a cold winter in DC this year. Transit riders, stuck waiting for buses and trains, are particularly susceptible to extreme cold. Chicago, where these sorts of temperatures are more regular, has a nice way of keeping their riders warm.
Most of the outdoor CTA stations have these heat lamps placed strategically in L stations. In many cases, these are placed inside the plexiglass shelters on the platform.
To save energy, these don't run all the time. Riders can turn them on by pressing a button. They turn off after a minute or so, but riders who are still waiting can push the button again.
Given the warmer winters we experience here, it may not be worth installing these on WMATA, but they would certainly be nice to have on days like today.
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