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Improving the 16th Street bus

WMATA recently announced that they're looking to improve bus service on 16th Street. There's another public meeting on September 23; be sure to visit the Metrobus 16th Street Line page for details.

From the 16th Street Bus Study page.

They've already had one public meeting (PDF) on July 15, and the attendees broke into small groups to discuss the current problems with the route (mostly bus crowding, bunching, schedule adherence and travel speed issues). According to a recent Washington Post article, Metrobus operates about 75% "on-time" for all routes, defined as between two minutes early and seven minutes late. There's probably a high amount of variability between lines.

I have some observations about Metrobus operation in general and this line in particular, based on looking at the ridership data I received from WMATA.

There are places along the line where there is low ridership as well as close stop placement. For example, why are there bus stops at Webster, Allison and Buchanan? Could the stop at Allison (ridership of 46 per weekday) be eliminated? Does it speed up a bus line more to eliminate a stop that has extremely low ridership, like at 16th & Leegate (12 riders per day, in the northern portion), or to combine two moderate-ridership stops like 16th at Newton and Oak Streets (ridership about 380 per day, each).

Something that would likely increase average speed and reduce bus bunching would be to shift some of the Metrobus lines to "proof of payment" systems. With this, people riding the bus are required to purchase a ticket off of the vehicle, or to posses a valid pass or transfer. According to the public meeting report, 27% of riders board with a flash pass, and 22% of riders are boarding with a free bus transfer. Occasional random inspections and hefty fines would be required to keep people honest, but on the whole this would speed buses tremendously, because people who had valid fares could board by any door. If half of the riders have already paid, why make them enter through the front door?

Another thing I've seen (one example was in Amsterdam's streetcar system) was to put a one-way gate at the front of the vehicle. This was just a spring-loaded gate with a "do not enter sign" on the back, that encouraged people to use the rear door to exit. It didn't impede boarding the car, because you just pushed it aside. Exiting through the front door was possible (just pull the gate toward you), but it reminded people that the front door was for entering, and to use the rear door instead.

Last, they could replace the line or one of its "sisters" (there are parallel lines on Georgia Avenue as well as 14th Streets, I believe) with a streetcar. Streetcars accelerate faster and can hold more people, are usually set up for multiple-door boarding, and can be connected together in multiple-car consists, further boosting capacity.

The data from WMATA concerning northbound daily total ridership is presented in the Google Map below. Each place marker is labeled with the total boardings and alightings for that stop. The bus symbol represents stops with over 750 boardings and alightings in the northbound direction. Red markers are 500-750, yellow 250-500, green 100-250, blue 50-100, light blue 25-50, and purple markers less than 25.

(Crossposted from Infosnack).

Michael Perkins serves on the Arlington County Transportation Commission, though the views expressed here are his own. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children. 


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How does the gate at the front of the bus accommodate wheelchairs? I know you mentioned that it's possible to be opened from the inside and is really only meant to discourage folks from exiting through the front, but I would imagine that might be a bit cumbersome for wheelchairs to cope with.

by Adams Morgan on Sep 16, 2008 11:17 am • linkreport

I am not sure if the Metrobuses are set up to accept people from the rear door. I don't know it they have handles to open the rear door from the outside.

I think metro should look at the placement of bus stops and remove ones that are close together, my experience is with M street and georgetown where there appear to be a stop on every block and some of the stops are not ideal for buses to safely pull in and out, so instead just block the whole lane.

by ian on Sep 16, 2008 11:44 am • linkreport

AM: Gate would be located near the driver, driver could assist holding the gate open for a wheelchair rider. Driver is going to have to help operate the lift anyway.

Ian: New circulator buses are set up to accept passengers with prepaid fares at any door, see

I think they have a flashing "open door" dot on the outside that you touch to activate the door opening servos.

by Michael P on Sep 16, 2008 11:50 am • linkreport

Sorry, but bus turnstiles are a bad idea. I take bike on bus and if I don't get off the front I fear the driver will take off with my bike.

I know the frequent stops is a problem because I can always catch up to a bus even riding uphill on my bike. Metrobuses are SLOW and unreliable and bus bunching is a regular feature.

Dedicated bus lanes, like on 7th and 9th streets are not respected or enforced.

I don't have the solution, but man, this problem needs work. I'm glad someone is at least collecting data and thinking about it.

Maybe we should ditch buses and go with some kind of system of minibuses/vans on regular routes that you can hail from anywhere on the route. They had those in Mexico City many years ago when I lived there and yeah, they were dangerous, but super efficient.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 16, 2008 12:06 pm • linkreport

I would like to see express buses along 16th street. There are many places where the S buses stop every block, such as at P, Q and R streets. But I'm curious if this actually causes the most significant slow-down during rush hour. If express buses ran from 7:30-9:30am and again from 4:30-6pm, for example, how much faster would the express buses move through compared to their current stop patterns? I've heard WMATA has started express service on Georgia Ave and is considering it for the 14th St lines. Anyone know how well it's worked and the likelihood of expanding express bus service?

by Abby on Sep 16, 2008 12:36 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy: You'd still be able to pull open the gate (no latch) to exit from the front if you needed to, but you would have to "think about it" because the gate would say "please use rear exit" or something like that.

It's a nudge, not a requirement.

by Michael P on Sep 16, 2008 12:58 pm • linkreport

Would express buses work? It would be interesting from a sociological perspective to see if people who normally use their local bus stop would be willing to walk to a stop in order to use a faster, fewer stop bus instead of their local stop. Maybe a bus that hits 16th and Columbia, U Street, P Street, K, and then a point or two downtown before turning around. I know I'd be willing to walk a few blocks if it meant that I'd ultimately save time using an express bus.

by Paul on Sep 16, 2008 1:00 pm • linkreport

Express buses are great in theory, but I always find myself at a red light with the bus I want to board waiting there, and they will not open the door. My kid is in my arms getting heavier and heavier and the rain is starting to come down, and the driver stares straight ahead, ignoring my pleas and sad face. No way will I make it running to the stop (though I've tried). So while I curse the frequent stops, there are some benefits to having an easy-on bus going up and down the major arteries and those buses will be stopping every two seconds for red lights anyway.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 16, 2008 1:05 pm • linkreport

Express buses wouldn't take the place of existing buses, they'd just serve to complement them during rush hour. The NYC subways, like the 1, 2 and 3 trains, do this where the 2 becomes express but the 1 remains local. Maybe the S2 would become express while S1 and S4 remained local for people with kids, the elderly, disabled people or anyone else who didn't want to walk the extra blocks.

by Abby on Sep 16, 2008 1:14 pm • linkreport

OOPS! For some reason my post has "Ward 1 Guys" as the name! David, can you fix? It's supposed to be Michael P.

by Michael P on Sep 16, 2008 1:15 pm • linkreport


I'll try at some point to set it up so that if you already commented, it pre-fills the boxes with the name and email from the last time. That probably won't happen particularly soon, though.

by David Alpert on Sep 16, 2008 1:20 pm • linkreport

ACK! First WMATA "improved" the 30 buses. So now, instead of coming every 10 minutes without fail, they come along every 30-40 minutes. Now they want to "improve" the other bus line I ride all the time? The S buses come every 10 minutes right now. My fear is that the minute they tinker with this line, it will become a crappy, infrequent, un-useful line like my dear 30 lines. Don't do it, WMATA!

by DC365 on Sep 17, 2008 1:32 pm • linkreport

DC365, which line do you ride and at what time? I'm confused what they changed with respect to your situation. Give me more specifics and I can take a look.

Are you riding past downtown?

Also, get thee to the public meeting if you want your voice heard. I'm not sure WMATA reads GGW.

by Michael P on Sep 17, 2008 2:17 pm • linkreport

No, I seriously doubt if WMATA reads GGW. Two opposite groups of people if there ever were.

But, one thing GGW could do...if you spent half as much time rallying people to a public meeting of WMATA as you do to support your pet causes such as the (misguided) one to turn 15th street two way, then there might be some real headway.

Make the bus issue sexy.

I know you can do it.

by Fred on Sep 18, 2008 9:38 pm • linkreport

Evidently, somebody from WMATA reads this site... or at least used to.

by Adam on Sep 18, 2008 10:08 pm • linkreport

Wait, what? I don't remember advocating for 15th Street being two way. My pet causes are performance parking, streetcars, and better WMATA technology (Smartrip and Google Transit)

by Michael P on Sep 18, 2008 11:00 pm • linkreport

Someone from WMATA reads Infosnack about once a week, and GGW is a couple of orders of magnitude more popular than Infosnack. I bet there are a half dozen people from WMATA that check GGW occasionally.

They probably don't read every comment or subscribe to the comments feed, though.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 18, 2008 11:04 pm • linkreport

Maybe not you (15th Street) but this blog.

by Fred on Sep 19, 2008 6:39 am • linkreport

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