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More people will ride buses only if information gets better

A lot of people don't ride the bus today, especially for trips outside their usual commute. They find it too confusing and too scary to stand at a random street corner, unsure when a bus going to show up, if ever.

Photo by channaher on Flickr.

Rather than blaming these people for being impatient or not planning better, we need see this as reasons to push for better information, and to support efforts to make better apps that spread that information.

Yesterday, I wrote that I don't find the buses connecting northeastern Old Town to the Braddock Road Metro, a place my wife and I had to go recently, to be a very viable alternative to driving. Biking, on the other hand, will provide a much more reliable option.

Several readers took exception to this. A number implied that since there is a printed schedule and a bus that comes every 30 minutes, everyone should be able to handle taking the bus.

Craig wrote, "I have to agree with several other writers who were a bit insulted by your suggestion that transit to Old Town is not already a real option. On top of everything else, the DASH buses provide full timetables in booklet form at both Metro stations and on the buses."

Catherine said, "You are framing it as a deficiency in the place and its system rather than your own problem—poor planning, poor map reading, low patience, whatever." That's unfair.

We can't blame the rider when information is inadequate

I want to see more people ride buses. Buses are the easiest way to add transit service. We spend a lot of money on buses, and the more people ride them, the better the investment. The more people ride, the more frequency there will be, which makes them better for everyone.

But a lot of people do not ride buses. I've encouraged friends and family to try, and often heard back that the person simply gave up because they waited for what seemed like a long time and weren't sure the bus was ever going to come, or they got on a bus and then it turned out to be going the wrong direction, or the bus was rerouted and they didn't know, or NextBus reported a bus coming and then no bus arrived.

Whenever someone tried the bus and then gave up, it's a problem. A system that should serve more people lost a potential customer. We can't meet everyone's needs, but the first step is admitting that current bus service has some failings.

For people who ride the same bus a lot, it becomes easier. It's fairly unlikely the bus isn't on the same route as yesterday. You get used to when it comes. You are sure you know where it will go. But everyone is riding a line without this confidence the first time. Also, a lot of people ride buses in places other than their everyday commutes. We should want bus service to meet those folks' needs as well as regular commuters.

We can blame the person who gave up on the bus, but that achieves nothing. We're not going to guilt people into riding transit. They will only ride transit if it provides a viable alternative for them.

One thing every operator can do relatively cheaply and easily is provide better information. If you know for sure you're standing in the right place and know how long until the next bus, we eliminate this fear factor that deters so many people.

Catherine continued,

When I first moved here, the buses were a total mystery. I once I wound up shivering in a snowdrift in Parkfairfax trying to figure out how to call a cab to get me home (no internet on my phone back then!). To be fair, though, I've also been brought to tears trying to get to Sibley Hospital from downtown via transit (something I have to do every other month), but now that I've done it a few times, it's second nature to me, just like my local bus system is.

When you drive, do you look up directions beforehand or do you solely rely on GPS? I stopped being a regular driver before GPS was a "thing", and had to Mapquest directions before just about every trip (new to the area). Now, it would be much easier had I had a GPS back then but I don't think I'd have learned my way around as well as I did. Perhaps this new way of travel (having GPS guide you around) is changing people's mentality? People don't plan trips to unfamiliar places beforehand anymore?

It's fantastic that Catherine didn't give up on buses after being stuck in a snowdrift. Few people I know are that dedicated.

As for the analogy to GPS, a lot of people used paper maps. With paper maps, you could count on the roads being where the map said they are in almost all cases. If there is some kind of detour, there is almost always a sign and/or a construction worker directing you. You could outline a route and take it, confident that it wouldn't have changed on you.

Unfortunately, with bus service, that's not the case. The bus might get rerouted and you might not know. A bus that comes every 30 minutes might have had one driver sick and missed a trip, and you could be waiting an hour. I know a lot of people who would be quite nervous about driving somewhere less familiar if roads randomly closed without providing information.

Plus, for many of the riders we want to attract to buses, they are choosing between the bus and driving, or between the bus and a taxi. Those provide a confidence that isn't present with a bus like an every-30-minute DASH trip, even when you have a map and a timetable. As I wrote, if you get to the stop at exactly the time the bus is supposed to arrive, and it's not there, and then 10 minutes go by and it's still not, what is the chance it's late and will be by momentarily, and what's the chance it was 2 minutes early and you have 20 minutes or more to go?

What needs to happen?

Many people who find buses intimidating do ride the Circulator. What does it have? A simple route network that's fairly easy to remember in your head. Signs on a lot of bus stops that show the simple network. Buses that almost always come every 10-15 minutes all day.

This is the same logic behind the "frequent route network" Jarrett Walker and others rightly push. Not every bus can run every 10-15 minutes, but some do. They deserve promotion on their own, separate from other buses, including on maps that show them in a simple-to-understand way.

Branching provides more one-seat rides, but also adds confusion. The time I've seen the most confusion among Circulator riders is from people getting on a bus headed eastbound in Georgetown and finding that it was the Dupont bus when they wanted K Street, or vice versa.

And information can be better. There's little reason today for every bus system not to provide schedules, routes, and real-time information in a public format. Then, anyone with a smartphone can use a trip planning app which tells you exactly what corner to stand on and how long to wait.

Alexandria's bus service is better than most, and that's a problem

Yesterday, I specifically criticized DASH. The biggest reason is that they are one of the few bus systems with no real-time information.

Technological backwardness aside, Alexandria actually has better bus service than a lot of places in the region. You can take transit from DC to Seven Corners, but I wouldn't consider it if I can drive. It's about as hard as can be, without being impossible, to get to Upper Marlboro by bus, yet car-free Prince Georgeans have to do that every time they have jury duty.

It's not just the suburbs. DC has plenty of buses every 30 minutes, problems with "ghost buses" on NextBus, and more than its share of rerouted lines. But we can't look at this situation and say, oh well, that's how it has to be, so anyone who finds it inadequate is just a poor planner.

If someone doesn't take the bus even though there's a decent route going where they are going, they might or might not have made a mistake, but we can also blame ourselves, collectively, for not making sure they got better information.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I'm glad your brought up the problems with circulator. It goes deeper than branching.

(And let's be honest. GGW readers like the Circulator becasuse it is a Bus for White People. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact a youngish girl made that point this morning on the Circulator.)

I'd say a real problem -- and i think you can really help with his -- is the lack of integration among GPS systems. The nextbus GPS web app is amazing; but WMATA doesn't push it. We need to intergrate the regional buses into it, or create an overlay that does.

Even with the GPS system,you don't visualize where the branch ends.

by charlie on Aug 28, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

The 90/92/93 often run on half-hour intervals, while the 14th Street line seems to have bunching built into the schedule, with numerous inexplicable (and lengthy) gaps in service throughout the day. These are major bus corridors with severely lacking service patterns.

Simply put, somebody at WMATA needs to figure out why they're (profoundly) unable to run a reliable service from Federal Triangle to Colorado Ave, while the Circulator manages to run a nearly-identical service from McPherson Square to Woodley Park.

I'd also argue that realtime information (including electronic signs in shelters) is a major enabling technology for bus transit. Information is important.

The signage and maps also need to improve. WMATA missed a huge opportunity when it began installing the new bus stop signs (that are basically identical to the old ones). We need well-designed signage like London or Seattle have.

by andrew on Aug 28, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

I think this is a very important point. And also one that GGW can make a lot of improvements on. Those spider diagrams and tech-meetup transit monitors are both good examples of GGW's work.

The worst part of any trip is the waiting. Waiting in traffic or waiting for transit makes a trip feel much longer because you are making no progress towards your goal.

This article is wise to avoid browbeating people for not taking transit but rather making the small changes needed to tip their decision making.

by MW on Aug 28, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

And let's be honest. GGW readers like the Circulator becasuse it is a Bus for White People. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact a youngish girl made that point this morning on the Circulator

Actually, the Circulator is a bus for all kinds of people. Do you ever take the Woodley Park-McPherson Sq route? Because there's all kinds of people on that route. Really who rides each circulator route is based on where it goes, not the color of people's skin. You don't see a bus pull up to a stop and all the white people get on, and everyone else wait for another bus. These kinds of racial divides are just stupid.

People like the circulator because it is limited-stop, faster than a local bus, and there are only a few routes so it is easy to learn and visualize.

by MLD on Aug 28, 2012 2:05 pm • linkreport

David, thanks for a great discussion. I think you definitely hit on one of the concerns about information displays providing times for next buses. They do make a huge difference. I use the NextBus mobile website daily. However, WMATA seems to have significant problems with data quality. I can't tell you how many times NextBus says it will be a long time for a bus and then one just shows up. I've also had it where NextBus says a bus is coming and then it just vanishes. What's the best way to get these issues addressed?

by Steve on Aug 28, 2012 2:05 pm • linkreport

yeah lets improve bus networks

BUT - the Dash bus stops AT the metro stations in Alexandria, are not unfriendly street corners, they are fairly busy intermodal terminals, they have posted schedules for each Dash line (as well as schedules IN the station, IIRC). There are usually fellow passengers around to ask questions of.

"Yesterday, I specifically criticized DASH. The biggest reason is that they are one of the few bus systems with no real-time information. "

I use metrobus regularly (in NoVa), and I have long since given up on Nextbus, which AFAICT simply tells me when the next bus is SCHEDULED. has it actually improved?

So I agree with THIS posting, but I still think the earlier one was silly.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 28, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

I'm a very inexperienced bus rider, because my neighborhood on the Hill isn't very well-served by bus lines. The few times I have used buses, the NextBus app was very helpful and seemingly accurate.

Speaking for myself, it really isn't an information problem. The issue is infrequent service and sometimes long waits on the weekend. For example, for me to take a bus from the Hill to U street on a Saturday afternoon takes about 45 minutes, but it's a 15 minute drive. That's a waste of time I'm not willing to make.

by MJ on Aug 28, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD, and I forgot, only a dollar!

by charlie on Aug 28, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

It simply isn't helpful to blame the user. If we want more people to use transit (and we have to, if we don't want our city to turn into a parking lot), then we have to identify the reasons why people don't use transit -- whether or not we personally agree with them -- and change them.

Information is definitely a problem for new or casual users: new residents, residents who don't frequently use transit, residents visiting an unfamiliar part of town, and tourists. Making transit easier to understand and predict is a big part of making it more accessible to those users. Buses can be particularly confusing. Even if you don't think so, put yourself in someone else's shoes and you'll see why this is important to improving our region's transportation network.

by Gavin on Aug 28, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

@andrew, MJ

The 90s buses are terrible (even since they have supposedly switched to "headway" service you frequently see bunched buses) and are in desperate need of a limited-stop route to supplement service. The study WMATA released in March 2011 suggested this but they have not yet implemented it.

by MLD on Aug 28, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

You should change the title to say: More people will ride buses only if information gets better.

the word order as it stands is confusing

by Sam on Aug 28, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

Thanks for going back and writing a piece up reflecting people's comments. This is great for further and in-depth discussion.

by cmc on Aug 28, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport


Part of the difference between the 50s WMATA line and the Woodley Park circulator is the circulator doesn't have to fight its way through the remodeled part of 14th street by DCUSA. WMATA's bus focus group suggested removing the parking during rush hour and removing the bus-bulbs DDOT added, hopefully they will do both.

by Steve S. on Aug 28, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

Basically we should be taking our pro bike lane/segregated facilities arguments and applying that reasoning to buses. People will only switch over from their vehicles if they think the new mode is easier.

And as for me, I have no problem riding the bus. I hate waiting for it. We need to figure out how to reduce waiting, obvious solutions include:

1. more buses.
2. better adhered to schedules.
3. better tools a la nextbus.
4. consistent service accross all times of day not just rush hour.

by drumz on Aug 28, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

I'd rather know where a bus is, rather than what time it is supposed to get somewhere. Traffic and all. Can any app tell me that?

by andrewi31 on Aug 28, 2012 2:49 pm • linkreport

I am confused by this focus on Nextbus. I really don't think there are that many people using a smartphone to check on transit. Let alone that many (poor) people riding the bus don't have a smartphone.

One thing that's always struck me about bus stops in America is the utter lack of information. Yeah, sure at major stops there is some information, but many bus stops have nothing else than a sign that says bus stop.

How hard is it to put at least the number of the bus service passing by bus stop on a sign? How hard is it to identify the end point of that bus route? How hard is it to slap a schedule on that pole? How hard is it to have a small map with nearby stations, and bus lines?

These are all relatively cheap and simple things that can massively improve access to bus service.

Finally, as an out-of-the-box idea: why not integrate the school bus system with regular buses? If you do, you can make commuter buses all-day buses. My bus, the Fairfax 305 comes by three schools (that I know of), but is never used by students, while the roads are clogged in the morning with school buses. This is enormous capital waste.

by Jasper on Aug 28, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

I wasn't solely blaming you, I said repeatedly that DASH is nowhere near perfect and can certainly improve. But at the same time, you can't simply expect to show up in an unfamiliar neighborhood without having made a plan or looked at a map and expect to be lead around by the transit system with no thought on your own. Or, you can…but you might get lost, or take a less efficient route, or wind up waiting for longer than you need to.

It's fantastic that Catherine didn't give up on buses after being stuck in a snowdrift. Few people I know are that dedicated.

Thanks? I made one mistake one night (got on the wrong bus in the wrong direction) and got off the bus (sadly, in a snowdrift), fixed and paid for my mistake, learned from it and never repeated it. That’s not dedication, that’s life as a self-sufficient adult. I find it hard to believe that few people you know would have ever gotten on a bus ever again had they gotten on the wrong bus this one time. How about the Sibley example? I tried again after that disaster, too. Or because that happened in DC we can all just pretend that that that area is not a complete transit “charlie foxtrot”?

For what it’s worth, a lot of my car trips in the pre-GPS age ended rather badly, too. Far, far more frequently than the ONE time I got lost on a bus. I’d moved to Old Town during the Wilson Bridge construction/realignment and those roads all around there changed on a biweekly basis (no joke). I wound up lost in Oxen Hill, having been forced onto the bridge and into a new state without any warning more times than I can count. I didn’t give up driving then, either (although I really wanted to, and eventually did, but for different reasons).

As for the GPS/driving analogy….bus routes really don’t change all that much, and trips aren’t really often skipped. I think you’re taking an extreme example of what is possible and making it seem commonplace. When things do happen, it’s been my experience that they address the problems well. For example: one of the King Street Trolleys broke down this weekend (I think….maybe it was scheduled maintenance, either way they were missing a trolley). They replaced it with a regular bus and put “Waterfront Trolley” on it to keep the service consistent.

Yes, I agree that DASH should integrate into NextBus, or have its own system. Like others, I have found NextBus to be of limited use, but if some people like them, the systems should provide them. Those are still fairly new developments in the major transit systems, and DASH and other smaller systems are and probably always will be a little behind. Not that that’s ok, but that’s how it is.

Implying that something is not “a real option” because it doesn’t beam you real-time information to your mobile device, when the entire area is very well set-up for transit is also not ok. You have a valid but not (in my opinion) deal-breaking point that you turned into “It is not an option take transit to this small and well-defined area that is no more than 1.5 miles wide and 5 miles long that is serviced by two metro stations with two lines and a half dozen bus lines, one of which is free”.

by Catherine on Aug 28, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

The worst part of any trip is the waiting. Waiting in traffic or waiting for transit makes a trip feel much longer because you are making no progress towards your goal.

What is the worst part of traveling? This is an interesting question that has been researched. The most stressful aspect of travel (as measured by hormones secreted into your salivia) is unpredictability. That is, not knowing when you will arrive at your destination. The less predictable (i.e., more variable) your journey, the more stressful. The second most stressful part of travel is making transfers. Travel time in and of itself surprisingly is not one of the top two worst things about traveling.

The implication of this research is that it's important to make travel by bus predictable. People will feel less stressed using buses (and more likely to use them) if they know when the bus will arrive and consequently, when they will reach their destination.

by Falls Church on Aug 28, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

WMATA and regional bus transit reliably live up to "it was best of times, it was the worst of times." For instance, the 11Y connects downtown DC to Alexandria (and points south of Alexandria). It's purely a commuter express bus. The one problem? The last pickup is around 5:55pm for the early parts of the route (always full). In other words, if you work up til 6 or 5:45 and aren't close enough, you're SOL. Being an express bus, it's not as if Metro is losing tons on the farebox recovery issue either ($3.50 a ride).

As for the DASH Bus, it's very convenient, but it can be confusing on which direction you take on it because on at least one route you do not want the "Pentagon" choice if you're actually going north from the station. One of my first times, I read the timetabls and took the bus the wrong direction--and I had written the S and Y series buses for years in DC/MoCo.

The easiest solution I think is still biking. Downside being it's tough if you're coming from one outter suburb and going to another since you have a limited amount of time you can go on Metro. But, especially in NOVA, you have a great linked system that really enables you go from Purceville down to Mt. Vernon. Of course, similar to busses, it's tough to get people to try (and maybe that's for the best for those of us who bike commute already and hate the slow folks).

by NE OT on Aug 28, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

Some of the complaining about information is just laziness on several levels.

1 Not planning ahead; unless you get a call telling you to go somewhere right then you have no excuse why you could not research the bus lines. I have done it in every place I have been to in the USA and outside.

2 People got along just fine before realtime information on stuff this is not a life or death matter.

3 There are problems with every single format of transportation but some seem to be overlooked.


The Circulator has three big ass problem with the current way they are managed. One they dont tell you which route stops at a stop. Two the routes dont connect (Union Station)but they serve the same place. Three some routes are weekday only certain times of the year, run everyday other times of the year or start and stop different times during the year.

Why not just have one god damn time that they all start and stop. They also have backwards, long ass routes that go out of the way (Skyland, Navy Yard) routes.

PG Bus stops, some Fairfax Connector, Dash, and Metrobus stops dont tell you what buses stop there and where they are going.

@ Steve S

The Circulators do get stuck in traffic

14th Street line gets caught up on on Mt Pleasant and Irving Streets everyday due to easy way to go east/west

Navy Yard Circulator deals with traffic issues and over crowding everytime a games happens then also deals with low ridership but the Metrobus before it had better service and ridership.

by kk on Aug 28, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

"But at the same time, you can't simply expect to show up in an unfamiliar neighborhood without having made a plan or looked at a map and expect to be lead around by the transit system with no thought on your own."

I respectfully disagree. 4 years ago I went to Chicago for the first time. Armed with a Blackberry and the recently released Google Maps with Transit directions, I made my way around the city without having more of a plan than where I wanted to go and asking Google how to make it happen. While there was no real time bus times and no fare information in the information, it can be relatively easily able to take a bus trip without being familiar with the city.

by Steve on Aug 28, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport


The first thing that all agencies around the area should do is have a damn list of stops on their websites telling riders each and every stop that a goes stops at. Doing that one could find the closes stop to the starting point and destination.

Most of the info you speak of use to be on the poles but they're not anymore thats the funny part they have actually made stuff worst by removing info.

Most of the Metrobus stops I have passed have nothing but a sign that says Metrobus and the actual pole and once in a while the nextbus sign.

One thing that could be done is to actually mark the stops that are time points in the schedules somehow so that one would know.

by kk on Aug 28, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

I think too many commenters are looking at this through transit-tinted glasses. Many of David's complaints can be solved with planning, research, etc; this is true. And if you are a diehard busrider, or you don't have a car then you figure it out and get it done. Most of us who live in Old Town have cars, and so every trip really does come down to a choice in what method to use to get where we need to go. Buses already start out with several disadvantages -- they're sometimes full of unpleasant people, it almost always takes longer to get anywhere on the bus versus driving, you are exposed to the elements while walking to/from the bus stop. If you want more people to choose the bus over their cars, you have remove what obstacles you can, and I agree with David that providing better information is one great way to do it.

My personal experience is that I never took the bus prior to Google Transit and NextBus. I believe there are lots of people like me who are willing to take the bus, but are intimidated. You just have to get them better info.

by AnotherDavid on Aug 28, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

This may sound stupid, but: ask the bus driver. If you're not sure if you're getting on the right bus, ask before you board. If you're not sure if this is the right stop, ask before you get off.

Of course, the transit authorities could encourage their drivers to be a little friendlier :) And you'd rather not have people asking questions at every stop, slowing the bus line down. But as a last resort, you can always ask.

by Gavin on Aug 28, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

@Jasper - IIRC one reason school bus riders can't/don't use existing public transit buses has something to with some ridiculous notion that if kids are provided vouchers for riding public transit it somehow interferes with free enterprise by unfairly giving an advantage to the transit system w/o going thru some bidding-for-a-govt-contract process, or some such nonsense. So instead a huge waste is perpetrated on the tax payers. At least something like this happened in DC.

by Tina on Aug 28, 2012 4:14 pm • linkreport


Fair enough, you're right. I got myself around Vancouver with printed maps/timetables I picked up in the train station(wasn't about to pay for international data). But it still relied on me actually looking up where the stops were and when they were scheduled to arrive.

DASH is integrated with Google Maps with transit (and may have done so before WMATA, can't remember...WMATA took FOREVER to share their data with Google).

My point was that you can't just skip out to a random bus stop without any idea when the next bus may be coming or where that bus might be headed and call the result of that decision a failure of the system. The individual does have to take some responsibility for his or herself at some point.

by Catherine on Aug 28, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

Example of standard Dutch bus stop signs:

Smiley face
Smiley face
Usually you get timing info in this crappy format:
Smiley face
Smiley face

And a bilingual Belgian one:

Smiley face

by Jasper on Aug 28, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

My point was that you can't just skip out to a random bus stop without any idea when the next bus may be coming or where that bus might be headed and call the result of that decision a failure of the system.

I heartily disagree. Its a failure of the system if this basic information (schedule, destination and rte.) is not available at the bus stop w/ no more special tool than a pair of reading glasses.

by Tina on Aug 28, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

Availability of information is a problem. Not every line that stops at a particular bus stop necessarily has its schedule posted and some lines have timetables posted in unreadably tiny print. The suburban lines are atrocious in terms of info. Many RideOn stops have no info or else it's several years out of date. Suburban Metro stops can have the same problem as I learned one cold night in Alexandria.

I've noticed that many people still don't make use of NextBus (which gotten much better) or its Circulator equivalent. They do make a difference--you don't need printed material or a lot of clicks and you aren't dependent on what might be posted at the bus stop.

Bunching is most perplexing when it happens during times when things should be more on schedule (early Saturday morning; midday on a late August weekday when traffic is light). Lines that run on congested streets, like 16th and/or that have a lot of disabled passengers (the 50s on 14th) will always have significant problems with bunching because it is difficult to model the the most "normal" conditions.

by Rich on Aug 28, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

"I heartily disagree. Its a failure of the system if this basic information (schedule, destination and rte.) is not available at the bus stop w/ no more special tool than a pair of reading glasses."

Ive taken DASH buses from Braddock rd metro. There are posted schedules, with the route, schedule and destination. Remind what the problem was?

For info problems check fairfax connector, out in the neighborhoods. A sign that tells you a ffx connector bus stops there, and does not even give the route number.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 28, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

or for more brilliance (IE stupidity) when the 29 express buses outbound from the Pentagon go onto Little River Turnpike (I guess the same thing happens with the 17 on Braddock) they run locally - making local stops, running in regular traffic, till the end of the line. Passengers can get at those stops but MUST PAY THE EXPRESS fare. Its very frequent that some misguided, often barely english speaking person, waiting for the local bus on that line, gets on and is told to pay the express fare and has to get off.

The express buses could provide additional service on the corridor. Are they worried someone will pay the local fare and stay on the bus went it turns around back to the Pentagon>

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 28, 2012 4:42 pm • linkreport

There's no excuse for an urban bus route to have a 30 minute headway (routes in the suburbs are a different story). The Ballston-Rosslyn Corridor in Arlington is one of the few places in Northern Virginia (if not all of Virginia) with good multi-modal transit. A lot of the blame for this rests on the wingnuts in control in Richmond still living in the Dark Ages.

BTW there is bus access to the Prince George's County courthouse (I was shocked when you said there was none since PG generally has excellent good bus transit, so I looked it up). The Bus Route 20 runs every 20 minutes to the Govt. Center in Upper Marlboro (including a stop right in front of the courthouse) from the Addison Road Metro sta.

by King Terrapin on Aug 28, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport


I think Tina has the expectation that there will be a posted schedule with a route map and preferably live updates at every single bus stop. I've personally never been anywhere that has that level of service, and I doubt it exists.

I guess people just can't fathom the idea of going into anything prepared anymore. I personally cannot imagine walking out of the train station in Vancouver and going to the first street corner I saw with a bus stop sign and just waiting around before hopping on the first bus that came by. It never occurred to me that that should be my expectation or standard. Instead, I got some pamphlets, sat under a tree for a few minutes while I got my bearings and went on my merry way.


I know, it's weird to have someone who's only ever tried to do something once or twice (if at all) before giving up call it a nearly impossible feat.

For what it's worth, DASH's headways are shorter during rush, and the overlapping/staggering times of routes in Old Town tries to address the headway problem. Not perfect, but not unworkable.

by Catherine on Aug 28, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport


For reasons unbeknown to science, WMATA does not promote use of the (phenomenal) NextBus mobile website. This is a shame, because it's quite good.

Go to on your mobile device, and you get a sorted list of the next buses arriving in your vicinity, by distance, then by time.

Cooler still, it works on *any* agency that has a contract with NextBus. You can open the same site up in SF or Boston, and get info relevant to that area.

Realistically, it's a better tool for riding the bus than any other app or online timetable that I've seen (Google Transit's great...if the buses are running on time). It doesn't help in an unfamiliar area if you're unfamiliar with the various bus services, but I think it does a pretty darn good job considering it's just a mobile site....

If you want to see the mobile site on your desktop browser, you can do so here. If it asks, be sure to grant the request for your location.

by andrew on Aug 28, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport

Responding to a few things that were directed at me:

1) What ever *did* happen with the various studies that were done on the 90s line? Headway scheduling either isn't actually being used, or isn't working as it was intended. The buses seem less frequent and more crowded than they were before -- I've definitely used the line less in the past few months, in favor of ponying up for a Car2Go to get myself between Capitol Hill and U St.

2) The 50s actually seem to bunch around Thomas Circle and somewhere north of DCUSA. I won't deny that that intersection is an absolute cluster*#&* for buses, cars, and bikes alike, but the buses often seem to be bunched before they even get to that point...

by andrew on Aug 28, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

@AWALKERITC - I was responding to @Catherine who wrote, My point was that you can't just skip out to a random bus stop without any idea when the next bus may be coming or where that bus might be headed and call the result of that decision a failure of the system.

Do you agree with @C. that someone who goes to a bus stop w/no information posted on it is responsible for knowing what the destination, schedule and route is of the bus that may (or may not) stop there? I find that preposterous yet I have seen many many bus stops w/ no information posted. Would you expect someone driving to know what town/connecting rte. an unmarked exit on the beltway goes to? Of course not. An exit would never be left w/o some basic information like that.

Beyond providing this basic information, I agree w/ D.A. that better service (more than @30mins) and a way to get more detailed information can increase ridership.

by Tina on Aug 28, 2012 5:03 pm • linkreport

@Catherine Tina expects...a posted schedule with a route map and preferably live updates at every single bus stop.

No. Thats not what I wrote. Please re-read my comment and respond only to what I wrote, not to what you think I'm thinking.

by Tina on Aug 28, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

People don't ride buses because they have no idea where the bus goes -- it's not just about waiting for the bus to appear.

London's 'spider maps' (google it) are the solution. You can go to any bus stop in London, and know exactly where the bus will stop, because each bus stop has the equivalent of a mini-Metro map.

It makes taking the bus a REAL alternative to the tube for both locals and visitors.

by James on Aug 28, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD and Andrew

As mentioned earlier, the WMATA study of the 90s Line recommended implementation of a new Route 99 limited stop service between Anacostia and Dupont Circle Metro stations. This service has not been implemented due to a lack of vehicles and funding. This service would improve reliability and on time performance in the U Street-Garfield corridor

The recently completed 14th Street Line Study recommended a series of improvements to this corridor including a new Route 59 limited stop service with 18 stops between Takoma Metro Station and Federal Triangle, Route 52 service between Takoma and the Waterfront Metro stations, Route 53 service between Colorado Avenue and 14th & G Streets, NW and Route 54 service from Colorado Avenue and L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station. In the recommendations, these service improvements would be helped by greater enforcement of parking regeulations in the corridor and restrictions on peak period parking in the congested Columbia Heights area.

For those not familiar with how service changes have increased ridership in several corridors, I would suggest taking a ride on the Route 79 on Georgia Avenue or Route S9 on 16th Street. You will see a large number of choice riders making decisions to use these improved Metrobus services.

by Douglas Stallworth on Aug 28, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport


You can see a bunch of the results of studies on Metrobus here:

This site is rarely publicized, probably because then people would want to know if they actually implemented any of the changes!

by MLD on Aug 28, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

Like @James, I have used buses in other places that are very well marked (information provided), like his example of London.

My experience with well marked bus stops goes back a few decades, well before fancy things like "apps", "next bus" and "spider maps". I can't help but think acceptance of bus stops w/o information is learned behavior of someone who has not experienced what a good system offers.

Beyond this basic information, I agree that better service, e.g more frequent than @30mins in a city, like @King Terrapin wrote, and, given the advancement in technology in the last 30 years during the "Age of Information", a way to get more detailed information in addition to the basics, can increase ridership.

by Tina on Aug 28, 2012 5:23 pm • linkreport


Not "no information". Just plain ol' "BUS STOP" is not enough, obviously. But the transit system (WMATA vs DASH, for example) and the numbers of the routes that stop there and the destination of those routes....sure.

So, a blue sign that says DASH with a picture of a bus on it, with a number and destination like AT5 Braddock Rd Metro, should provide you with an idea of where you're going to wind up, and if you've checked a route map in some capacity beforehand, you have an idea of the route you'll take to get there. And then when the bus arrives and is lit up with the number and destination, you know you're getting on the right bus in the right direction. This is how it happens now. It's not difficult. It's not the easiest, most advanced or most seamless process in the world, but it's also not difficult.

The reason I thought that it sounded like you wanted route maps, timetables and live updates at every stop is because those things would be the next level up from what's there already(and what would have to be available for you to get dropped off at any random bus stop with nothing but a set of reading glasses and figure your way home from there). There *are* route maps and timetables at major hubs like the Metro stations, but not at random stops on street corners (which would be nice but is probably not economically feasible). But all stops have the number of the line that stops there and the bus's destination on it.

by Catherine on Aug 28, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

@Catherine - Not "no information". Just plain ol' "BUS STOP" is not enough, obviously. But the transit system (WMATA vs DASH, for example) and the numbers of the routes that stop there and the destination of those routes....sure.

thats not what you wrote initially, and not what I responded to, which was:

you can't just skip out to a random bus stop without any idea when the next bus may be coming or where that bus might be headed and call the result of that decision a failure of the system.

This describes a bus stop w/ no information on destination, schedule or rte. I have seen many bus stops just like this in this area.

Glad you agree a bus stop should provide the basics. Many do not. Not sure why you would disagree that providing a way to get more detailed information (in addition to the basics) could increase ridership.

by Tina on Aug 28, 2012 5:34 pm • linkreport

Um, I think that one should be able to step out of a train station and be able to figure out where the feeder bus lines go. They have these maps in our metro stations maybe they do in Vancouver. But they should be at the bus stops too (or at more of them at least).

by Drumz on Aug 28, 2012 5:44 pm • linkreport

I think we're talking about the same set of expectations here, but arriving at it differently. I'm saying that you should have a basic set of information (what line you need to get where you're going, and the direction you need to travel in) before heading to any ol' bus stop because route/system maps aren't posted at every single stop. It would be nice if they were, but they're not and I don't see that as a failure, I see that as retty normal. I've taken buses in places as varied as Gaborone to London and never have I seen route maps at every stop (London was 10 years ago, now though). You need to take some resonsibility in knowing the system and planning your trip.

Also, re:Vancouver....I was planning a multi-phased kind of day with the buses (and eventually was on a bus ferry or whatever they called it) so some sitting with a map time was in order. Not sure if the stops outside the train station had tons of detail or not...I probably could have gotten from the train station to my hostel just fine, but I had limited time in town and was on a mission.

by Catherine on Aug 28, 2012 6:11 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

"We can blame the person who gave up on the bus, but that achieves nothing."

Why? Why is it too much to ask a rider to do some research? In what universe can I arrive in a new city and expect to approach its bus system exactly like its subway system? I would never be so ... presumptuous. Buses require more humility, patience and time. But then there is a long-term payoff. (Focus on the long term.)

If you'd rather not ask anything of the casual rider, then DO SOMETHING FOR THE REGULAR RIDERS.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

"It's fantastic that Catherine didn't give up on buses after being stuck in a snowdrift. Few people I know are that dedicated."

Yes, to bus riders that is patently obvious.

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 6:29 pm • linkreport

"How hard is it to put at least the number of the bus service passing by bus stop on a sign? "

They are on the signs!!!

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 6:42 pm • linkreport

"Of course, the transit authorities could encourage their drivers to be a little friendlier :) "

You're kidding right? Have you SEEN what bus drivers here have to put up with?

The bus drivers are paragons of patience, in my opinion.

big sigh

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 6:43 pm • linkreport

"WMATA does not promote use of the (phenomenal) NextBus mobile website. This is a shame, because it's quite good."


It's right there on WMATA's site, under Rider Tools. It's the exact same thing!

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 7:45 pm • linkreport

Mr. Alpert, I see you cherry-picked my comment to make a point which was neither the one you made in yesterday's posting, nor the ultimate point of my comment.

I expect more integrity from this blog. Although I am deeply concerned about DC transit issues as a carless resident of the District who has never had a driver's license, I can see that your blog is no longer for me.

by Craig on Aug 28, 2012 8:26 pm • linkreport

The entry would be better if it cited some good resources, then people could advocate a lot better and with authority.

The best practice examples people provided (like James and the London spider maps) are good too.

This is one of the best, although not easily findable online anymore since it's old:


It categorizes different types of bus stops with differential amenities.

- this is newer, about marketing

If the people had these resources and we had regional advocacy organizations, we could construct a common agenda, you could have done it in this entry, for minimum service standards for the local bus service including the provision of information at stops and stations.

I will say that I agree with Catherine and others that a minimum expectation for researching etc. is in order. People do it if they drive.

But the basic problem is that most people who don't know how to use transit don't know how to use it. (The issue is training etc.) So if you know how to use it in one place, if you have meta-learning skills, you ought to be able to figure it out in other places. E.g., if you use WMATA, and you travel to SF or Seattle or Portland or Cleveland etc. and you're at the airport, you can figure out how to get to the major city via transit, whether it's to your advantage to buy a pass, etc.

I don't know the solution exactly. Ambassador programs, heavy outreach (e.g., in Portland and Seattle, they place extension transit information racks in major public buildings and places, MTA in Baltimore always exhibits at big festivals in Baltimore).

by Richard Layman on Aug 28, 2012 9:01 pm • linkreport

This was what I wrote for the draft of the western Baltimore County Bike and Ped Plan. But it was excised and never made it into the posted draft. It's relevant to this discussion and lays a kind of framework for a specific agenda.
Transit and transit waiting environments

All transit trips start and end with walking. To maximize ridership and convenience for customers on foot or on bicycle, roadside transit facilities, transit station access, and transit vehicles should be designed in a manner that fully supports walking and bicycling. Additionally, bus stops and transit stations should be seen foremost as primary marketing or “touch” points for transit and sustainable transportation generally—even people who don’t use transit regularly pass by transit shelters and stations and can be reached by pro-transit messages.

A planning effort for the transit agency in Cleveland studied transit waiting environments in great depth, and devised a typology of four types of bus stops. Based on ridership, land use context, and the presence of activity generators, recommendations were made for outfitting each type of stop with an appropriate and desired amenities. During the study, surveys of both regular and infrequent riders determined the types of amenities desired according to the stop context and environment.

The most important amenities, in order of priority, tend to be: (1) Information on bus arrival and the frequency of service; (2) Lighting; (3) Shelter; (4) Seating; (5) Heating in bus shelters; (6) Paved waiting surfaces; (7) Trash cans; (8) Area maps; (9) Bike racks; and (10) Landscaping.

Basic stops (Type 1) would include information on the
route(s) served, a consistently identifiable bus stop utility pole, lighting, a paved waiting pad, and a trash can. Type 1 service was recommended for 43 percent of the stops.

Type 2 stops would include seating and bike racks and were applicable for 26 percent of stops based on a calculation of density and school proximity.

For type 3, planned for stops near mid- to high-densities, additional amenities would include a shelter with on-demand heating, a more detailed information sleeve, additional seating, and strategies to encourage transit-oriented development in the area. This type was proposed for 20 percent of the total locations.

Type 4, designed for key community destinations, was proposed for 6% of stops, and in addition to all previous amenities, would include public art, a transit system map, and real-time bus arrival display. The final type, reserved for less than 1% of stops that were determined to be regional gateways, would incorporate unique artistic elements to welcome visitors.

Bus Stops

At a minimum, all MTA bus stops have signs and most have a concrete pad. Many stops include bus shelters with a transit system map and seating. With few exceptions, Baltimore County’s MTA bus stops are well-located and well-maintained. Most bus shelters are relatively new and in excellent condition.

- All bus stops should have schedule information.
- Bus stops without shelters should be provided with maps of the bus route.
- Some bus stops lack trash receptacles.
- Permeable pavement could be considered as an appropriate treatment for stop pads.
- Bus shelters could include area-specific cultural/historical/neighborhood information, to better connect transit to neighborhoods and communities. The installation of public art could also be considered. The use of images depicting local history may increase a sense of pride and neighborhood ownership and decrease bus shelter vandalism.
- In commercial districts, local business maps and directories could be affixed to bus shelters.
- Bus shelters could be upgraded to even more substantial (“gateway”) structures at primary bus line transfer points and at high use locations in prominent commercial districts.
- The addition of bicycle racks to primary bus line transfer points and other high use locations should be considered.
- Adequacy of night-time lighting should be addressed on an as-needed basis.

Transit Stations

- Convenient access to the station from all practical directions should be of the utmost priority. Stations such as Lutherville (from the west) and Timonium (from the east) lack sidewalk connections to the station, limiting use.
- Light rail stations lack updated wayfinding information (maps) about the area around the station. Most map kiosks have been obscured. Wayfinding information should be a priority for all stations and could include information on local history and nearby commercial establishments. For example, current signage discusses the Jones Falls Watershed at the Lutherville light rail station and the history of the marble stone railroad bed at the Timonium Station. This program could be extended.
- Signage alerting people to the nearby presence and location of transit stations on access roads/in the vicinity of stations is inadequate or non-existent. For example, there are no street signs on York Road alerting/directing people to the Lutherville Light Rail Station. Signs should include not just traditional logos denoting transit but also the names of stations.
- Most stations have bicycle racks. Some stations have bicycle lockers. Bicycle parking could be provided inside certain subway stations. Chicago does this.
- Regional bicycle maps and information on bicycling should be displayed at transit stations. (Note that bicycle trail proximity information should be added to the MTA transit maps.)

by Richard Layman on Aug 28, 2012 9:05 pm • linkreport

The solution? Don't move here expecting to have everything served to you on a silver platter. The solution to THAT? Stay here long enough to get affected by a place.

You know who has come to understand the bus system? The working poor.

I'm sorry, but all this complaining that we're not portland, or london or seattle or vancouver or tokyo or paris, it just sounds like we all want to be hand fed! If people without apps and blackberries and iPhones and smart phones can understand a friggin bus system, can't we all???????????

Geez, I feel like I've said this a million times, but if worst comes to worst, couldn't we put one foot in front of the other, approach someone, open our mouths and ask? What in the world is so daunting about that? I've made friends that way.

I'm just not sure that people who are at best lukewarm about buses make the best advocates for buses.

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 9:10 pm • linkreport

@jazzy; the site Andrew is talking about isn't linked on the WMATA site. They have the WMATA nextbus site, whch does do the GPS location. Why is that useful -- so you don't have to scroll through 100 buses to get to yours.

@Jaspar; I think you are underestimting the growth in ridership that is due to nextbus. I've seen it myself, and if you look at the rider numbers we could get more granular.

by charlie on Aug 28, 2012 9:17 pm • linkreport

IT IS THE EXACT SAME CHARLIE. I have Nextbus open and the Nextbus (from WMATA's Rider Tools, did you go there? Go to rider tools) open, and they are the VERY SAME.

It indeed is linked on WMATA's site.

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 9:19 pm • linkreport

@jazzy; on both the desktop and mobile version I don't see the magic "nextbus" link. You do have a link to nextbus on the right banner, but it is different site than what andrew and I are talking about.

by charlie on Aug 28, 2012 9:27 pm • linkreport

1) Go to
2) hover over the "Rider Tools" tab
3) click on Next Bus arrivals.

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 9:29 pm • linkreport

You can keep saying they're not, but the sites ARE THE EXACT SAME.

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2012 9:30 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, maybe you seen to use a smartphone.

WhenI follow your link I get this:

The website I am talking about is:

Try it on a smartphone and you'll see the difference. The second on detects where you are (you have to enable location setting). It will tell you the nearest 5 buses -- in both directions.

On a desktop, they do look the same.

by charlie on Aug 28, 2012 10:39 pm • linkreport

The mobile sites are not the same. This is the NextBus site, as seen on a smartphone. The site detects the visitor's location and presents information for the nearest stop.


This is the WMATA Rider Tools --> NextBus site, also on a smartphone.


A lot of people in this country use smartphones. Figures from Pew tell us that 46% of American adults own a smartphone.

The trend holds for DC too. A.C. Valdez writes that:

in a 2010 Public Media Corps survey (which I helped conduct), we found that about 71 percent of blacks and 76 percent of Hispanics in some of D.C.’s poorest wards connect to the Internet using their phones.
The spread of smartphones crosses class lines – if anything, smartphones are even more important for reaching environments with limited connectivity.

by David R. on Aug 28, 2012 11:02 pm • linkreport

by David R. on Aug 28, 2012 11:06 pm • linkreport

Transport for London opened up their real-time tracking bus tracking system (called Countdown) to third party developers like myself. It makes a huge difference and has been responsible for many commuters change in behaviour. Knowing when the bus will arrive is key to this.

The Countdown systems covers 20,000 bus stops & over 700 routes. Millions of highly accurate predictions a day are made.

Transport authorities need to open up & invest in real-time systems & provide data feeds with little to no barriers (i.e free of onerous terms & conditions). Give up on timetables that are often inaccurate, hard to read or just plain missing from stops. Even worse I still see local councils & authorities putting in expensive display boards at select stops & providing no data feeds for real-time systems or no investment in real-time systems at all.

by Malcolm Barclay on Aug 29, 2012 5:00 am • linkreport

@ Jazzy:Buses require more humility, patience and time.

Nonsense. I've been in Kyoto, where I could not read s single sign, got myself a bus map at the train station, and navigated the city with ease. The bus system there is so frequent that waiting for a bus was no issue at all. Also, bus stops were well indicated, and the bus map was very clear. Kyoto buses had a fantastic audio system announcing all stops and very clear English announcements near touristic sites.

The only confusing things were that they drive on the left, enter in the back, and pay in the front when leaving the bus.

by Jasper on Aug 29, 2012 7:34 am • linkreport

I'm sorry, but all this complaining that we're not portland, or london or seattle or vancouver or tokyo or paris, it just sounds like we all want to be hand fed!

Yes, it's like we actually expect our government and public services to cater to us. Strange, I know!

by Tyro on Aug 29, 2012 7:40 am • linkreport

I rest my case.

You go on expecting Washington to be like Kyoto and see how far that improves the bus system in DC and makes it easier for you to use it. My guess, zero. Meanwhile there ARE steps - more realistic - we can take that may lead to incremental change that one day will bring the Kyoto nirvana you dream of.

What's that expression? Dance with the one that brung you.

by Jazzy on Aug 29, 2012 7:41 am • linkreport

Would those realistic steps include "providing a link to the mobile NextBus site on the WMATA site"?

by David R. on Aug 29, 2012 7:59 am • linkreport

OMG, are we back to that? It's there!

But maybe you are talking about the iPhone, I don't know.

(Sorry this nextbus thing is getting exasperrating so you'll all have to talk among yourselves about it, I'm done. I have no problem accessing it. I guess WMATA gave me and only me special access to it.)

My preference in the "realistic steps" order would be light pushing. As I said earlier.

by Jazzy on Aug 29, 2012 8:03 am • linkreport

@Jazzy, yep you must be very special.

by charlie on Aug 29, 2012 8:10 am • linkreport


THIS is the site they are talking about:

It's not the same as the site linked on WMATA's page. That is what you see if you go to on a mobile device. It automatically detects your location via GPS and shows you a list of routes at nearby stops and the arrival predictions. Extremely useful.

See David R's post above for screenshots:

When they do onboard surveys, transit agencies should be asking whether people have a smartphone or not so they can get a handle on what percent of their riders have access to this tech.

by MLD on Aug 29, 2012 8:16 am • linkreport


What I found so interesting about your first comment is that you don't see the black people when you ride circulators. Do you have special glasses? Black people do ride circulators.

Also, it was interesting that no one up till now took issue with your assessment, so you must be right.

by Jazzy on Aug 29, 2012 8:32 am • linkreport

Um, the poor ride the bus because they have to. The next step is to do what needs to be to convince people who can drive that they may prefer riding the bus. This would include necessary improvements, such as, making it easier to ride the bus.

We've done it with metro trains, we are doing it with bicycles and now we can talk about doing it with buses.

by drumz on Aug 29, 2012 9:09 am • linkreport

"Do you agree with @C. that someone who goes to a bus stop w/no information posted on it is responsible for knowing what the destination, schedule and route is of the bus that may (or may not) stop there? I find that preposterous yet I have seen many many bus stops w/ no information posted. "

No I would not. Of course I have never seen that at the Dash stops at the metro stations, which were the subject of DA's previous post. I HAVE seen that at Fairfax Connector stops, and think its a problem.

Its been so long since Ive boarded a Dash bus OTHER than at a metro station, I dont know if it happens with DASH.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

I guess it seems strange to me that if people know their destination, that they wouldn't use the plan your trip feature on wmata's site. And it seems a good number of the people folks are talking about in the comments have smartphones so they too could use the plan your trip feature, esp. since that feature allows one to choose bus only, train only, or bus and train. Or one could use google maps. That's what I did when I was in an unfamiliar city. Just seems like the arguments people are presenting are not really relevant to people who most likely have smartphones so they can easily access route information. The biggest issue with riding the bus for me is the bunching that occurs.

by Roman on Aug 29, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

Learning the bus system is like gaining membership to a secret society.

by kob on Aug 29, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

"Do you agree with @C. that someone who goes to a bus stop w/no information posted on it is responsible for knowing what the destination, schedule and route is of the bus that may (or may not) stop there? I find that preposterous yet I have seen many many bus stops w/ no information posted. "

No I would not. Of course I have never seen that at the Dash stops at the metro stations, which were the subject of DA's previous post. I HAVE seen that at Fairfax Connector stops, and think its a problem.

All of the DASH stops I've used have at least the numbers of the lines that stop there and the destination. It is, of course, entirely possible that there are some stops out there that do not. I just personally have not seen any. Here, DASH has a handy-dandy guide:

I thought that that was pretty standard, and assumed that since we were talking about DASH that we were all on the same page with how things work with DASH. That'll show me for assuming that people would argue over something they don't actually have information or experience with!

So. I still think that a person should know the basics--what line they need and in which direction--before just heading out to whatever bus stop is closest to their current location. It seems as though others would rather expend resources making sure that no one has to do anything for themselves or take responsibility for themselves ever. I think if we had the kind of resources to put in a Kyoto style system, I'd rather opt for more and more frequent bueses, but that's just me.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 10:25 am • linkreport

Catherine: Nobody is saying people should embark for the bus stop with no idea what line to take. At least I'm not.

But in all of the cases I've been citing, I know people who tried the bus, knowing what line they want and where the stop is, and still gave up for various reasons, mostly because of a long wait where the bus was late.

In one case, the bus was 10-15 mins late and in the meantime, 2 buses went by empty, out of service, and the drivers just shook their heads at the person waiting as they zoomed by. How does this person know whether a) the right bus will be along soon, or b) the official bus was put out of service for some reason, and it will be another 30 minutes until the right bus?

In this kind of situation, people will give up and grab a taxi. You seem to be saying that they just need to buck up and be patient. Good luck convincing people to do that. We need to either get them better information or make the buses more frequent (ideally both). Otherwise, many potential bus riders won't ride.

by David Alpert on Aug 29, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by selxic on Aug 29, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

@Catherine - this is an unfair characterization of what any commenter has suggested:

It seems as though others would rather expend resources making sure that no one has to do anything for themselves or take responsibility for themselves ever.

No one has said anything like that.

The point is that improvement to the system (a method to get more detailed information than the basics, more frequent headways in an urban area) can increase ridership. I don't understand why anyone would disagree with this. It seems patently obvious to me.

Regarding your comment that:
if we had the kind of resources to put in a Kyoto style system, I'd rather opt for more and more frequent bueses, but that's just me.

No, its not just you. Again, the original suggestion from D.A. included closer headways, (in addition to a method for obtaining more detailed information than what is posted on the bus stop) can increase ridership, and many commenters, including me, concurred.

Look, you are the one who described a bus stop with no information on it and then wrote that anyone who couldn't clairvoyant the destination, schedule and rte had a personal problem. That is what I responded to. If you are recanting that statement (in a non-direct way),ok, then yes there is some common ground on basic expectations. At least I think so.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

Wayfinding on the interstate highway system is so well developed that you could probably get from the Ellipse to Santa Monica Pier without once consulting a map.

Shouldn't a transit system be sufficiently self-explanatory that people can use it without performing research and planning their entire trip? Intentions and destinations change. We don't have to look to other cities for examples of legible transit systems - Metrorail and the Circulators do pretty well.

Certainly there are websites and pocketable bus maps but, as others have been saying, those tools could stand a lot of improvement. Often - linking to a usable mobile bus tracker, for instance - we're talking about very low-hanging fruit.

by David R. on Aug 29, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

@ Jazzy:You go on expecting Washington to be like Kyoto

Yeah, crazy idea. The Capital of the Free World clearly should not aspire to have the same level of bus service as a much smaller secondary city in a much smaller country.

by Jasper on Aug 29, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

@ David R:Wayfinding on the interstate highway system is so well developed that you could probably get from the Ellipse to Santa Monica Pier without once consulting a map.

Really? Standing on the Ellipse, I should know to take I-66W to Front Royal VA, then I-81S to Roanoke VA, then ride to the end of I-81 near Dandridge TN, turn right onto I-40 to Nashville, ride that out to Barstow CA, then take I-15S to LA, the take I-210W to Pasadena CA, I-605S and I-10W to Santa Monica CA?

Just wondering how many people know where Front Royal, Roanoke, Dandridge, Bartsow and Pasadena are. Not real metropolises.

And that comes from someone who has the on his link speed dial.

by Jasper on Aug 29, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

it's not hard to get messed up on the Interstates when you're not doing a straight shot and without GPS or an atlas. Try going to Scranton from DC. Yes we didn't have a map--didn't print out mapquest--and yes we made a big wrong turn and ended up in NJ...

In any case, comparing the interstate system to a local transit system is not analogous. They are at vastly different scales and complexity. E.g., think of the number of streets and maps and the ADC guides in the DC or Baltimore metropolitan areas vs. the Interstate system. E.g., it's easy to get lost in Arlington if you don't live there (I've done it a bunch of times).

So to expect the system to be easily legible, especially when you get off the major trunklines, is unreasonable.

At the same time, you have to do your best to make it as understandable as possible. (And people who know how to get around should interject and help when they see people who need help, including bus operators, who may or may not be helpful depending on the circumstance--e.g., WMATA drivers won't tell people about the Circulator and vice versa.)

That's what frequent bus networks do, signage, route info and maps at bus stops, maps on buses, guidebooks to transit services in a metropolitan area (it's not done in this area, but in places like Phoenix and Seattle it is).

WMATA is improving some of its info. I like the new bus stop signs and improvements to schedule listings I've seen on bus stops in DC, but it's not at every stop. It should be.

Plus, they seem to have taken Matt Johnson's effort in Greenbelt to communicate bus service changes to heart some, and at least are now posting bus route change information signage at bus stops, when this wasn't done before.

But the problem is that WMATA isn't the only transit provider and transit coordination between the services in terms of info isn't adequately done--this should be done and is related to my point about metropolitan transportation planning being resident within the MPO rather than by default placed within the dominant transit operator.

Plus there is something else that is very hard to communicate. That is that some stops are much better for doing things than others. E.g., it's better to go to the zoo and walk downhill from Cleveland Park,and it's better to continue downhill (especially with kids) to Woodley Park to go back home.

Or while there is the "Smithsonian" stop on the Mall, if you want to go to Air and Space and NMAI it makes so much more sense to go to L'Enfant Plaza.

Similarly, in terms of this thread, if you're going to Old Town Alexandria it makes "no sense" to go via Braddock Road as the bus services to and from Old Town key on King Street.

How do you adequately communicate that on a map?

Relatedly I suggested that taxi stand info be included on WMATA subway maps for similar reasons. E.g., if you want a cab, get off at Union Station, not Rhode Island or New York Avenue or Brookland. But you can get off at Fort Totten, which has a stand, but not Takoma, which doesn't. Etc.

by Richard Layman on Aug 29, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

I've not done the drive to Santa Monica Pier, but there are signs for New York on DC-area highways, and at least as far south as Richmond. Some basic geography will get you across the country - not on the best route, but you'll get there. If I were to head out west, sans map, I'd start by looking for signs for St. Louis or Columbus.

Similarly, leaving London, there are signs for "The North."

So to expect the system to be easily legible, especially when you get off the major trunklines, is unreasonable.
True at both scales. The Interstate system and bus networks are more analogous than we might think. We're departing from the topic, though. My point is that we've designed a nationwide wayfinding system with the intention of minimizing map-reading, and that no, even for long-distance travel, we do not expect the level of preparation that we seem to be tolerating for busses.

by David R. on Aug 29, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

I live in that Old Town North neighborhood David Alpert referenced, and Braddock Road is my closest Metro station. We do have DASH bus service a block from my house. Yet I either get a ride to the station, or walk, or drive to Pentagon City station and park. Why: I am not a frequent rider, so don't know the schedule by heart. Headways are too long. And there is no shelter from the elements on Fairfax Street or at Braddock -- where you already freeze in the winter on the elevated platform waiting for metro. Would I ride the bus? Yes, if it came more often and I could wait comfortably. Otherwise, it is still easier to take the car, even to a more remote station.
The other odd thing -- the office building next to my house provides a shuttle to metro for office workers (as part of their TMP) but we residents are not welcome to use the shuttle. Wouldn't it make sense to structure the TMP so nearby residents could benefit as well?

by Agnes Artemel on Aug 29, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

@David and Tina,

Sorry if you think it's an unfair characterization but that is really what it sounds like to me. It truly sounds as if you are saying that the expectation is that the user shouldn't be responsible for any part of the trip besides showing up at a bus stop. If that's not what you're suggesting, good. Because that's crazy.

And Tina, I never suggested a bus stop with no information on it. I think that's where a large part of this miscommunication is coming from. I said "random bus stop", not "no information bus stop". I think you assumed “no information bus stop” because you didn’t realize that the DASH stops all have that basic amount of information on them. I assumed, then, that you were calling for more than that basic information (which, when paired with a little bit of work on your own, makes navigating the system easy).

Basically, say you were driven to a friend's house in a neighborhood you don't know particularly well. You plan to take transit back home. This transit includes a bus, either all the way home or to the closest metro station. Just running out to whatever bus stop happens to be closest to your friends house without looking up/asking what route to take, in which direction would be stupid, right? That is what I meant by "you can't simply expect to show up in an unfamiliar neighborhood without having made a plan or looked at a map and expect to be lead around by the transit system with no thought on your own. "

When I said "can't just skip out to a random bus stop without any idea when the next bus may be coming or where that bus might be headed and call the result of that decision a failure of the system." I was saying that if you hadn't checked the schedule in some fashion (print schedule, online, smartphone) before heading out to a the stop, and if you have to wait 20+ minutes because you just missed a is that a failure of the system and not a failure to plan ahead? You can say that 20+ minute headways are too much and you should never, ever have to wait that long....but that's a different issue.

There are sooooo many bus stops (I'm not talking about hub stops at Metro stations) and they are often small. Routes and timetables can change frequently. Providing maps and timetables that may need to be updated twice a year at Every.Single.Stop (as it seems is being suggested) just doesn't seem like a good use of resources, particularly if you can avoid the "need" for this by people taking a little bit of responsibility on themselves (imagine! consulting a map before heading out into unfamiliar territory, or having the ability to get that map on your smartphone!) instead of expecting for it to all be provided for them. If you disagree, fine. But it seems absurd.

In terms of resources (maps and timetables at every stop vs. more and more frequent buses), the resources are limited and that’s not going to change anytime soon. I’d love it if it did but it won’t. I’d rather have more and more frequent buses than spend that money providing maps and timetables at every stop because some people think that they shouldn’t be expected to do that “legwork” themselves.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

All this complaint about the infrequency of Dash buses kind of misses the point. The Dash lines are mostly designed to move people from the relatively low density areas west of the metro stations, to the metro stations AND beyond to Old Town. Their frequencies are about what the densities west of the metros can support, AFAIK. The principle non auto mode for movement around old town itself is walking, not buses, afaict. Most OD pairs are within a walkable distance, and the other attributes of old town make it very walkable. The trolley functions as a seperately branded service, for a specific market that due to both distance and unfamiliarity is less likely to walk.

Maybe a seperated branded bus will makes sense in north old town as well. Maybe it will not and Cabi is sufficient supplement to walking and Dash buses. In either case, Old Town is perhaps the most "transit possible" area in NoVa (with the possible exception of the RBC)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

@Jasper - I think the basic information one would need to get started going west from DC is the 'W' in 'I66W'.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Catherine, so you don't think its worthwhile to improve bus service in order to increase ridership - that the cost:benefit is not worth it. Got it.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

Right, Tina, that's *exactly* what I want. Because proving "more and more frequent buses" isn't improving bus service and could never POSSIBLY increase ridership.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Catherine -I guess your last comment is meant to be facetious. However in every comment you have been combative to the idea of improving service, suggesting instead the solution is expecting would-be riders to prepare better and otherwise improve their character flaws.

The idea of the entry is that better service can increase ridership. Its a very simple concept. Perhaps you don't think the concrete examples provided (the anecdotes) illustrate the point well. Thats a different issue than agreeing or disagreeing that improved service can increase ridership. So it seems your beef is with the anecdotes and the individuals' decisions in them, not with the idea that improved service can lead to more riders.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

I have absloutely never been against improving service. Ever. I said (now for the third time) that givin a choice with limited resources available, you should increase the actual service itself (more and more frequent buses) rather than provide timetables/maps at each and every bus stop because some people can't figure out how to make a plan. Ideally, we do both. But we can't. We can't actually afford to do even one of those, which is a sad state of affairs. I also think that more and more frequent buses (the better service) would increase ridership MUCH more than maps and timetables at every stop would. Case: Circulator.

I HAVE been arguing against the idea that if a transit system does not spell everything out so that the lowest common denominator can navigate the thing without any effort or responsibility of their own, and someone gets lost, confused or has to wait 20 minutes then that confusion or wait is the failure of the system and not the person. You clearly do not agree, and you don't have to. I just think that it is absloutely crazy to think that people should not have to do things for themselves sometimes, but that's just me.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

increase the actual service...and provide timetables/maps... Ideally, we do both. But we can't. We can't actually afford to do even one of those

Yes, we can. And to do so would be a good investment for the community.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport


If DASH wanted to do the Circulator model, they could probably use their same budget and dramatically simplify their route structure (say, slim it down to half as many routes, each twice as frequent).

Yes, users have to do stuff. You can stop beating that straw man, no one says differently. With fewer-but-more-frequent-and-simpler routes, the tradeoff is probably less time spent understanding the system and timing your buses, and perhaps more walking time to a nearby stop for some riders.

Essentially, the argument is that DASH could re-allocate their resources away from 'coverage' routes and more towards direct, high frequency services.

Jarrett Walker talks about 'coverage' goals vs. 'ridership' goals here:

The other relevant lesson from Walker is about connections and complexity - I think DASH's routes are unnecessarily complex given the scope of the system. Trying to give all possible destinations a one-seat ride leads to a complex system. Complex systems are less legible, and therefore do not attract as much ridership:

What I think people are arguing isn't about more or less service, but rather about re-focusing existing resources towards a ridership goal rather than a coverage goal.

by Alex B. on Aug 29, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

"The other relevant lesson from Walker is about connections and complexity - I think DASH's routes are unnecessarily complex given the scope of the system"

So I am assuming you would break the routes at the metro stations. You would have more or less the same routes running west to the lower density areas, and a seperate set of routes (with or without a different brand) in old town itself, with greater consolidation of routes.

Thats worth looking at. two thoughts though - while the frequency vs coverage argument is persuasive, I can see the same opposition to it in old town as in many other places. Second, given the large number of people who commute from low density Alex to old town beyond the metros, and given the undoubtedly high mode shares for walking and biking (even pre CaBi) and high incomes in Old Town, Im not sure the trade off works here (though yeah, I know J Walker would say the frequent service in old town might even work better for folks transferring)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Didnt we have a thread a while back on places where biking is faster than transit in DC? I think a look at old town in those terms would be worthwhile. I am guessing that biking would look very strong versus not only current bus service, but even against what Alex B is proposing

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 2:31 pm • linkreport


You don't have to split the routes at the metro, just have the existing routes overlap more in Old Town so that when you're in Old Town trying to get to the Metro, more routes stop a smaller set of stops - you may have to walk a little further to get to a stop but there will be more frequent service there.

by MLD on Aug 29, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

I like what Alex B is proposing. I also like what i am proposing: a different distribution of current transportation funds with more directed toward transit and walking and biking infrastructure and less toward road construction.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

So I am assuming you would break the routes at the metro stations.

No, not necessarily.

I think some of the west-of-Metro lines could be combined, but for the most part the middle of those lines are very legible, following defined corridors (Eisenhower, Duke, Seminary, King, etc). I think there's some room for redesign and consolidation on the AT3/4 loop, and the Landmark area is kind of a mess, but that's more due to the lay of the land there.

The bigger opportunity for better legibility is east of the metro tracks. If all bus service were concetrated on a few trunk lines (maybe one east-west, one or two north-south), then you could get the same corridor-based legibility to the system and better make use of interlining. Also, some sort of nomenclature for the routes to identify this interlining (e.g. how the 14th St buses in DC are all in the 50s, etc) could help.

by Alex B. on Aug 29, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

@ Tina:I think the basic information one would need to get started going west from DC is the 'W' in 'I66W'.

Sure. If you want to go minimalist you can say, just take I-66 in DC, because you can't go east. But that does not help getting you to Santa Monica. You end up stuck in Front Royal, and not knowing whether to go to Roanoke or Winchester, all specs on the map.

BTW, I played with Google Maps a bit and found that taking I-70 in stead of I-40 is only 4 miles longer! [Nerd alert]

by Jasper on Aug 29, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

@Tina ARRA was the stimulus, and that money was temporary and is gone. The City pays for DASH, with supplements from VDOT grants, which I'd rather spend buying new buses (like they did in FY12 to upgrade the trolley fleet and increase the number and frequency of the trolleys) than providing information (that will need to be changed on a regular basis) at each and every stop that people can already access in a variety of ways with the slightest bit of forethought or a smartphone. Different priorities, I suppose. Perfect world and unlimited funds, of course. Everything DASH can buy. But that’s just not the case.

I don't think we're going to agree on what level of planning/preparation/personal responsibility is reasonable to expect from people, especially because I don't think that you understand how little it actually takes.

@Alex B.
It's not a strawman. Some people do apparently think that the user shouldn't have to do anything in advance before heading out to take the bus in an unfamiliar setting.

I'm with you on the Circulator/DASH thing. I’d like that, but I live in the core of the city and could only personally benefit from that. I think (not sure) that it is the way it is now because of the major employment/apartment complexes and perhaps the constituencies therein. I’m pretty sure that if routes are changed and routed away from a major housing complex, that the 1000+ residents of that would be up in arms. But a Circulator type thing would be good for the more casual user who just wants to come to town and stick to the tourists spots/restaurants etc. Which I think is what the trolley is attempting to do. Quick, short, simple route every 15 minutes. I guess I see it like trying to take the Metrobus from Friendship Heights to my aunt’s house in far Upper Northwest (DASH’s service to the neighborhoods) vs a quick way to get around downtown or maybe to Nationals Stadium (trolley).

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Some people do apparently think that the user shouldn't have to do anything in advance before heading out to take the bus in an unfamiliar setting.

I say it's a strawman because the moralizing is unnecessary.

The system you're defending is essentially a system that favors coverage over ridership, and therefore (given limited resources) has lower frequencies and thus requires more information before using. That's a value judgment, and that's fine.

Others are advocating for a different system focused on lowering all barriers to ridership (complexity, frequency, etc). I think you make a mistake in assuming that simple, direct, frequent routes that do not require lots of knowledge by the user to be tourist-only routes; that certainly has not been the case with the DC Circulator. Good for a casual user, yes - but good for regular users too. They are not mutually exclusive.

by Alex B. on Aug 29, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

@Catherine-This is a personal attack on my intelligence: ... we're not going to agree on what level of planning/preparation/personal responsibility is reasonable to expect from people,especially because I don't think that you understand how little it actually takes.

I tried to agree with you further up; that there is common ground on basic expectations. You continue to be combative and now are resorting to personal attacks.

Whats important about the study in the link is the result- An example of how and why spending on transit confers more benefit to a community than spending on road construction.
VDOT funds are there. The change required is prioritizing what they are spent on.

Transferring some VDOT funds from road construction to communities to use for improving bus service will increase ridership, b/c as you have agreed, improved service can increase ridership.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

i've taken the circulator bus in DC recently - from M Street SE up to Union Station.

It was easy to navigate.

but mainly, it suggested to me that I ought to buy a CaBi membership.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 3:21 pm • linkreport

I used to ride the buses all the time, they are late often. I had to make peace with that, Kindles and zen and stuff. Never ever seen somebody just walk away in my experience. Hailing a cab is almost never an option. Even if you have cash on you, most places you will have to call for a cab anyway and wait and wait for it. Everyone I see waits because, surprise, they have to ride the bus. They may get a little shifty though. I'm all for these improvements, and anecdotes can be useful, and there is a sophisticated audience here, but maybe you can keep it real.

I'm afraid stigma, lack of time, and general discomfort are still tops as far as not wanting to ride.

by andrewi31 on Aug 29, 2012 3:26 pm • linkreport


I doubt City of Alex is using any more funds for road construction than it absolutely has to. Its generally a very bike/ped/transit friendly polity.


I think we are talking about three different things here. Frequency of service in general, complexity of service, and investment in information. I dont think catherine's point was to argue against route simplification - she was simply pointing out that there may be better uses for finite transit dollars than information system improvements. Your point about system simplification is interesting on its own ground, but its really going in a slightly different direction than the debate thus far. And I think that issues of political feasibility are real (though I think City of Alex will be looking at these things as they reevaluate tranport)

Certainly if you want to simplify routes to get better frequency there are many places in the region that could be done - right off the top of my head I would say the 16 buses on Columbia Pike present some major opportunities.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

@AWITC - I'm thinking more generally - VDOT funds and how they are distributed and what they are allocated for, and even more generally than that -where VDOT gets its funds -a large portion from the federal transportation budget, and how that is distributed and what it is allocated for.

Admittedly its not as interesting as the discussion Alex B started about how to specifically change DASH routes to make them easier to use.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

What moralizing? It seems, from the comments, that some people think that the systems in question should be set up as such that you don't have to plan ahead. This is possible in many rail transit systems, and apparently is done in other parts of the world with buses.

Also, I'm not defending either, really. I just think, looking at the route maps, that it is the way it is because of residential/employment centers and that the people who live and work in those centers show up to public hearings and committees about these sorts of things. That’s all. Not saying it’s good or bad. Again, Circulator doesn’t go to farther out neighborhoods, Metrobus does. And that works, and I think is fair. So trolley/DASH. With more trolley routes coming (Del Ray). Maybe that’s the solution?

It's not personal attack at all. And was not intended as such and has nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence. From your comments it really sounds like you don't take the bus much (and DASH not at all) and perhaps do not realize that the level of "preparation" involved in coordinating a bus trip, while higher than that on a rail trip, is not much at all. That has nothing to do with intelligence, a bit to do with experience but mostly to do with expectations.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

I tried, I failed. Too many comments. So, IDK if this was already said. Catherine, kk, and others, enough of the strawman. No one expects to just "skip out to a corner and magically be whisked away to their destination within minutes." There's no indication that DA "did no planning." He SPECIFICALLY pointed to the issue of, after waiting 10 minutes PAST THE TIME YOUR BUS WAS SUPPOSED TO ARRIVE (so the rider knew the schedule), not knowing if your bus was late and still coming or a few minutes early and you have 20 minutes to go (or the un-mentioned third way, that bus DID NOT and IS NOT coming, have fun for the next 20 minutes). This is a problem that is not fixed by timetables or route designations, but only by real-time information. Does real-time information sometimes return inaccurate results? Sure. But more often than not nextbus predicts when my bus will be there within a minute or two.

Since we have the technology to provide real-time information, we should be providing it. This goes double when a jurisdiction decides that it's okay to run transit service every 20, 30, or more minutes. I don't have the patience, nor often the time, to sit around and wait for 20 or 30 minutes or more for a bus or train to come by. I'm so incredibly sick of "but there was a time we didn't have this information at ALL!" Boo hoo, I was alive then, too, and things are easier now. Just because humans once survived without indoor plumbing doesn't mean that we should all go back to living without it, just because we proved capable of doing so once upon a time. There was also a time that we lived without the internet. If you're going to make the Luddite argument, I suggest that you go yell it on the street corner, because, you know, we didn't always have the internet and somehow we managed to argue about things just fine back then. There, see how silly you sound?

by Ms. D on Aug 29, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

its well and good to explore different policies for the commonwealth and for the nation, and to explore political strategies that might actually make possible such changes.

meanwhile a city like Alexandria faces actual finite resources. Which means that spending more on implementing Nextbus for DASH, or putting up schedules at every stop, have to come out of something else.

Do the benefits exceed the costs - I dont know at least in part because I dont know the actual costs of those changes. (I would note that if major changes to routes and schedules will happen soon, that would argue for less posting of schedules now, and that if routes ARE simplified, one side benefit of that is fewer stops so its more economical to post schedules - and add other things like shelters, benches, lights, what have you - at each one)

But GIVEN some real incremental cost to those improvements yes we may have to give up some ridership - and that may well be those casual riders who for whatever reason do the least planning. But route simplification will ALSO result in SOME lost riders - those who simply won't walk that far - J walkers argument IIUC is that that is outweighed in most instances by ridership gains from increased frequency.

I dont think its unreasonable to suggest either that route simplification or info investments are good ideas. By the same token I dont think its unreasonable to suggest that some info investments may not be justified, and that to some extend the target market for many bus services must inevitably be either regular riders, or those willing to make more investment in information gathering themselves. Just as the target market for Cabi is folks with a certain minimal level of fitness, and the target market of for a metro station with an open platform is people with a tolerance for the weather. I recall some folks in NoVa arguing vociferously against the elevated station at Dulles, because a sheltered one would have greater ridership. Ultimately resources were limited and a decision had to be made. Is it easier to remember to check google transit, or to remember to take an umbrella? Thats going to vary for different people, but ultimately there are some people whose personal charecteristics are going to make them relatively captive to certain modes, and in some cases to automobiles. Thats not to judge them morally - its just reality.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

"This is a problem that is not fixed by timetables or route designations, but only by real-time information. Does real-time information sometimes return inaccurate results? Sure. But more often than not nextbus predicts when my bus will be there within a minute or two. "

I dont have a smartphone, so I have to call it. A couple of years ago I tried it and it was useless. No better than the schedule. I was going to try it again last night but my bus showed up as I was dialing. I will continue to try it just to test.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

@Catherine -please find my comment where I suggested a rider need not plan, or that a rider has no responsibility, or that a transit system must not expect any preparation from its riders.

Regarding experience see my comment @5:23.

And for your edification, telling someone "...I don't think you understand...", in general is patronizing and intended to insult, especially so when the topic is riding the bus. We're not talking about some deeply personal experience.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

When you said "Its a failure of the system if this basic information (schedule, destination and rte.) is not available at the bus stop w/ no more special tool than a pair of reading glasses."

Meaning that the schedule and route map should be available at the bus stops. Which they are not. But the schedule and maps do not need to be at the stops because it is easy enough to plan ahead. I agreed that number and destination are essential and they are already provided by DASH (see the photo accompanying this article), but that I think that route maps and timetables, particularly because they are so subject to change and so easy to provide for one's self with a minor level of planning, are a waste of limited resources.

You can in no way surmise my intent in anything, and I would ask you not presume to try. I in no way intended to insult you or your intelligence. I think now you are resorting to personal attacks and bullying tactics and I would ask you to stop.

From your comments, it does not sound to me that you have much experience using bus systems. That's my perception, and it's not a judgement on anything expect for your experience using bus systems. If I'm wrong, fine. Maybe you're just overstating the complexity of planning a bus trip to make a point. I don't know, or care. I'm just telling you what it sounds like. Nowhere did I say that you lack the intellectual ability to do something.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

@AWITC - regarding shifting proportional spending from road construction to transit, walking and biking infrastructure, in Alexandria, Virginia and nationally, see the most recent entry on this site by Herb Caudill.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport


thats a discussion of the proposed zoning code revisions in DC. Yes, some of those arguments are good.

At this time the commonwealth does not beleive that induced trips are of zero value, or that the reality of induced trips makes additional road capacity of zero value. Indeed, if you claimed that people moving farther out to be able to live on quarter acre lots more cheaply was of zero value, quite a few people would find you to be threatening "their way of life" some of those would attribute that to a global conspiracy. The rest however would simply say that you are ignoring real benefits they have, that are valued in the market place.

If you care to lobby Richmond on this, go ahead. If you think people arent already trying, including the piedmont environmental council, the Coalition for Smart Growth, the Sierra Club, and others, you are mistaken. But politics is what it is - and virginia is what it is. Making arguments HERE isnt going to change that.

meanwhile, again, the Alexandria City Council has to make policy decisions with the $$ theyve got. I know they are focused on corridor concepts, and they may be looking at something like what Alex B proposes. And if the bugs are REALLY worked out of Nextbus, then they should look at the cost of implementing it for Dash.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

@Catherine, i did not express in any comment what I think the complexity is in planning a bus ride. I expressed what basic information I think should be available -and, after you clarified the comment of yours I initially responded to, I thought we more-or-less agreed what the very basic available info should be.

D.A. described some incidences he thought illustrated bad service that, if improved, could increase ridership, including better headways. You argued that the problem was not the service but personal problems with the would-be riders.

Again, the premise is that better service can increase ridership.

I maintain the money to improve service is available; it just needs to be re-allocated.

I do not feel compelled to demonstrate or explain to you my bus-riding experience. Telling me "I don't understand" how to ride a bus isn't intended as an insult? ok then.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

I think the comments just got away from the original point, which is a valid one that there might be other ways to relay information about bus detours, schedules, etc. For what it's worth, if the bus I'm waiting for is late, I call the number posted at the stop and if I don't believe the automated information, I have the option to speak to a WMATA rep who knows the location of the bus and can provide a more accurate timetable. But some of these comments don't seem to consider that one actually does have the ability to plan & get alerts about bus routes on WMATA's site, and also call for information with respect to a particular route if a bus is substantially late. I'm sure we all agree bus service could be improved. But as a few have stated, there are other factors at play in ridership levels among certain groups that some people for whatever reason don't want to acknowledge.

by Roman on Aug 29, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

some people think that the systems in question should be set up as such that you don't have to plan ahead

Outside of commuter lines that connect the district to the suburbs or other outlying areas, I think that is a fairly reasonable expectation. At the very least, people should have the ability to decide whether it's worthwhile to wait for the bus at a given moment.

by JustMe on Aug 29, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

@AWITC -I'm expressing a 'big-picture' concept - reapportioning transportation dollars. I can't tell if you are disagreeing or not with the idea that re-allocating funds away from road construction towards other modes including buses is more beneficial to communities; generally, any community.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 5:10 pm • linkreport


My personal choice would probably be less road construction than the commonwealth now does, and maybe a tad more than some folks on this blog might favor. But I think theres at least a 40% chance that the status quo will hold, and at least a 40% chance that any increase in transit spending will be accompanied by an increase in highway spending (the Kaine proposal) or at least a smaller decrease in road construction than even I might want (heck there are undoubtedly folks in our legislature who would like LESS transit spending)

And my MAIN point is that that is completely, I mean completely off topic to this discussion, which as far as I can tell is aimed at decision making by DASH and the City of Alexandria. We have other threads discussing national and even Virginia financing.

When someone proposes, say, "lets build transit improvement X" and someone else responds "City Y has finite funds and better alt transit projects than that" - to me the best approach is to analyze the costs and benefits in more detail within the constraints. Saying we could do everything we wanted if only the state and/or feds would give more, and oh of course they should, is mostly a cop out. Its a frustrating distraction from addressing the details of transit investment and operation. Probably everyone commenting on this thread is sympathetic to getting the commonwealth (Im pretty sure VDOT doesnt make these decisions) to spend more on transit. And even we did not, that would be a debate for a different thread, I think. What we are trying to address is DAs proposals, which are in the context of existing budget constraints. Theres a long list of what City of Alex could do - from increasing frequencies, to establishing dedicated transitways, to building street cars, to expanding the bike trails and bike lanes, to expanding CaBi further, to adding more bus shelters, etc, etc, etc. ANY feasible increase in $$ from Richmond is still going to leave finite resources.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 29, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

@JustMe - I can't tell if you're serious, but people do have the ability to decide whether it's worthwhile to wait for the bus, see my comment above yours. But again, I get the recommendation for making sure that all bus stops have at least the basics of a map and schedule.

by Roman on Aug 29, 2012 5:26 pm • linkreport


I think you're missing the context on that. That was part of a larger ddiscussion with Tina on how much information is reasonable to expect at each and every bus stop (in the absence of a smartphone or similar).

In you instance, smartphone's the way to go and the buses, DASH included have aps/are on Google Maps etc. DASH does not have NextBus, because the buses don't have GPS. That would be a nice improvement, and I never disagreed with DA in on that point. I disagreed with his assertion that the system is unworkable/ not a real option without it.

by Catherine on Aug 29, 2012 5:36 pm • linkreport

@AWITC_...if only the state and/or feds would give more,...

Not give more, prioritize differently.

Vdot has money to distribute to locales to be spent in prescribed ways. In fact VA has the opportunity to "opt-out" of spending any fed transportation $ ped/bike.

You may not think its related to this discussion -and I agree its not directly related- i said so already, but I think it is related in the big picture, and pointing out the relationship is not a cop-out; its pointing out the relationship.

I will leave the detailed discussion of how to improve DASH to you, Alex B. and others. Thats not a cop-out. I just don't have anything to add, besides agreeing that access to more detailed information about a specific bus and better headways, i.e., improved service, can increase ridership.

by Tina on Aug 29, 2012 5:52 pm • linkreport

I think you are right on point. I have spoken with many people (my wife included) who are either intimidated by the bus or have had one or two bad experiences and then given up. Forever.

This is criminal.

On the information provision side of things, I believe I recall that Arlington County beefed up the information along Columbia Pike bus stops about 10 years ago and saw an immediate bump in ridership. That was just with signage and schedules and easier to read info at the bus stops. That would seem like a minimal expectation everywhere.

As far as running out without planning. Well, that can happen. I recall a situation in which I wanted to stay late with my friends and my wife left with the car. I assumed that I could go out to Wisconsin Avenue and catch a bus that would get me to a Metro stop (this is not my hood, so I was making a reasonable but not absolutely certain assumption). But I'm unusual that way--willing to take a chance. Most people are not.

Transit planners do a terrible job of putting themselves in the shoes of a novice. But that's what's needed. One has to think like a new user. What does that user need to help make their trip easy, comfortable and convenient. The less it is of any of those, the fewer people will ride.

by Steve O on Aug 29, 2012 6:06 pm • linkreport

Yes, basic schedule info and maps (including points of interest) should be at all stops. There is a general consensus in the industry in terms of best practice, even if not on this thread, that such is the case.

Steve O's recounting of the Arlington experience confirms this as a basic minimum requirement.

... even if people should plan beforehand.

by Richard Layman on Aug 29, 2012 6:57 pm • linkreport

AWITC, the real-time information is WORLDS better today than it was years ago, even ONE year ago. And information regarding the next buses and trains can be accessed over the internet from home, so that you can plan your trip better before you even walk out the door. Honestly, that is how I most frequently use the real-time information, to decide when to leave and what route to take from home, work, events, whatever, at low-frequency times or on low-frequency lines. Do I toss that load of laundry in, or get my move on? Should I go for the train, or can I make the bus transfer to get to my destination? And then add, if the option is available, could I use Bikeshare instead to achieve the greatest route efficiency (there are bikes and docks available where I need them)? Having the information and keeping it locked away from the people who need it most (the RIDERS) is unacceptable.

by Ms. D on Aug 29, 2012 8:13 pm • linkreport

As far as being notified for buses that don't precisely follow the schedule, consider "DC Metro Transit Alarm". Free Android app.

by Enrique on Aug 30, 2012 12:56 am • linkreport

My final word is that, yes you should plan ahead. However if no matter how well you plan the bus still doesn't show up then yes, I don't blame you when you start thinking that bus line becomes unworkable.

by drumz on Aug 30, 2012 9:22 am • linkreport

I tried next bus again (calling from the bus stop)

The scheduled time was about 8:07. nextbus said the bus would arrive at 8:07. The bus arrived at 8:10.

Granted a larger delay from schedule would be a better test - but so far, it looks to me like nextbus is giving the scheduled time. I see no evidence any "transponders" actually exist, at least in Virginia.

checking from home doesnt work so well for two reasons - 1. I dont usually fire up the computer in the morning (maybe this service is better for folks with Ipads and such like?) 2. In the time it takes to get out the door and to the busstop, the situation could change

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 30, 2012 9:24 am • linkreport

My final word is that, yes you should plan ahead. However if no matter how well you plan the bus still doesn't show up then yes, I don't blame you when you start thinking that bus line becomes unworkable.

by drumz on Aug 30, 2012 9:22 am

For you drumz. But as someone committed to living in the city and without a car most of the time, if I ever started thinking like this, I could never leave home.

I am absolutely dependent upon the bus system, willing to do what it takes to use it, committed to using it, and also committed to productively trying to improve it. Any mention of giving up on it, to me, is not a commitment to improving the system, but in fact the opposite.

by Jazzy on Aug 30, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

For you drumz. But as someone committed to living in the city and without a car most of the time, if I ever started thinking like this, I could never leave home.

Sorry, I lied. Turns out I live like this too. I ride the bus but I can see how someone can get discouraged when the information that they can glean online or via a map/schedule doesn't reflect reality. Some of us get used to it and others give up. I don't think that means that those of us who get used to it hold any sort of high ground on those who give up.

by drumz on Aug 30, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

You missed several things in both post about this:

1) You complained several times about ATC being technologically "backward". DASH was one of the first transit agencies to pilot NextBus. Specifically, DASH tested NextBus on the DASH 3/4 for a couple years before WMATA was on board. This is probably even the bus routes you used. It was not successful and was dropped by DASH as it was by ART because of inaccuracies. And admittedly, DASH was too far in front of the curve with too few users able to access the system prior to the widespread adoption of smartphones (believe me I used it on my Motorola RAZR and had little luck teaching my 80yo mother how to do it on hers). The problem is now that WMATA, being the big player has adopted the very system that DASH dropped without a coordinated effort to combine resources. DASH could either go it alone with a different system or simply join WMATA in re-adopting Nextbus despite the costs and poor performance.

2)Alexandria is looking at circulator buses for the area you mentioned. See the work of the High Capacity Transit Corridor Workgroup and the Alexandria Transit Commission. They have opted not to recommended extending Corridor A southward from Braddock Road and instead are pushing for the implementation of a circulator

“Be it hereby resolved that the High Capacity Transit Corridor Work Group
recommends that there be no dedicated-lane high capacity transit on the
portion of Corridor A south of Braddock METRO Station. Instead, the High
Capacity Transit Corridor Work Group recommends that resources be used
to explore the possibility of putting circulator buses/trolleys or other forms
of conventional and scale appropriate transit in this portion of the City.”


"The Transportation Commission recommends that City Council explore the expansion of East-
West connections between Old Town and the existing MetroRail Stations as the most effective
way to encourage transit use in this area. Any such connections made must be done with
maximum sensitivity to residents’ concerns and the historic infrastructure in Old Town. The
Transportation Commission further recommends that City Council direct City staff to engage in
community outreach on this matter and that at least one public hearing be held by the
Transportation Commission on any proposal regarding East-West connectivity before any action
to implement such is taken."

DASH has several bus lines going through the area already, in addition to the WMATA bus lines, so the thinking is to better route those for local service rather than just the traditional long haul service.

3) Alexandria is implementing a long term program of replacing the 30 year old WMATA bus shelters. The new shelter will be able to accomodate PIDs with transit information. And with some of the pending new development, like the Mt Vernon Village Center project in Arlandria that we wrote about here on GGW, these new shelters might well have just that.

4) Alexandria has undergone a program of streamlining the process by which new development contributes to a TDM (Transportation Demand Management) plan. Each new development is being required to implement one, contributing to it annually according to the scale of development. With the Mt Vernon Village Center project in Arlandria, this plan will provide about $50k+ every year. The new program in the city allows for and guides the coordination of these various plans so that with ongoing development, these plans can be combined into one single fund for an area that can pay for additional transit options and or information.

5) Far from being backward, DASH was also the very first in the region to participate in Google Transit. Well, at least inside the beltway. I wrote about it on the CommuterPageBlog back in 2008: which was before GGW even started its campaign to get WMATA to adopt it.

6) There IS room to criticize. Alexandria has yet to adopt bus timetable and map information at all its bus stop like Arlington has done. A couple of folks have tried to get that kickstarted without success. Justin Wilson and Chris Hamilton even went so far to get a grant to pay for it back in 2005-6. They were going to do it on their own. But Alexandria doesn't own the bus shelters, WMATA does. Or at least it didn't own the old ones. With the implementation of the new bus shelter program, we're bound to see it tried again. We at The Arlandrian are looking to do it. We've been playing with real time transit info on our blog for several years but haven't gotten it as far as we'd like:

7) Your post didn't address the Alexandria trolleys, their version of the circulator. Admittedly, the King Street trolley operates on a very narrow corridor, but the comming Del Ray/Arlandria Trolley is the next step in the evolution. On The Arlandria we explored how these trolleys might evolve nearby a few years ago: I have to say we hit the one right on the head. As for an east-west extension to that: well, that what the combined TDM funds might pay for as Potomac Yard and Arlandria build out.

8) Lastly, there isn't much in northeast Old Town that isn't walkable from Braddock Road metro. I was in a foot cast for most of this past winter/spring and took my daughter to art classes and soccer practices there all of the time.

by Kevin Beekman on Aug 30, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

Part of the issue is just reading the system map. Its hard to do, GGW has had articles on this in the past.

Now that I've gotten used to the Metrobus system, its not too hard to decipher -- all the "D" buses ride in roughly the same corridor, as do the "S" buses, the 90-93 series, etc. I doubt that any non-everyday bus rider gets that, though.

What might really be helpful is color coding each series of bus lines on system maps, and then having diagrams (certainly on the buses, but hopefully at bus shelters as well) showing where all the branches of the series go. These of course should be decipherable though, not like the ones in the bus pamphlets.

Also, why no real-time information on LED-tickers at the most popular bus shelters? Not everyone has a smartphone...

by Vinnie on Aug 31, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

I live in jersey, but I take the bus everywhere. I'm 16. Anytime I try to get my friends to come with me they straight up refuse. They have this HUGE stigma about buses. It pisses me off so much! They have no idea what theyre talking about. It's literally so convenient. $1.50 gets you all over your city. But no people just think theyre better than buses. It's so annoying.

by Matteo on Sep 1, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

You tell em, Matteo!

by Jazzy on Sep 1, 2012 8:13 pm • linkreport

Yeah, tell them, Matteo!

I just moved to Kenyon and Warder, Park View east of Columbia Heights. I have no car, and I just do not enjoy biking in DC... anyway, I have become a bus expert... and I started out with just Trip Planner on my phone. Trip planner is usually enough for me to get home from new neighborhoods. I am impressed with it. And the buses usually run on time... (on a related note, the drivers have been very attentive to me when I'm riding my bike....) Anyway, nothing is perfect, but Trip Planner is pretty great. And lots of no-car bus only people have phones that can handle the mobile version of trip planner.

by Melanie Stegman on Sep 3, 2012 9:50 pm • linkreport

Any non-smartphone can also use nextbus, either by calling the number on the new WMATA bus signs or via text message.

The text message system is actually very powerful, you can have it save stops for you (e.g. so you just text "nbus work" and it gives you times for your saved stop near work) or text you when the bus is 5 minutes from the stop.

by MLD on Sep 4, 2012 8:56 am • linkreport

I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this debate. I'm a frequent bus rider, both on regular and unfamiliar routes. I've had my share of frustrating "ghost buses" on NextBus, and desperate waits for a bus when I'm wilting in the 100-degree heat or caught in the rain. Nonetheless, I think the information provided at bus stops and WMATA's mobile site or NextBus is not too bad. Sure, the glitches tend to stick in our minds, but most of the time I've found it works relatively well--and there is certainly more rider information available compared to a few other cities where I've used the bus system as an unfamiliar visitor.

I agree that there's room for improvement--there's always room for improvement. But I also think that in some cases, the responsibility is on the rider, or the would-be rider that instead chooses to drive. I don't fully buy the justification that one or two "bad," confusing, or "intimidting" experiences with the bus is a reason to justifiably abandon the system altogether. Here's one way to think about it: how many of us who drive have ever gotten frustratingly lost while driving to a new place (even with GPS)? How many of us have ever encountered unexpected road construction, or unanticipated traffic that made us late? How many of us have ever had to dig our cars out of the snow (ahem, blizzards of 2010)? How many drivers have ever gotten a parking ticket, a moving violation, or a fender-bender (or worse)? I'm guessing at least one of these things has happened, and probably more than one--probably even more than once in the course of all of the car trips of our lives to date. Yet would it occur to most of us to think that getting a speeding ticket or getting stuck in traffic behind an accident and being late to an appointment was proof positive that driving is bad/scary/inconvenient/not worthwhile and that we should give it up? I'm doubtful.

And as for the first comment that "GGW readers like the Circulator becasuse it is a Bus for White People. And there is nothing wrong with that"...I don't even know what to say to that. No, actually, I do know what to say: nonsense (oh yeah, and I call racism). Hopefully none of the rest of the commenters share this fear, but in case anyone does, here's a piece of advice. Next time you find yourself the only white person on a bus full of black people, take a deep, calming breath and ask yourself this question: So what? Really, so what? Who cares? You're trying to get somewhere; so are your people-of-color fellow passengers. Not really that big of a deal.

by sirje on Sep 4, 2012 11:26 pm • linkreport

Saying "More people will only ride buses if information gets better" is saying that more people will ride buses exclusively and not use any other mode of transportation if information improves.

Perhaps, David, you meant to say that more people will ride buses only if information gets better.

by The Civic Center on Sep 7, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

> my area ( admittedly NOT the DC area), many of our poorer citizens have better smart phones than the average upwardly mobile person. Our system uses Nextbus and it works well...most of the time.

As a transit official, Id like to put forth an idea that most average bus riders forget. Every time we pause to secure a wheelchair, we lose time, every time we pause while a senior citizen takes forever to get to their seat, we lose time, every time a mother with a double stroller and 14 bags of stuff from walmart argues about folding up the stroller to make room for a wheelchair, we lose time.
Every time a rider takes forever to dig out their fare, or argues about why we dont make change, we lose time. Every time a rider stops to ask questions about the routes, shedules, transfers, fares, we lose time.

Buses do not have red lights and sirens. We are subject to most of the same traffic roadblocks that you drivers are. So when you complain about a bus not being on schedule, please remember, its not always the bus drivers fault.

by Steve on Sep 9, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

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