Greater Greater Washington

Prince George's residents speak out against bus cuts

Riders filled the Prince George's County WMATA budget hearing on Monday despite a suburban and relatively transit-inaccessible location, and made heart-wrenching please to retain their vital lifelines, bus service.


Photo by thisisbossi.

At least 100 riders attended and over 40 people gave testimony. Board Member Elizabeth Hewlett and General Manager John Catoe were both present to listen to the riders.

Many of the commenters called on elected officials to pitch Maryland's contribution in. Many audience members wore "O'Malley: Stop Bus Cuts" pins created by the Transit Riders United of Greenbelt, and said that if bus service is cut, they won't vote for O'Malley again.

Almost all of the speakers were strongly opposed to any cuts in bus service. Two blind Greenbelt residents, Laura and Shawn O'Neil, testified about the hardships cuts would bring them. Currently, they have two buses which serve both Greenbelt Metro and New Carrollton Metro. Under Metro's proposal, they will lose their service to New Carrollton, where one of them works, on both routes. His only option will be to switch from fixed route service to paratransit, at a cost of approximately $19,000 per year to Metro.

I overheard a Metro planner speaking with Ms. O'Neil in the audience prior to the hearing. Instead of offering her alternatives or even attempting to understand her condition, he blithely told her that she could find a way to cope with the changes. He completely blew off her concerns that transferring between buses in a strange place with poor pedestrian accommodations would be difficult for a blind person, and left her in tears. With representatives like this, it's no wonder the community doesn't have a lot of faith that WMATA actually listens to customers.

One speaker asked the WMATA panel if they ever wondered if paratransit (MetroAccess) costs were so high in Prince George's because the fixed route service was so abysmal. That comment got quite a few nods through the room.

A few citizens came forward to speak out against the elimination of the R3 bus, which serves the National Archives facility in Adelphi. Some riders in the area will be left without service at all times, others would lose service on weekends and off-peak. They spoke of the importance of continuing to have good access for visitors, researchers, and employees at the National Archives, and also of the general importance that transit plays in keeping livable communities accessible.

Other riders spoke out against fare increases. Some talked of the hardship of the additional cost of their commute, others were opposed to giving more money to an agency in which they have little faith. Some spoke of the waste they think exists in the agency, while others criticized what they characterized as the overpayment of workers and lack of oversight of Metro.

The meeting was at times boisterous, with applause and the occasional 'amen' from those in the audience. It was at all times civil. Most speakers stayed within the 3 minutes alloted for testimony.

Metro provided a shuttle from New Carrollton station to the hearing, which ran continuously during the proceedings. Additionally, the city of Greenbelt organized a bus to take residents to the hearing.

However, citizens who didn't know about the shuttles, might have been discouraged by the lack of regular service by the hearing site. Only one bus route, the F13, serves the church where the meeting was held, but the last return trip to New Carrollton passes by the church at 6:3525 minutes before the hearing started.

Additionally, as several commenters at the hearing noted, even with shuttle service back to New Carrollton, the lack of decent bus service would make it difficult or impossible to return to their homes. One blind citizen criticized Metro for the location of the hearing, saying that they should be "ashamed" that there were no hearings held in southern Prince George's.

In fact, of the 6 budget hearings held in the region, the only one south of Route 50 is the one in Southeast Washington. The same commenter said that cross-county bus service was a "joke" and that was why the hearing didn't have even more citizens there to testify.

Many Greenbelters turned out, which is to be expected since Metro has proposed restructuring all bus service in the city, including the elimination of one route (the R3), the truncation of another (the C2), and the restructuring of the R12 and T16/17. And while no official notice has been given, some feel that Metro's restructuring makes it more likely that Prince George's County Transit will discontinue at least one route, the 15.

Many of the Greenbelters were members of Transit Riders United, which for over 6 months has been working with Metro and Prince George's County planners to improve bus service in Greenbelt. In December, members tell me, they were informed that Metro had a proposal, but couldn't release it until it was okayed by Prince George's. The plan was finally released late last week, less than a week before the hearing, and with little time to consider the implications or find alternatives.

After the meeting, I spoke with one WMATA representative, who was surprised that there were not more positive comments, especially about some of the changes in the Greenbelt area. I told him that with only three minutes each, most citizens were bound to focus first on the changes most harmful to them, and then if there was time left over, they would get around to positive comments.

Update: WAMU also covered the hearing and interviewed Mr. O'Neil.

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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

Comments

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Thanks to you and David for picking up on the complaint I've had with the meetings. When you consider that Route 50 effectively cuts the region into northern and southern halves, and ONLY ONE of the six meetings is in that southern half, that's UNSAT. It's not just southern Prince George's being left out on this...both Alexandria and southeastern Fairfax County have a fair number of transit-dependent residents, and we have the big problem of the proposed evisceration of the Yellow Line.

Unfortunately, with the SE DC WMATA meeting having been at the same time as the GGW gathering last week, the only probable way for me to get to one of the budget meetings is to go to the one in Arlington tomorrow...which I'm sure will already be a packed house.

As for the comments at the Latham meeting, while I understand (and even agree with) the comments regarding overpayment and lack of oversight, I think WMATA's hands are tied on the salary/benefits issue...especially given the recent arbitration result and the union's apparent immobility (i.e. not budging) on the issue...perhaps Kreego could shed some light on that.

Which means there's effectively only 3 ways to balance the budget: increase local contribution, increase fares, cut service, or some combination thereof. It's painful, to be sure, but that's the unfortunate fiscal reality of it.

by Froggie on Mar 31, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@Froggie,

I think you mean Matt, not David.

by Alex B. on Mar 31, 2010 12:10 pm • linkreport

"you" = Matt. I included David because he mentioned it in one of his links roundups yesterday.

by Froggie on Mar 31, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

@Froggie, Alex B.:
And Froggie deserves the credit for the mention anyway. He's the one who tipped me to the issue.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 31, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

PG County should pay for the bus service.

It's not our fault they chose to live in the least transit accessible jurisdiction.

by PGPays on Mar 31, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

@PGPays
Have you ever considered the reasoin we live in Prince Georges is because its the only county in the region we can afford to live in, which partially explains why we're dependent on lacking bus transit?

by Mike on Mar 31, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

@ PGPays

What parts of PG County are the least transit accessible

I'm looking at a two maps one of the bus routes and one of the county; pretty much all areas inside the beltway have coverage. Either by WMATA or the Bus excluding the frequency they seem pretty covered.

Outside of the beltway most resident of PG county don't live there except for a few areas Bowie, Laurel, Clinton, Beltsville, Oxon Hill and all of those except Clinton have pretty good coverage.

Fairfax isn't so accessible either especially the northern part and no jurisdiction covers all areas within there borders with transit.

by kk on Mar 31, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

@kk:
Unfortunately, looking at a map does not give you the full picture. Many Prince George's routes run at hour headways, especially off-peak. Additionally, many of them stop running as early as 6:30. There is very little weekend or holiday service.

But WMATA doesn't publish Sunday bus route maps, do they?

How would you feel about accessibility in PG County if the Metro stopped running into Prince George's county after 6:30P and not at all on weekends? What if trains came only once an hour? It wouldn't matter in any practical sense that there were lines on the map if that were the case.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 31, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

@ Matt

I already said excluding frequency

I know of the frequency that the bus routes have; I catch them

Many stop running after 7, others don't run at all on Sunday,and many run every 45 mniutes on saturdays.

Many bus routes in DC, & Montgomery county run horrible on Saturdays and Sundays thats not just a PG county thing.

Many of the bus routes use to run better before some of the stations opened.

The only buses I can think of that run well are the A12 & P12 every other bus route has been effected by the opening of metrostations for the worst.

Almost every bus in southern PG County that goes to Southern Ave, Naylor Rd, Branch Ave, Suiltland, Addison Rd all ran better before those stations opened.

Most of them went into DC and ran with more frequency.

by kk on Mar 31, 2010 2:15 pm • linkreport

What positive comments would the WMATA dude have liked to hear? Satisfaction with overcrowded buses? Happiness about full metro trains? Joy about absent bus lines?

by Jasper on Mar 31, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

@Jasper,
I think he might have been hoping to hear that some people would be happy that their buses would get them to the Metro more quickly, among other things.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 31, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

All - I work in the office at Metro that has the responsibility for securing the public hearing locations. While we try and find locations that are spread out across the Metro area, given that we were only authorized for six hearings, it isn't always posisble to have a hearing in all of the places that people would like. And the locations available weren't always ideal.

That said, we'd very much welcome suggestions for additional locations that could be used for future public hearings (these certainly aren't the last round of hearings Metro will host). Ideally, they need to be: 1) Able to accomodate a minimum of 150 people; 2) Wheelchair-accessible; 3) Close to a Metrorail station and/or frequently-served bus line; 4) Available for use by outside groups; and 5) Avialable for free or nominal cost.
If you have any locations that meet those criteria, please let us know - you all know what's available in your neighbohoods better than we do. Feel free to email me your suggestions - jpasek (at) wmata.com. I can't make any promises about where the next round of hearings will be held, but having more locations to choose from will certainly be helpful.

@ Froggie - The Arlington hearing is tonight if you're planning to attend. Tomorrow are hearings in Rockville (walking distance to the Rockville station) and Northwest DC (walking distance to Columbia Heights).

by John Pasek on Mar 31, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

John: who only authorized six hearings? The board?

Not sure if there's a cost involved, but the Masonic Temple in Alexandria fits the other criteria, and could have easily been used for a meeting accommodating Alexandria and southeast Fairfax County. IMO, Alexandria in particular has been shortchanged by these meeting decisions.

by Froggie on Mar 31, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport

Why not build space for meetings at some stations; such as at the ends of each line.

Build something like the daycare at Morgan Blvd at other stations for meeting places perhaps one on each end of a line, make them large enough to accommodate 200 people.

Have it connected to the station and at other times it could function as something else perhaps as a location for employees instead of having everything in downtown DC

Then have meetings at maybe two other locations in each of the jurisdictions.

by kk on Mar 31, 2010 5:57 pm • linkreport

@kk

How can you propose building meeting space when Metro is in such dire financial condition that it can't satisfy riders with enough transportation service. Let's focus...

by KevinM on Apr 1, 2010 6:43 am • linkreport

@ Kevin M

I didn't say built it now; build it when they build the next set of station or they could set up tents on a part of the parking lot at a station.

Depending on how much they spend to have the meetings at churches and other places it could pay for itself after 2 or 3 meetings.

There are 86 stations somebody could have thought about why not build a space for meetings during the course of building any one of those stations.

They wouldn't even have to go all out on the building just a glorified garage

by kk on Apr 1, 2010 8:57 am • linkreport

John, was there no place in downtown DC that could accommodate? That was my biggest complaint about the meeting places. All of them would have meant lengthy train rides or more than one bus transfer for me.

by lou on Apr 1, 2010 4:50 pm • linkreport

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