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Residents oppose cutting north-south Circulator route

DDOT presented its ten-year plan for the Circulator at a public meeting last Thursday, but opposition to ending service on the Southwest Waterfront route dominated the meeting.

Photo by ElvertBarnes on Flickr.

Many residents felt "blindsided" by the decision to suspend service on this route and one woman called it "the worst bait and switch practice I've ever seen." DDOT ended service on the route April 1.

Southwest Washington is the smallest quadrant of the city but has a high number of elderly and disabled residents, according to many who spoke at the meeting. These residents rely heavily on the Circulator, especially as an alternative to the 70s Metrobus line, which many residents feel is unsafe.

DDOT held its first semi-annual DC Circulator public forum on March 17th, but there was no discussion at that time of ending service on the Southwest Waterfront route. However, the 10-year Circulator development plan recommends ending service on the route due to low performance. Boardings per hour decreased from 2009 to 2010 while cost per revenue hour increased.

Some in attendance challenged DDOT's data on this route. Desir&eeacute;e Urquhart, Director of Government & Community Relations for Arena Stage, said the regional theater was closed for 10 months during DDOT's study period from January-December 2010. She said the data do not reflect the increased ridership from the newly reopened Arena Stage, which is a major attraction for folks inside and outside the community.

Other residents said the data do not reflect higher ridership during Nationals games and suggested expanding service on the route to connect with the Union Station-Navy Yard route via M Street SW. Another resident wants the route to serve Howard University more directly.

In addition to projects near the ballpark, future development of the Southwest waterfront could turn the neighborhood into a major activity center. A main goal of the Circulator is to connect multi-use activity centers in the city. The plan does call for reinstating the route at some point in the future.

Critics included Alexander Padro from ANC2C, which includes parts of Shaw, Chinatown and the Mall. He called the end of the Waterfront route "shortsighted" and said his ANC would discuss a resolution to oppose cutting this service.

The plan would also add several new routes and raise the fare to $2 cash, $1.50 SmarTrip. While most of the comments at the meeting focused on keeping the Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront route, some in attendance had questions about other routes.

Trudy Reeves from ANC3C suggested running the Woodley Park-Tenleytown route on Wisconsin Avenue to complement Metrobus service on that corridor. A former ANC commissioner from Columbia Heights said the Adams Morgan-Woodley Park line should connect lower Ward 4 with upper Ward 1, including Washington Hospital Center and Howard University. An open house preceded the public comment portion of the meeting, but no comments during the latter part concerned fare hikes or any other proposed routes.

Riders can comment on DDOT's proposal until April 8th.

This article originally said the Convention Center-Waterfront Circulator had already been canceled. DDOT is proposing to suspend it but has not yet done so. The Mall route was the one canceled on April 1.

Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown. 


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Please check all your facts before publishing anything. "DDOT ended service on the route April 1." -- This is not true. The bus was definitely still running both on April 1st and April 2nd, as I took it both of these days. They formally stopped the Mall route on April 1st. The only change that occurred to the SW Waterfront-Convention Center route is that the bus will now travel along Maine avenue between 6th and 9th street SW instead of Water Street due to the upcoming construction of the Washington Kastles stadium.

by Lindsey on Apr 4, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

Yeah, here I thought I'd been pretty dutiful about keeping tabs on Circulator news: I've either been woefully blindsided by this cancellation or this article is a bit off. I know the Circulator was definitely running this weekend along this route & so far the Circulator website only mentions those changes as part of the Stadium construction. Jamie- might you have any more info on this? I'd like to make sure I've got my own ducks in a row before firing off emails to DDOT and my ANC.

by Bossi on Apr 4, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

@Lindsey - agreed. I know there was discussion of suspending this route, but wasn't aware it had happened yet. Am glad to see it's still up and running, as I use it to get to Chinatown regularly as it's closer and has less of a wait than the Metro outside of rush hour.

Personally, I hope the route stays, but understand why it would be cut. I wish Metrobus could match the level of service provided by Circulator. In my experience, every time I wait for a Metrobus, I end up waiting two or three times longer than I should. I think I've only experienced a late Circulator once or twice in all my years in DC. Granted, that's anecdotal, but to me, the most important thing about a bus route is consistency/reliability. I'd gladly pay extra for such a thing..

by J on Apr 4, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

I first saw it here (it's rather buried in the article). I commented on that thread that while I'm sad to see it go, I understand the cut.

I'm kind of curious why people think the 70 is less safe than the Circulator. The southern part off both routes is not that different. And while the 70 goes much further north, I can't imagine there are that many people riding the 70 from north of the convention center all the way down to SW. I would think many coming from the north would get off around Chinatown. Am I missing something?

by Steven Yates on Apr 4, 2011 3:16 pm • linkreport

This is a good case study of a disadvantage of buses compared to streetcars that many folks haven't realized (yet): it's easy to take a bus away when it's just another combustion engine vehicle in a normal lane on a normal street. It's not so easy to take away an electric vehicle from a lane with steel rails on a street built for transit.

by Phil LaCombe on Apr 4, 2011 3:18 pm • linkreport

I've got no qualms about safety... I just like that the Circulator comes so frequently & I can see where it is on my phone. I can also see it from my window when it's waiting at Giant- also handy to know if I need to run or not.

If I could spot Metrobuses on my phone's map: I'd be alright with it being cut if it's really justified... but until then I'm going to be selfish and oppose it :)

by Bossi on Apr 4, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport


To categorize the ease of removal as a strict downside is somewhat disingenuous. If a service isn't meeting expectations and is draining money that could better be spent elsewhere, why wouldn't you want the ability to discontinue it?

by J on Apr 4, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

A bit of rambling:

So I get that everyone likes the Circulator because it's new (relatively) and shiny, but at the end of the day, it's just another bus. Why is it that they're so much more attractive than city buses and we're clamoring like fiends to start new lines? When it was just a few lines connecting new and improving development districts, they made sense, but now it seems like the goal is to replace our current bus system with a whole new system. Can't we just work on the lines we have and make those better?

A little anecdotal story: After work I walk over to 7th and Maryland and wait to take a bus to 7th and L. I take which ever bus shows up first - circulator or Metrobus, but always hope it's a Metrobus because of how much faster the darn thing moves. There are always people there waiting who will see a 70 pull up and not board it (and I've heard them talking about going to Chinatown or Verizon center or something). Is that a success of the system?

If the 70's move too slow, cut it up into 2 separate routes. If they're dangerous (or perceived as dangerous) get security on board of them or get the cameras working and make them safer.

by Shipsa01 on Apr 4, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

People prefer to take the Circulator bus rather than the #70 or the Green line to Waterfront because there are far less 'troublemakers' riding the Circulator bus.

by snowpeas on Apr 4, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

Bus lines come and go. The Circulator, despite its pretty paint job, is just a bus. If these local residents really value whether a transit line will be around in the decades to come, they should be clamoring for trolleys, not buses.

by tom veil on Apr 4, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

@Bossi -- have you tried the NextBus service for metrobus? I use it regularly, and they have recently updated the iphone interface (possibly also that for other smartphone) so that it can use your location to identify the next arrival times for buses at multiple nearby stops.

It's at:

by Jacques on Apr 4, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

@tom veil-

I'm perfectly fine with having buses that can maneuver around stopped vehicles... I just want my bus tracking.


From speaking with my neighbors, many have concerns not over the bus line itself; but over its bus stops. People far prefer waiting around for the bus on 9th St, which is a bit brighter and feels a touch safer; whereas 7th St is darker & many are put off by the groups of people who hover about 7th/M and 7th/O (though personally I don't mind them). I think a big part of the issue is that the Convention Center is the barrier between what has become two very different neighborhoods; and the western folk feel more comfortable waiting around for the Circulator on "their" side (the pink elephant aspect is that there's definitely an underlying racial issue at play).


Yeah, it's just a bit annoying to use with the current apps I have... I wish I could set it to *only* show favorites so I don't have to scroll through several dozen lines to find mine. But what I really love is the map tool that I can get with Circulator: it's usually accurate to within 1/2 a block, which is great for the multitude of times where the Circulator or Nextbus apps don't give any data for a stop.

@in general...

Personally I think the top issue is branding & service. Circulator runs more frequently than the 70, is colored bright red, has smartphone integration, and it's easy to remember where it goes. People forget which bus lines go to where unless they're regular riders... I ride the G2, 52, 64, and 70 pretty frequently and even I forget where they go if I need to divert off my regular route even slightly.

by Bossi on Apr 4, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

Ahhh yes, the kastels have a stadium... but DCU still can't get one going.


I'll take whichever comes 1st - the Circ or the Bus. I like the Circ going up 14th to AdMorgan - much faster than the rest of the 14th street lines.

by greent on Apr 4, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

Oh- I also love Circulator for the "on the fly" bus decisions since I have the whole Circulator system memorised... it's easy when they follow mostly-intuitive routes.

Many (not all) Metrobuses tend to be a bit more meandering... and it's the stigma of meandering buses which means that even intuitive routes get that distrustful mental image of it taking you far out of your way.

If there are any good apps out there which can quickly pull up maps of lines in your area... I'd be dearly happy to know of it. WMATA's pdf map makes my HTC Hero whimper and cry. It's one of the top reasons why I probably let perfectly-convenient Metrobuses pass me by but readily hop on the Circulator; simply because I don't feel comfortable in my knowledge of where those Metrobuses go.

by Bossi on Apr 4, 2011 4:50 pm • linkreport

To clarify, the elimination of the N/S Route serving SW Waterfront is proposed for elimination as part of the FY2012 Budget. The budget, and any associated service changes, will start on 10/1/2011.

by Scott Kubly on Apr 4, 2011 11:09 pm • linkreport

Ahh thanks- now it all makes a bit more sense!

by Bossi on Apr 4, 2011 11:10 pm • linkreport

I'm a fairly regular rider of the O Street-Waterfront Circulator. It seems not to have caught on at all, at least above L'Enfant Plaza--I've never ridden it below. The 7th versus 9th thing would matter if it actually picked up a lot of passengers in either place. I'd rather have a decent price than subsidize wishful thinking or new routes that largely duplicate Metro buses.

by Rich on Apr 5, 2011 12:37 am • linkreport

I misunderstood DDOT's timeline to suspend this service and thought it was to be included with other service changes to the Union Station-Navy Yard route on April 1st. Thank you Lindsey, Bossi and Scott for clarifying this. I regret the error.

by Jamie Scott on Apr 5, 2011 7:52 am • linkreport

Ok, so we have the time figured out now and I think everyone now realizes they can use Nextbus for Metrobuses, but no one still has answered why there's a need for the N/S circulator. If it's just to mimick the 70's and make "some" people feel "safer," then they should in fact get rid of it. But if it's to actually connect neighborhoods and bring people to where they need and want to go, then they should keep it. A few tweaks could make it into a very used line: For example, if it started in Logan Circle, cut across to Shaw (and the soon to be O Street Market), down to 6th street in Mt. Vernon Triangle (which would pass a lot of new development there - and yet still not be far from Chinatown), down to Constitution and back to 7th, down to the Waterfront, and then over to Navy Yard and the Ballpark. Would it make it longer and thus impact the 10 minute headways? Possibly, but if there's more riders, you generate more revenue and you could add more buses.

Where do people want/need to go? That's what should drive where these lines are placed. The line above would soon pass 3 Supermarkets, connect 7 or 8 neighborhoods (including five developing ones), three sports facilities, two waterfronts and six Metro stations.

As for the safety issue, I feel terrible for them, but having some residents say that Circulators are 'safer' (because frankly, like someone earlier said - there's less "troublemakers") than a Metrobus is not good enough from a public policy perspective. Don't start a new line then - make the current one safer. If it's the timing issues, don't start a new line, work on making the schedules better.

by Shipsa01 on Apr 5, 2011 10:12 am • linkreport

@Shipsa01: Actually, the ten-year Circulator plan calls for a route to begin that mirrors your suggestion on both ends: DuPont to Southwest to Navy Yard, although via the western Mall (which has very little transit service) instead of via Logan/Shaw/MVS.

by Payton on Apr 5, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

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