Greater Greater Washington

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Transit


On 16th Street, the cost of not adding bus lanes is $8 million a year

The Metrobuses on 16th Street NW carry half of all traffic during peak hours, using only 3% of the vehicles. But buses share street space with cars. If they had their own lane, WMATA could save close to $8 million a year.


Photo by Damien [Phototrend.fr] on Flickr.

It goes without saying that it costs money to run buses. But it's less obvious that the speed of a bus is directly related to the cost of providing the service. Simply put, if we double the speed of a bus, we can provide the same service for half the cost. Or for the same cost, we can provide twice as much service.

Bus lanes are one of the tools we can use to make buses move faster and be more efficient. On 16th Street, since buses carry such a large proportion of the users of the street, bus lanes are a perfect tool. Talk of a bus lane has even made it into the mayoral race, though it's not entirely clear how strongly each of the candidates would support it.

Saving time

WMATA's Priority Corridor Network study looked at several corridors, including 16th Street. It determined that, if nothing changed, by 2030 a bus would take about 40 minutes to get from Silver Spring to McPherson Square. However, if there were a bus lane, buses in 2030 would be able to cover the same distance in just over 20 minutes.

That means a bus lane would cut transit travel time in half. It would also mean that a bus rider could cover the distance between Silver Spring and downtown DC faster than a motorist, which would make transit more competitive.

But even with one fewer lane, estimates show that motorists' travel time wouldn't increase significantly. With the bus lanes, a 2030 car trip would be 4 minutes longer than without them.

Saving money

Right now, it costs $16.1 million dollars each year to run the 16th Street buses, the S1, S2, S4, and S9. Bus lanes could cut those costs in half. And that means there's an opportunity cost of not installing the lanes. That cost is about $8 million dollars a year.

Of course, because the 16th Street Line is a regional route, that money wouldn't all go back to the District's coffers. It would go back to all the jurisdictions. DC would save about $3.3 million, Prince George's would save about $1.4 million, and Montgomery and Fairfax would save about $1.1 million each.

The District should support bus lanes on 16th Street not only because it's good for transit users. They should also support the bus lanes because they represent a more efficient use of the space (remember, buses move 50% of the people on 16th Street already). But just as importantly, the District should support bus lanes because there's a real monetary cost to the region for not supporting them.

Transit


Metro railcar plays double duty as pedestrian bridge at National Airport

There's good news and bad news at the National Airport Metro station. The bad news is an elevator is out of service, leaving one of the train platforms without elevator access. The good news is WMATA came up with a delightfully clever solution: Park a Metro railcar on the extra track between the two platforms, and use it as a pedestrian bridge to access the platform with the working elevator.


Metrorail "train bridge" at National Airport. Photo by Lily Monster on flickr.

The Metro station at Reagan National Airport has an unusual layout, with three rail tracks instead of the more normal two. There are two outside tracks, plus a third middle track. Two island platforms flank the middle track, each of them providing access to both the middle track and one of the outside tracks. West Falls Church has a similar layout.

The middle track is not actually necessary for day-to-day operations. So Metro parked a railcar on it and opened its doors, allowing passengers waiting on one of the platforms to use the railcar as a bridge to reach the other.

Thus passengers who need an elevator can access one. There's no need to detour them to another station and make them wait for a shuttle.

WMATA is sometimes criticized for being overly bureaucratic, rigid, and slow to solve problems. But they deserve credit for this, a nimble and inexpensive solution that genuinely makes riding the system a little easier.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Dedicated lanes and growing pains

As we seek safer streets and better transit in the greater Washington area, we encounter some big questions and little battles for how to best accomplish smarter, greater growth. Show up to support the steps we must take to realize this vision at events around the region.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Meetup for 16th Street bus lanes: This Wednesday, March 13, the Coalition for Smarter Growth kicks off its campaign for dedicated rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street NW with a happy hour from 6 to 8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar, located at 1518 U Street NW. Dedicated rush hour bus lanes would help to relive overcrowding and shorten commuting times. Most mayoral candidates support the lanes. Do you? You can click here to RSVP.

After the jump: talk about Metro with David and Eleanor Holmes Norton, support bike lanes in Alexandria, get an update on Red Line rebuilding, have some one-on-one time with DC planning officials to discuss the zoning update, learn more about DC's Southwest Ecodistrict, and discuss the impact of Metro Momentum in Maryland.

Metro roundtable with David and Congresswoman Norton: What do we need and what should we expect from Metro as riders in the 21st century? GGW's David Alpert and fellow panelists will explore that topic this Tuesday, March 11 from 6 to 8 pm, at a public roundtable discussion at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW.

Organized by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the discussion will cover pertinent long-term Metro issues, including ridership, financing, and timeframes for construction, all in preparation for the development of a surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

Joining David to discuss the future of Metro are General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles; Klara Baryshev, the chair of the Tri-State Oversight Committee; and Jackie L. Jeter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. To submit a question for the panel to address, email NortonMetroRoundtable@mail.house.gov and make sure to include your name and address.

Get a Red Line progress report: Next week, hear about Metro's work to rebuild the Red Line from deputy general manager Rob Troup. He'll be speaking at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. As always, ACT meetings are free and open to the public.

Speak out for King Street bike lanes: Almost 60 percent of residents spoke up for King Street bike lanes at the last Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Now, the issue will go to the Alexandria City Council once again for a public hearing and final vote on Saturday, March 15 from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm at City Hall, 301 King St #2300. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition for those who would like to express their support in advance of the meeting.

Another chance to learn about DC's zoning update: The DC Office of Planning will continue to host open houses on the expected update to the zoning code through Friday, March 28. At each open house, you will have the chance to sit down one-on-one with Planning staff to learn more about the update and have any lingering questions answered. The remaining scheduled open houses are as follows:

  • Tuesday, March 11, 4-8 pm at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 4-8 pm at Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th Street NW.
  • Friday, March 14, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Saturday, March 15, 10 am-2 pm at Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS, 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
  • Friday, March 21, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Friday, March 28, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
Implementing the SW Ecodistrict vision: Plans for DC's Southwest ecodistrict envision connecting the National Mall to the waterfront and creating a more sustainable neighborhood and prosperous local economy.

Join speakers Diane Sullivan, senior planner at the National Capital Planning Commission, and Otto Condon, urban design principal of ZGF Architects, at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, on Thursday, March 20 for a lunchtime discussion about next steps of implementation. The event is free but registration is required here.

Talk about Metro Momentum in Maryland: How will Metro Momentum serve Montgomery and Prince George's counties? Join Shyam Kannan, Managing Director of Metro's Office of Planning, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and local leaders to talk about Metro's plans to serve a growing Washington region, and to learn how you can get involved.

The event will take place Thursday, March 20 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. Advance registration is requested here.

Transit


Metro FAQ: Why does Metro run express trains in one direction during single-tracking?

Twice this week, attempted suicides have caused single-tracking during busy times. In both cases, Metro sent trains in one direction express through the single-tracking zone. Why would it do this?

The Metro system has two tracks on each line. There are interlockings, where trains can change tracks, every so often. Whenever they single-track, the track that's open has to take turns carrying trains in each direction. Generally, Metro will send a few trains going the same direction through at once and then reverse the track.


A diagram of how single-tracking works. Graphic by the author.

Of course, the reason that delays accrue quickly is because it can take a train 4 or 5 minutes to clear the single-tracking section. While a train goes through in one direction, trains going the other direction are holding (and stacking up) on the other end.

On Wednesday, when a person jumped in front of a train at Rhode Island Avenue just before the start of the evening rush hour, Metro sent outbound Red Line trains through normally. But inbound trains were run through without stopping. By doing this, Metro mitigated the delay.

This is because Metro trains lose about a minute stopping at each station. The train is generally stopped only for about 30 seconds, but there's also the time lost to deceleration and acceleration.

The normal travel time between Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue is about 4 minutes. If Metro sends 2 trains through in the same direction (with the second about 90 seconds behind), the time it takes Metro to reverse the single-tracked section is about 6-7 minutes.

That means the cycle time is about 12-14 minutes.

But if inbound trains skip intermediate stops, they can save time, which reduces the cycle time. If outbound trains take 6 minutes to clear, but inbound trains can do it in 3 or 4 minutes, the cycle time is reduced from 12-14 to 9-10 minutes.

It does create additional delay for anyone boarding or alighting at those stations, at least those going in the direction skipped. But anyone going through the zone saves time.

However, Thursday's incident at Waterfront was more problematic. Metro sent northbound trains through from Navy Yard to Archives without stopping. That meant that northbound Green Line trains skipped L'Enfant Plaza, and riders couldn't transfer to or from the Blue or Orange lines. A passenger at Waterfront who wanted to catch the Orange Line would first have to take a Branch Avenue train to Navy Yard, then a Greenbelt train to Archives, then a Branch Avenue or Huntington train back to L'Enfant Plaza.

Metro did try to mitigate problems somewhat by running all Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt, and those trains did stop at L'Enfant. But it was still a mess. Of course, given the delays, it likely would have been a mess no matter what Metro did.

But aside from the L'Enfant Plaza issues, skipping stations in one direction looks like a promising way to mitigate delays during an unplanned service disruption.

Transit


Comparing Metrobus and Metrorail farebox recovery is apples and oranges

Metro is planning to raise bus, rail, and paratransit fares this year, and last week Michael Perkins talked about the transfer discount. In the comments, some talked about the difference between bus and rail farebox recovery. But those numbers aren't really comparable.


Photo by velobry on Flickr.

"Farebox recovery" is the amount of operating expenses that fares cover. For example, if a system costs $1 million to operate every year and takes in $500,000 dollars in fares, it would have a farebox recovery of 50%. A profitable system would have a number above 100%.

In the WMATA system, Metrorail has a farebox recovery ratio of 67.5%. Metrobus has a farebox recovery of 24.3%. Both on Michael's post and on Twitter, readers asked whether rail passengers were subsidizing bus passengers. Why should rail passengers pay 67% of the cost of riding, but bus passengers pay only 24%? Unfortunately, that's not the whole story.

Not every rail rider pays 67% of the cost of his or her trip. Not every bus rider pays only 24%. The farebox recovery varies from route to route. At any rate, the Metrorail and Metrobus farebox recovery rates aren't directly comparable because each service has different goals and measures success differently.

Ridership versus coverage

Jarrett Walker, author of the book Human Transit, divides transit service into two broad categories: ridership service and coverage service.

These two types of service come from the conflicting goals transit providers face. On the one hand, they're supposed to cover all of their service area. On the other hand, they're supposed to have as many riders as possible for as little subsidy.

Generally, agencies solve these competing goals by providing both types of service. In the WMATA service area, there are clear examples of ridership service. The overcrowded 16th Street Line is a perfect example. The busy H Street Line is another.

While some lines are clearly ridership lines, much of the Metrobus network (and especially the jurisdiction-operated bus services) are coverage lines. These are lines that are never going to compete with car trips, but they serve areas that WMATA and local governments feel should be covered. If the agency was only concerned with profitability, these areas wouldn't have any service.

Lower-performing coverage routes include the 2T in Virginia and the R3 in Maryland, each with about 14.8% recovery. But even in the District, some lines are coverage lines. The 64 is a borderline case. It runs down 11th Street NW between frequent service lines on Georgia Avenue and 14th Street, and is within walking distance of both. But for those who aren't willing to walk further, it's a coverage service, though it has a decent farebox recovery of 37.9%.

Apples and oranges

And this is where the problem with comparing rail and bus comes in. In this region, and in most regions, most rail service is ridership service. This is for several reasons. At least in modern systems, Federal Transit Administration rules only allow rail lines to be built if they'll have good ridership. And transit agencies themselves don't make large capital investments in rail unless they're going to have good ridership.

Buses, on the other hand, fall into both ridership and coverage categories in almost every region. So when we compare rail, which is almost entirely composed of ridership lines, to bus, which is a mixture, we are comparing apples to oranges.

Farebox recovery is not a good metric for coverage lines, because their goal is not to generate ridership, but rather to provide service to areas the agency thinks need to be served, regardless of productivity.

Since the Metro rail lines are all ridership lines, they have a very high farebox recovery ratio. Some bus lines in DC have good farebox recovery. But much of the network has worse farebox recovery because by design it's supposed to.

Several of WMATA's bus lines cover more than half their cost through fares, including the X2 bus on H Street and the 70 bus on Georgia Avenue. One bus line, the 5A to Dulles Airport, actually has a farebox recovery ratio better than the rail average.

What does this say about WMATA bus fares?

Really, this doesn't say anything about WMATA's bus fares.

The farebox recovery ratio measures how much rider fares cover the cost of service, and that's it. In the WMATA budgeting process, the agency figures out the cost of providing the service, and then they determine how much money they'll get from the jurisdictions. The remainder has to come from fares. Essentially, the agency (and the funding jurisdictions) determines what the farebox recovery ratio is going to be.

On individual lines, farebox recovery gives us a sense of the productivity of the route. But just because a route is performing poorly in farebox recovery doesn't mean it shouldn't exist or that the fare is too low. Sure, if it's below a certain threshold, the agency can look to determine how to make it more productive or whether to keep it. And WMATA does do this. But they track a whole set of performance measures, not just farebox recovery.

Some people say that we should strive to make the bus and rail farebox recovery ratios the same, or at least closer to each other. But that's not a goal that works. At least not as long as we have coverage-type services in one set, but not in the other. If anything, we shouldn't try to make bus have a higher farebox recovery ratio; we should try to make rail have a lower one.

Nationwide, heavy rail systems like Metro have an average cost recovery of 47.2%, much lower than WMATA's 67.5%. On the other hand, the US agencies that operate both heavy rail and bus systems have an average bus farebox recovery of 28.0%, barely higher than WMATA's 24.3%.

Over the past few years, Metro has kept bus fares lower as a conscious decision because many people who rely on buses have limited incomes. That's a perfectly valid policy decision. And the result, of course, is a low farebox recovery ratio.

Transit


I tracked every Metro trip I made for two years, and here's what I found

When you keep track, it's funny what patterns appear in Metro trips. I've been doing it for 2 years. During that time, I have ridden 75% of the WMATA fleet, and been delayed about 2% of the time, but more so far in 2014.


Photo by the author.

In February 2012, I decided to start keeping track of a few attributes of my trips on Metro. The primary motivation was to track the cars I'd ridden on, but I also log delays, hotcars, and other information about every trip. It's important to point out, though, that this is anecdotal information. It's not a statistical sample, but rather just my experience.

My commute regularly takes me on the Green and Red lines. On a normal day, I ride 4 trains, two in the morning and two in the evening. Of course, I also make non-commute trips, to go downtown for dinner or out on the weekends. However, I don't actually keep track of "trips," per se. I log rides. So my normal commute involves 2 trips, which I log as 4 rides.

On average, I ride Metro 18.25 days each month. December (15.5 days/month) is always the lowest, since I spend time in Georgia during the holidays. August is the highest, at 21.5 days per month. On average, I ride 3.99 trains each day.

Over the past 24 months, I've ridden a Metro train 1,758 times.

Delays

I log any delay in excess of 3 minutes. On average, generally less than 2% of my rides were delayed.

In terms of counting delays, if I'm aboard a train that stops mid-journey, the clock starts immediately, but I only log the delay if it exceeds 3 minutes. When waiting for a train, I start the clock as soon as the scheduled headway has elapsed. For example, during rush hours, the Green Line is supposed to come every 6 minutes, so I start counting delay after 9 minutes waiting.

In 2012 (March through December), I took 758 rides and experienced 15 delays, which means that 1.98% of my rides were delayed. Since most of my trips comprise 2 rides, that's roughly equivalent to having 3.96% of my trips delayed, though that's not an exact number, since I don't record "trips."

In 2013, I took 866 rides and experienced 15 delays, which means that 1.73% of my rides were delayed. In 2014, so far, I've taken 134 rides and experienced 11 delays, which means that 8.21% of my rides were delayed. That's a significant increase.

Most of the delays I encounter are relatively minor. 75.6% of the delays I've experienced since February 27, 2012 are less than 12 minutes. Delays of 12 to 19 minutes make up 12.2% of my delays. Only 12.2% are 20 minutes or longer.

Coverage

Since I started recording car numbers, my commute patterns have not changed. I ride between Greenbelt and Silver Spring, changing from the Green Line to the Red Line at Fort Totten.

In overall numbers, 48.9% of my rides were on the Red Line. 43.0% were on the Green, and 7.6% were on the Yellow. I have rarely ridden the Orange or Blue lines. Those numbers don't move much between years.

However, we can see a difference if we divide the data set into before and after June 18, 2012, the date that Rush Plus started. With Rush Plus, three Yellow Line trains per hour continued north from Mount Vernon Square to Greenbelt during rush hour, in addition to the existing 12 Green Line trains per hour. As a result, my commute used to be almost exclusively on the Green and Red lines, and now there's a better chance of getting a Yellow Line train.

Before Rush Plus, my rides were almost evenly split between the Red and Green lines, with 48.7% of rides on the Red and 49.5% on the Green. The Yellow was at a paltry 1.5%. After Rush Plus started, the numbers have changed a bit. The Red Line still makes up about the same amount at 48.9%. But the Green has dropped to 41.7% and the Yellow has risen to 8.8%.

Cars
Since i started logging car numbers, I've ridden 74.1% of the WMATA rail fleet. I've ridden 91.3% of the 6000 series cars, 82% of the 4000 series, 78.7% of the 3000 series, 74.5% of the 5000 series, 69.7% of the 2000 series, and 56.1% of the 1000 series.

Of the 818 unique cars I've ridden, I've ridden 323 only once. The remaining 495 I've ridden more than once. I've ridden one car, #6058, 9 times. Two more, #4005 and #4086, I've ridden 8 times.

One question I've been asked several times is whether the cars move between lines very often. Surprisingly, they seem to. Of the 495 cars I've ridden more than once, 60.4% have been on different lines.

However, since the Yellow and Green lines share a rail yard at Greenbelt, it wouldn't be surprising to see those cars on Green one day and Yellow the next (in fact, sometimes a Green Line train from Branch Avenue becomes a Yellow Line train to Huntington when it leaves Greenbelt). So, I looked at the numbers counting the Green and Yellow as one line. Even counting them the same, I've ridden 54.4% of cars on more than one line. I've ridden three cars on 3 lines, the Red, the Green/Yellow, and one other line.

I'll continue to keep track of my Metro trips. I've found that having the data available makes it easier to note trends. For example, so far in 2014, I've found myself much more frustrated with Metro. Since I actually record my delays, I can go back and look. That's how I can say for certain that my delay rate has quadrupled.

But it's also really interesting to know that I've ridden on just under 75% of the cars Metro owns. Since the 1000 series is going to be retired starting in the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether I'll manage to ride them all before they disappear.

Politics


At-large candidates condemn high transit fares

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for DC Council at-large. See all of the discussions here.


Left to right: John Settles, Nate Bennett-Fleming, Pedro Rubio. Images from the candidate websites.

In our discussion about transportation, both Nate Bennett-Fleming and John Settles spoke about how lower-income residents find fares on the bus and train, or fees for car sharing and other transportation options, to be a significant barrier to getting to jobs and making a good living.

Settles said:

If you try to go from far Southeast to upper Northwest, the time and the cost is prohibitive. A lot of women who graduate from [the workforce development program at the Southeast Children's Fund] get jobs in Northwest. They're paying a bus fare to drop a kid at school, a second bus fare to get to Metro, then a Metro fare to get to their job in Northwest. Cumulatively, they're spending $15-20 a day on transportation, and for someone that makes $10 an hour that's prohibitive. And it doesn't make sense.
Bennett-Fleming pointed to newer technology-based transportation options as one approach to help lower-income residents:
[N]ew things like Lyft and Uberthose are tools that can really be a bang for people that are economically distressed, and that's an option for them, and how can we encourage more people to know about these tools, have awareness about these tools, and actually use them.

Because at the end of the day, the transportation cost in the District of Columbia is a form of regression tax. So many people don't have the resources and they're spending so much of their incomes getting around the city. So we have to make sure we have options to bring the cost of transportation down, make sure people are equipped, even our most vulnerable residents, with the options that they need to get around without fundamentally changing their budgets and ability to afford to live, to put food on their tables, etc.

Bennett-Fleming went on to talk about open government and open data. He cited tools like "Outline" which help residents see the effects of legislative proposals and contact their elected officials.

Settles praised new options like car sharing, but argued that these are not really going to significantly decrease costs for low-income residents:

We have to look at how we expand options. The Circulator has been effective at providing options downtown; we need to expand it east and west. And other multimodal options. A lot of people are driving in from Maryland and Virginia. Why don't we have multimodal transportation hubs so they can park their car, pay us a parking fee, and get on public transportation so we're reducing the cars and the on-street traffic.

For me personally, I can afford the multimodal uses ... [but] for lower income individuals the cost is prohibitive. They can't spend the $10-12 an hour for Zipcar, Enterprise Car Share or car2go. So I think we have to get serious about having better transportation solutions.

Both Settles and Bennett-Fleming seem generally on board with the streetcar program, but have concerns about the way DDOT is planning it as they go, not to mention the many missed deadlines. Rubio said,

I'm glad we have it and I hope that we expand it more throughout the city. It's definitely been a slow process and I'm disappointed with that. We've been waiting forever for the H Street streetcar. And I'd like to expand the streetcar to other neighborhoods.
He specifically cited Ivy City as a place the streetcar could benefit. Rubio also supports dedicated bus lanes: "I've taken the 16th Street bus ... but during rush hour your commute doubles, and I agree that we preserve a lane for just buses, and also for bike riders."

Bennett-Fleming and Settles were generally positive about the idea of bus lanes, but didn't explicitly endorse a 16th Street lane; rather, both called for studies to figure out if it can work.

On the topic of cycling, Bennett-Fleming suggested that to get more people bicycling, rather than adding cycle tracks DC needs to "change the culture" around transportation. He pointed to Berkeley, where he went to school, and where they have more bicycling but fewer miles of cycle tracks. Instead, there is just a strong culture of cycling, he said.

How can that happen? He pointed to driver education programs for young drivers, public information campaigns, and perhaps programs when people renew their licenses.

Watch the whole discussions with each candidate about transportation:

Bennett-Fleming:

Settles:

Rubio:

Transit


WMATA plans bus and rail fare increases, and double increases for those who transfer

WMATA staff presented to a plan to raise bus and rail fares to the agency's board yesterday. For riders taking both bus and rail, the proposed increase will hit them doubly hard.


Photo by FutUndBeidl on Flickr.

The proposed budget increases rail fares by about 3% (the rush hour base fare increases from $2.10 to $2.15) and by 15¢ on bus (from $1.60 to $1.75 for SmarTrip, which will now be the same as the cash fare).

The 50¢ transfer discount will remain the same, as it has for many years. As the rail and bus fares increase, the transfer discount is becoming a smaller part of the fare system.

The transfer started out as a paper ticket you got at a Metrorail station and showed to your bus driver to get a 90¢ discount on the bus fare. Unlike transfers from one bus to another, which allowed a free ride, the rail-to-bus transfer discount was not enough to cover the whole bus fare.

Once WMATA moved bus transfers to SmarTrip, it removed the transfer machines from stations, and you got the transfer discount automatically. The 90¢ discount from rail to bus became a 50¢ discount in both directions.

Since then, bus and rail fares have continued to increase, but the transfer discount has stayed the same. This is unlike other transit agencies, who for the most part either give a free transfer between vehicles, or set a transfer fee (the cost to ride rail after bus or bus after rail) rather than a discount off the base fare for both.

Systems with a transfer fee is periodically review and increase that fee as necessary, because the agency gets more money when this happens. For WMATA, however, it is financially beneficial to overlook increasing the transfer discount, even as both rail and bus fares have increased.

The transfer fee is an important part of the Metro fare system, which takes into account the high cost of riding both rail and bus. It encourages people to take the bus to Metro, rather than drive, congest the roads, and use up a parking space. It's an acknowledgement that we can't build the rail system everywhere, but we can build a transit system using multiple modes that can reach a lot more people at a reasonable cost.

WMATA should at the very least establish a policy that when the base rail and base bus fares both rise, the transfer discount should rise by the same amount. This will ensure the customer only sees one fare increase rather than both fare increases at the same time, and would help promote using rail and bus as an integrated system.

Transit


Proposed MetroExtra bus route would serve all of Rhode Island Avenue in DC

A new MetroExtra bus route could connect the entire Rhode Island Avenue corridor between downtown DC and Mount Rainier for the first time. Unfortunately, there isn't any funding yet.


The proposed MetroExtra G9, based on this map from WMATA. Click for an interactive map.

At a Bloomingdale Civic Association meeting Monday night, WMATA unveiled a proposal for a route that would run along the Rhode Island Avenue corridor from downtown DC to Mount Rainier with a single-seat ride. Today, this can't be done without changing buses at least once, a holdover from DC's original transit system planned and built over 80 years ago.

The proposed MetroExtra route G9 is an outcome of the latest of several studies of major bus corridors, this one encompassing the G8 Metrobus, which runs between Michigan Park and Farragut Square, and the 80s, which run between the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, College Park, and Calverton. (This study does not appear on the Metrobus Studies Website yet.)

The route would make more limited stops than the other bus routes along the corridor, stopping at about every half-mile. It would give residents of Ward 5 and Mount Rainier more frequent and more direct service to downtown, and offer them quicker connections with other major bus routes, such as the 70s, 90s and 80.

Today's bus routes are a legacy of DC's old streetcar

Today, most buses along Rhode Island Avenue follow routes set decades ago, when DC and its travel patterns were very different. A look at the 1958 map of the DC Transit system shows the 82 streetcar line, which went to Branchville (now part of College Park), followed its own right-of-way in Prince George's parallel to the B&O (now CSX) railroad tracks that now host MARC's Camden Line. From there, it turned south off of Rhode Island Avenue onto 4th Street NE, cut through Eckington onto New York Avenue, then south on 5th Street NW into downtown.

Today's P6 bus roughly traces this part of the old streetcar route. There were also E2 and F2 buses that came east on Rhode Island Avenue from downtown: the F2 took 9th Street NW, as does today's G8, and the E2 went around Logan Circle and took 15th Street NW. Both of these buses turned north from Rhode Island Avenue onto 4th Street NE into Edgewood and Brookland, right where the 82 streetcar turned south.


Section of the 1958 DC Transit map showing Rhode Island Ave and 4th St NE. Reprinted map available at the National Capital Trolley Museum.

Today, the G8 and P6 buses do the same thing. But there's still no bus route that continues on Rhode Island Avenue west of 4th Street NE. As a result, those traveling from Mount Rainier or Ward 5 into downtown must either transfer from the 81, 82, 83 or 84 bus to the Red Line, or take the P6 or walk about 1900 feet under the railroad overpass to get the G8 at 4th & Rhode Island NE to continue west.

The G9 route, as proposed, would terminate at Mont Rainier's former streetcar turn-around. WMATA should consider extending it further north into the rapidly developing Hyattsville Arts District, or perhaps to Route 1 and East-West Highway, where the new Whole Foods will go, or even into downtown College Park. This would make it more of a regional connector that, if it ran frequently enough, might attract a few more commuters out of their cars on this congested portion of Route 1.

It is unclear whether the proposed G9 bus would, like currently operating MetroExtra routes, only run during the day on weekdays and possibly Saturdays, or if it would be a more round-the-clock operation. That will likely depend on the level of funding that is available.

But it is good to see WMATA planners thinking outside the box of historical patterns of bus service to come up with a more sensible service along one of DC's major arteries.

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