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Transit


Montgomery County will build bus rapid transit in four years

After nearly a decade of debate, Montgomery County wants to build a bus rapid transit line in four years, for 20% of the originally estimated cost. While it'll be a better bus service, it may not be so rapid.


Montgomery County could get this, sort of. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Last month, the county announced its plan to build a 14-mile BRT line along Route 29 (also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike) from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Burtonsville. It's part of a larger, 80-mile system that's been studied since 2008 and was officially approved in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett wants to have this line up and running by the end of 2019, an ambitious timeline. The county also says they can do it for $67.2 million, compared to the $350 million county planners previously predicted.

How? Most bus rapid transit systems, like the new Metroway in Northern Virginia, have a separate roadway for buses that gets them out of traffic and provides a shorter, more reliable travel time.

On Route 29, the county envisions running buses on the shoulder between Burtonsville and Tech Road, where it's basically a highway. Further south, as Route 29 becomes more of a main street, the county would turn existing travel lanes into HOV-2 lanes for buses and carpools. For about three miles closer to downtown Silver Spring, buses would run in mixed traffic. This setup allows the county to build the line without widening the road anywhere, which saves on land and construction costs.


Map from Montgomery County.

The line would have other features that can reduce travel time and improve the current bus riding experience. Each of the 17 stations would feel more like a train station, with covered waiting areas, real-time travel info, and fare machines so riders can pay before getting on. At some stoplights, buses would get the green light before other vehicles. Buses would come every six minutes during rush hour, and every 10 minutes the rest of the time.

County officials estimate that 17,000 people will use the service each day by 2020 and 23,000 people will ride it each day in 2040. The line, which would be part of the county's Ride On bus system, would replace express Metrobus routes along Route 29, though existing local bus routes would remain.

Montgomery County would cover half the cost of building the line, while the other half would come from the US Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program for small-scale transportation projects. In addition, the grant would include money for sidewalks, bike lanes, covered bike parking at stations, and 10 bikesharing stations along the corridor. The county will find out if it's won the grant money this fall.

The project could give Montgomery County somewhat better transit now

This plan could bring better bus service to East County, which has been waiting for rapid transit since it was first proposed in 1981. The Metrobus Z-line along Route 29 is one of the region's busiest, with over 11,000 boardings each day, but riders face delays and long waits.

East County lacks the investment that more affluent parts of the county enjoy, and so residents must travel long distances for jobs, shopping, or other amenities. Residents suffer from poor access to economic opportunities: according to the county's grant application, 30% of the area's 47,000 households are "very low income." County officials hope that better transit could support big plans to redevelop White Oak and Burtonsville.

While not having dedicated transit lanes makes this project easy to build, it also makes it hard to provide a fast, reliable transit trip. Enforcing the HOV lanes will be hard, especially south of New Hampshire Avenue where the blocks are short and drivers are constantly turning onto Route 29 from side streets. And without dedicated lanes in congested Four Corners, buses will simply get stuck in traffic with everyone else, discouraging people from riding them.

The route also includes two spurs along Lockwood Drive and Briggs Chaney Road, each of which serves large concentrations of apartments where many transit riders live, but would force buses on huge, time-consuming detours. One possibility is that some buses could go straight up Route 29 while others take the scenic route. But that's basically how the existing bus service on the corridor already works.

This could make the case for rapid transit

This might be a temporary solution. The county and state of Maryland will continue planning a "real" bus rapid transit line that might have its own transitway, but that could take several years.

In the meantime, the county needs to build support for better transit. BRT has broad support across the county, but many residents are still skeptical. Supporters and opponents alike have been confused and frustrated by the lack of information on the county's progress in recent months.

By getting something on the ground now, Montgomery County can show everyone how BRT really works sooner, rather than later. Despite the shorter timeframe, it's important to make sure this service actually improves transit, and that residents actually know what's going on.

Transit


An express bus line from downtown to Mount Rainier is one step closer to reality

Neighborhoods around Rhode Island Avenue NE were built to depend on transit. A new express bus, the G9, is one step closer to running along the corridor, from downtown to Mount Rainier.


If Far East Movement took the bus. Base photo by Dan Malouff.

WMATA first proposed the G9 in 2014, after studying the way transit use was changing along Rhode Island Avenue into Prince George's County. The DC Council made a huge push toward making the line a reality Tuesday night, with a unanimous first vote for a FY17 budget that includes $1.04 million for the G9.

"The proposed G9 bus line will service Rhode Island Avenue from 14th Street NW to just beyond the District's border at Eastern Ave NE, thereby filling that gap and alleviating congestion on the G8 and other bus lines that offer partial service to the Rhode Island Avenue NE corridor," said Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.

Here's a full map of the planned route:


The proposed G9 route, from WMATA. A bigger version is on page 25 of this report.

This is extremely welcome news to residents of the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, who are looking at an almost one-month shutdown of their portion of the Red Line during SafeTrack.

As of press time, neither WMATA nor McDuffie's office had responded to questions about when, exactly, residents can expect the G9 to start running. We'll update the post as soon as we hear back.

But for now, let's take a moment to celebrate this bit of good transit news—it's a welcome bit of sunshine on a rainy horizon.

Popping bottles in the ice, like a blizzard
When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard
Sippin sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6 689
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9
Like a G6 G9, Like a G6 G9
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9
Like a G6 G9, Like a G6 G9
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9

Transit


How can we help people get around during SafeTrack?

Metro's SafeTrack plan (plus any FTA-mandated changes) will mean weeks with no service, or month-long single-tracking, on big sections of the rail system. Our region will need to help people get around in other ways that avoid crippling traffic. How do we do that?


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Most of our major roads are already full during peak periods. Some Metro "surges" will disrupt travel for tens of thousands of people. If even a small proportion of these Metro riders drive alone, we could see major regional gridlock.

While the "surges" won't close the whole system at once, their effects will reverberate throughout the region. Lines with single tracking will see fewer trains overall, and the closures and decreased service will likely push people who connect from other lines to commute some other way. All of this means significant traffic impacts far from any given work zone.

What should the region do?

We talked with a number of transportation professionals for their thoughts. But we'd also like to hear yours. We'll compile a list of promising measures, and we're working with the Coalition for Smarter Growth on a tool for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask them to make it happen. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.

Get SafeTrack updates!

Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are working together on ways for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask for the measures we need to see the region through SafeTrack. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.

First name:    Last name:

Email address:

Where you live:    ZIP code:

Here are the ideas we heard:

Teleworking is the biggest no-brainer. Many people can telework. But many more cannot. If people who can, do, that would alleviate some of the crunch. But not all.

Bus lanes. A lot of people will switch to the bus. But if they are stuck in traffic, they're not able to get to the ends of their routes and start the next run, effectively cutting down on bus capacity. The bus would also then be an unpleasant way to travel, pushing more people into cars instead, making driving and riding the bus worse, and so on.

The Washington region actually had a network of bus lanes before Metrorail opened. Without the trains, those lanes helped get people in and out of job centers. We need them again.


Bus lane network, pre-1976. Image from WMATA.

Walking and bicycling are an appealing alternative people who live close to work. Capital Bikeshare capacity and bike parking are likely to be some of the biggest crunches for bicycling. In Metro-accessible job centers like downtown DC, Silver Spring, Rosslyn, and others, bike corrals could help keep Capital Bikeshare balanced, and help people riding their own bikes find a place to park.

Carpooling can fit more people into fewer vehicles, making more efficient use of the road space we have. Some people may carpool without any prodding. But even more people will carpool if there are incentives to do it, like:

  • HOV lanes. On key arterials, one lane could be made HOV for a year. Both buses and carpoolers could use these to get a faster ride, making it more worthwhile to carpool or ride the bus.
  • Slugging. About 10,000 Virginians ride with strangers every day. Drivers pick up these strangers to get to use the I-395 carpool lanes, a practice called slugging. There are designated areas for people to park and then find rides.

    If DC added HOV lanes on key arterials from Maryland to downtown, Maryland counties could help find places, like shopping center parking lots that go mostly empty on weekdays, to serve as slug pickup areas. The same goes for Virginia routes into DC besides 395.


A "slug line." Image from Wikimedia.

  • Employer incentives. Employers could help people carpool, such as by offering reserved parking, running programs to match people up, or simply trying to structure the work day to make carpooling more feasible. Carpooling has declined as people's work schedules became more irregular; employers can reverse that trend, at least for the year.
  • Business incentives. Retail businesses can play a role, too. Restaurants and shops could find ways to offer discounts or specials to people who biked or carpooled.
  • Ride-matching services. Existing programs like Commuter Connections run bulletin boards and employer programs to match people to potential carpool or vanpool buddies.
  • Apps like Split, UberPool, and Lyft Line already try to match up people to share rides. Carpool lanes would create an even stronger incentive to use them. Or, governments could work with these companies to find other ways to increase the incentive to try them.
Special parking lots and shuttles. When a Metro line section shuts down, there could be a temporary park-and-ride with shuttle buses. For example, RFK's parking lots are huge and almost always empty. They could serve as a commuter parking lot and special buses could zip people (ideally, on a temporary HOV lane on I-695 and I-395) to the Capitol and downtown job centers. Where else could this work?


Potential park and ride? Image from Bing Maps.

Optimize bus routes. Besides (or ideally in addition to) adding bus lanes, there are ways to boost capacity on major bus lines, especially the ones paralleling Metro lines (like the S and 70s buses from Silver Spring to downtown DC, when the eastern Red Line shuts down). Some approaches:

  • Add express buses. Metro has a dedicated fleet of 42 buses to add to areas with shutdowns. Local transportation officials are already thinking about how to best deploy these. Other than a direct "bus bridge" between closed stations, some could be new express service on likes like the S9 and 79. A few local buses could switch to express during the shutdown as well.
  • Restrict on-street parking. Many DC arterial roads have parking on the non-peak side during rush hour, and on both sides at other times. The road could carry more vehicles without that. But it's best to make the new lane a bus or HOV lane, so that people have an incentive to carpool or take the bus instead of consuming all that capacity with new single-passenger trips.
  • Fix chokepoints. Likewise, Metro already knows where the major bus routes waste the most time. Retiming a signal, temporarily removing some parking, or adding an interim turn lane could clear out those spots. Where do you think are the most important places for this?
  • Reroute buses that end at a Metro station. For example, the 80s buses on Rhode Island Avenue almost all end at Rhode Island Avenue Metro. But when the eastern Red Line shuts down, then what? Those buses could go downtown—but will need places to drop off, and bus or HOV lanes (sense a theme?) could ensure they don't spend more time doing so than necessary.
Drop-off zones. If more people carpool and take buses, more curbside space may need to be devoted to letting people load and unload, either from commuter buses that already come in from farther out areas, for carpoolers, and for riders of app services who share rides instead of riding alone.


Proposed late night bus service & map from Metro's April 2016 Metrobus Late Night Service Study.

Improve late night bus service. Metro plans to shut down at midnight instead of 3 am. While the number of people who ride Metro at night has dropped as many people switch to ride-hailing services, it's still important to offer an affordable way for people to get home.

  • Make a late night map. Metro could publish a special map showing late night bus service, especially the routes that take people between Metro stations. Most people don't even know if there's a bus that can take them from nightlife to their neighborhoods.
  • Add late-night service. If some stations get decent late-night traffic but don't have late-night bus service (like more outlying park-and-ride stations), add buses to those spots until 3 am or later.
These general ideas cover a lot of ground, but it's a daunting task for our local transportation departments to identify all the spots which need attention. Many of these ideas will require local DOTs and WMATA to work together, or inter-jurisdictional cooperation between DOTs. But that doesn't meant they can't happen.

Where would you implement these strategies? What other ideas do you have? Give your thoughts in the comments.

Get SafeTrack updates!

Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are working together on ways for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask for the measures we need to see the region through SafeTrack. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.

First name:    Last name:

Email address:

Where you live:    ZIP code:

Transit


A new bus line would give Rhode Island Avenue the transit it was meant to have

The G9, a new bus line that would run along Rhode Island Avenue from Mount Rainier into downtown, could become a reality if the DC Council decides to fund it this week. The G9 would give residents in the corridor a much-needed way to get downtown by transit, which their neighborhoods were built around in the first place.


Right now, only the infrequent G8 (the line in red) runs along Rhode Island Avenue between the Metro stop and downtown. Images from WMATA.

Right now, the neighborhoods surrounding the nearly four miles of Rhode Island Avenue that run from Bloomingdale to Mount Rainier, Maryland are connected by only a single, weaving local bus route, the G8, which is characterized by less frequent service (especially off-peak) and an indirect route at its eastern end.

Still, the G8 is usually packed to capacity during rush hour because it's literally the only bus line to downtown from most of these neighborhoods (except Bloomingdale, which also has the notoriously late 80 bus). That's because all inbound bus routes on Rhode Island Avenue from the Maryland border terminate at the Rhode Island Avenue Metrorail station.

This service map means residents of the Rhode Island corridor going almost anywhere have to make multiple transfers or use "minor" bus routes, except for the lucky souls in Eckington and Brentwood who work on the Red Line.

After studying this corridor in 2014, WMATA proposed the G9, a limited-stop MetroExtra route, as a solution. While the G9 would only run during rush hours initially, it would be faster than the G8 because of limited stops and would supplement supply to relieve crowding. Ultimately, the G9 could be transitioned from being Metro Extra to being a full seven-day service.

Most vital for residents living east of Brentwood, the line would provide the first direct transit connection to points west and downtown in years, restoring a historic connection and energizing the blossoming Rhode Island Avenue Main Street.


The proposed G9 route.

However, non-regional routes are paid for by the corresponding jurisdiction, which means the G9 must come out of DC's budget. Now, the DC Council's Committee on Finance and Revenue is considering the G9 in the FY 2017 budget. The comment period is open until the end of this week.

Neighborhoods along Rhode Island were built for transit like the G9

The original L'Enfant Plan for DC stopped at Florida Avenue.

In the late 18 and early 1900s, many neighborhoods north of Florida Avenue, like Eckington, developed as streetcar suburbs. Just before the turn of the century, a streetcar line from Eckington to what's now Mount Rainier opened, giving way to transit-oriented development along the Rhode Island Avenue corridor.

By the 1950s, myriad streetcar lines had consolidated into DC Transit, and the 82 line ran from 5th and G Streets NW (near the modern-day Verizon Center), out Rhode Island Avenue NE, all the way past College Park.

With the collapse of the streetcar system, communities along Rhode Island lost the transit that linked them, and that made them viable in the first place.

But the riders are still there

When you build places to be transit-oriented, residents will demand transit. Even with its pitfalls, the G8 is typically packed to capacity during rush hour.

In fact, G8 demand along the Rhode Island corridor has grown at nearly double the rate of overall Metrobus ridership. The weekday average ridership on the G8 in 2011 was 3,571, but by May 2014, it was 4,221an increase of 18.2%. Overall Metrobus ridership during the same span rose 10.0% (while demand on the "major" 80 bus declined 4.3%).

The G9 would help people get to western downtown, specifically.

For Rhode Island Avenue residents who work in western parts of downtown, the G9 would create shorter, faster connections between work and home.

Currently, Metrobus options for residents who work west of 17th Street NW and north of K Street NW (i.e. West End, Golden Triangle, Dupont Circle) are limited to the infrequent G2 crosstown bus that starts in LeDroit Park, the slow and meandering 80, or taking the G8 to the end of its route at Farragut Square.

Since the G9 would connect to Rhode Island Avenue as far west as 13th and 14th Streets NW—whereas the G8 connects at 11th and 9th—office jockeys who work in the northwest portion of downtown could get off or board several blocks further west while spending less time on the bus.

You can help make the G9 happen

The G9 would make it a whole lot easier for residents along Rhode Island Avenue to travel between neighborhoods and to downtown. It'd make a big positive difference for people in Ward 5 and Mount Rainier, but also in Wards 1 and 2 as well.

If you think the G9 running on Rhode Island Avenue is a good idea, tell the DC Council your story this week. You can submit written testimony or just write an email to the members of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, who include Ward 2's Jack Evans (the chairman) and Ward 5's Kenyan McDuffie, and their respective staffs, until this Friday, May 13.

You may also want to email the mayor's office (eom@dc.gov) and spread the word on social media.

Update: It turns out the Committee on Transportation and the Environment recently had oversight on funding WMATA local transit, and did not include funding for the G9 bus route in its budget recommendations. Transportation Committee member Jack Evans (who is, incidentally, chairman of the aforementioned finance committee) expressed support for the G9 during the hearing.

There's still an opportunity to fund the G9. The Chairman of the DC Council, Phil Mendelson, has authority to modify the budget. Should you want to advocate for this, email Chairman Mendelson and his staff, and cc: your councilmember (especially if you're in Ward 5 or Ward 2) and the mayor's office, to ask that funding for the G9 be included in the budget.

Transit


Get to know all the buses in the Metrobus fleet

Want to know more about your daily bus ride? Have you ever noticed how many different Metrobus models there are out there, and need help distinguishing between buses that look quite similar? Become an expert at identifying Metrobus with this handy guide!


All images by the author.

Our region has one of the most diverse transit networks in the country, and even within only the Metrobus system, there's a level of variety that you may not have noticed.

Using some of the info I collected when I started making posters of transit projects from around the country, I put together this guide to each vehicle of the Metrobus fleet.

In total, the bus fleet consists of 1525 buses of these various different types. Some of these service different purposes (i.e. articulated vs. short buses), and others are meant to expand the fleet or replace aging equipment.

According to Metro, the Metrobus fleet transported over 130 million passengers in 2015.

The buses service over 11,100 bus stops and another 2,500 bus shelters, from 288 routes and 174 lines.

The Metrobus fleet is ever-changing, as WMATA replaces about 100 buses a year to keep the fleet operating smoothly. New buses arrive every week, as part of the current five-year order with New Flyer (previously NABI).

Transit


10 things my internship taught me about transportation in DC

Every year, thousands of up and coming leaders come to DC to intern. Knowing how to get around can be difficult at first, but if you follow this advice, you'll steer clear of lighter pockets and grumpy mornings.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In early January, I arrived in DC with two suitcases and a small budget for transportation. Being a full time student and an unpaid intern who lives just a mile from work, I spend most of my time walking.

There are, however, a lot of times when I take Metrorail. Irvine, California, where I'm from, doesn't have a subway system, so using Metro ("Metrorail" is the official name, since there's also Metrobus, but everyone just calls the train system "Metro") has been a new adventure filled with ups and downs.

Now that I've been here for a while, I can tell you ten things about Metro that will help any intern who's new to DC:

1. Understand the map: DC is divided into quadrants that center on the US Capitol—Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), Southeast (SE) and Southwest (SW). Be sure to orient yourself properly so you don't end up at, say, 10th Street NE when you meant to go to 10th Street NW. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the Metro map. Before your first day of work, mark the route that you plan to take so you don't miss your stop.

2. Prepare for traffic: The Metrorail crowds can be a big hassle. Go towards the ends of the platforms, as commuters tend to group towards the middle.

3. Different time, different price: The students in my internship program who take the Metrorail every day, spend around $40 per week. However, the fares vary by station and during peak times, they're more expensive. On weekdays, these are in effect from 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM, and 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. On the bright side, the trains will arrive more frequently at this time of day.

4. Consider a Metro pass: If you use the Metro enough, a SelectPass can save you time and money. This calculator helps to determine which pass will save you the most. Even if you plan to walk or use Capital Bikeshare to get to work, there are going to be times when you'll want to use Metro, and for those, it's important to have a SmarTrip card.

5. Register your SmartTrip Card: Don't forget to register your Metro card just in case it is misplaced or stolen. This is especially important if you've loaded a large amount of money on to it.

6. Know to behave on the Metro: A lot of Metro stations have long escalators. If you're standing while riding them, stay to the right to allow room for those who would prefer to walk. Also, Metro doors do not operate like elevator doors, so putting your arm out to keep the door open will not end well.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Once you're on a Metro car, be sure to move towards the center to make room for others. If you're inside an already packed train, don't underestimate another rider's ability to force their way in too. After being shoved into the armpits of several tall strangers, I've learned to position myself away from corners in order to prepare for the "sardine can" type of morning.

7. Running Late? Metro vs. cab: During my second week of interning, I woke up 10 minutes before work started and figured that taking a cab would be the quickest option. Unfortunately, I was stuck in traffic for twenty minutes. Lesson learned: cabs and ride hailing aren't necessarily the solution when you're running late—they're expensive and can just as easily get stuck in traffic. I've found that most of the time, when you're late, the reality is simply that you're out of luck.

8. The weather can affect your commute: This past February, I experienced my first snow storm. I had often heard jokes that DC residents panic at the mere thought of snow, yet I was still surprised by how cautious the city was about transportation during the blizzard. During this time, the Metro didn't service my area for nearly a week. If you'll be in DC during the winter, frequently check Metro alerts to see if there are any operational changes to the Metrorail.


Photo by Samir Luther on Flickr.

9. Ask your supervisor for a transportation stipend: As an unpaid intern, every penny counts. Since DC has some of the highest fares of transit in the US, I suggest that interns at least ask if their work sites offer a transportation stipend. At my previous internship, I received $150 at the start of every month to cover my estimated transportation costs, which helped significantly. A friend of mine kept receipts of her fare purchases, gave them to her supervisor, and was compensated at the end of each month. Some internships, like those on Capitol Hill, do not offer this option. But it never hurts to ask!

10. Know your options: Capital Bikeshare will let you get some exercise while you commute, but it's also often just as fast as Metro, or even driving. CaBi allows you to rent a bike from over 300 solar powered stations in the DC area. You can also enjoy a view of the city and save a few bucks by riding the busif you regularly do this, definitely buy a pass. The Circulator is another great option, and riding only costs $1! However, this does not service all areas of DC. Last but not least, if you live close to where you need to go, there's one option that almost never fails: walking!

Got any transportation advice for people that are new to DC? Comment below.

Transit


The West Falls Church station got far less use after the Silver Line opened

When the Silver Line opened in July of 2014, the West Falls Church Metro station took a huge ridership hit. But overall, the Silver Line meant more people riding Metro.


Graph by the author. Click for a larger version.

The chart above is based on the ridership data released by Metro in March. The stations noted here are West Falls Church and the five new Silver Line stations, with data coming from AM peak entries during typical weekdays.

In the span of two months, from a peak in June 2014 to a low in August 2014, West Falls Church station saw its average ridership drop by almost 70% with the opening of the Silver Line! While this appears to be bad news for West Falls Church and Metro, that isn't the case if you look at all six stations.

It looks like when the Silver Line opened, West Falls Church riders immediately switched to stations closer to their homes. That, or rather than driving to West Falls Church, they started driving to Wiehle, the only new station with parking (it could be a combination of both, of course).

Changes to bus routes in the corridor probably had a lot to do with the drop in entries at West Falls. When the Silver Line opened, 62 bus routes got modifications. 11 were eliminated altogether, and major feeder routes operated by Fairfax Connector, Loundon County, and Washington Flyer moved their terminus from West Falls to Wiehle Avenue.

Overall, the Silver Line and the bus service changes that accompanied it attracted new riders to Metro. This is evidenced in the the uptick in the grand total entries among these six stations. It's likely that a lot of new riders are commuters from Fairfax and Loudoun County, where Metro was previously unaccessible.

A goal of public transit is to offer people better access to transportation. The opening of the Silver Line made travel for existing Metro customers easier by putting stations closer to their homes, and also attracted new riders by offering an alternative to driving and carpooling.

Transit


Metro's new bus prediction system is pretty accurate, but leave yourself some extra time

Metro recently swapped out its seven-year-old bus predictions system for a new one called BusETA. Last week, fourteen Greater Greater Washington contributors and staff audited BusETA for accuracy. Overall, the system performed well enough, but buses sometimes came earlier than predicted, and "ghost buses" are still real.


Image from WMATA.

Real-time departure information has totally changed bus travel, as any rider with a smart phone can now triangulate the real location of the bus. That means the ability to minimize wait times or choose a travel mode with more confidence; we're no longer reliant on a printed schedule that can be shredded by congestion, incidents, events, breakdowns, or weather.

WMATA's predictions come via a combination of real-time data from GPS transponders on the buses and computer models that predict bus arrivals using historic data about traffic patterns. Once they're made, WMATA publishes predictions on its website. The marketplace for independent prediction apps like Transit Tracker and Citymapper is also pretty crowded, as WMATA publishes tools that any developer can use.

A recent change in who provides WMATA's prediction technology means NextBus, the widely used but proprietary system, is out, and BusETA is in.


Bus lines included in the audit: F4, H8, 16G, 16H, 70, 64, P19, S9, E4, 74, 96, 52, 53, 54, C21, C22, 30S, 31, 33, 37, N2, J3, X2, 4B. Map by the author.

Our contributors recorded how BusETA did one morning

For the audit, which we did on Thursday, April 14th, each participant went to a specific bus stop and called up the prediction for the stop by the stop's unique ID number. While BusETA will also give predictions by bus line, we audited only the bus stop interface. Each participant took a screenshot of the prediction and then recorded the actual arrival times of the predicted bus(es). Our participants audited a total of 27 buses covering 24 lines at 17 locations from 6 to 9 am.

Here's how close each bus came to arriving when BusETA said it would:

A positive error value means the bus was early. The variance of the error clearly increases as the prediction time increases (the further the bus is away, the worse BusETA is at predicting the arrival time).

However, the latest bus was an F4 bus that Gray Kimbrough watched from across the street: It was nine minutes late as it passed through Silver Spring, heading away from downtown. It is notable that this bus was audited at a location near the end of its run. It could be that the further into the bus' run the stop is, the less accurate the prediction is because there have been more opportunities for the bus to encounter delays.

Buses were early as often as they were late. One contributor missed his bus because the prediction told him he had five minutes, and he actually only had three.
Anecdotally, it seems like BusETA might under-predict bus arrivals more often than NextBus did (i.e. the bus shows up 'early').

If so, this is a major problem, because when you miss a bus by only one or two minutes, you have to wait the entire headway of the bus line for the next one, which is the worst-case delay scenario. Based on the results of our audit, I'd recommend factoring in a three minute margin of error when using BusETA.

There were still ghost buses (either buses that were not predicted, or predicted buses that didn't show). Jonathan Neeley got an H8 prediction, but when he refreshed it two minutes before it was supposed to arrive, the bus had disappeared (the actual bus did arrive a moment after, however). Steven Yates read that the 74 was 11 minutes away...just as it pulled up.

Overall, though, BusETA worked more often than it didn't. Brendan Casey said that for his commute, BusETA is far more accurate than Transit or Citymapper.


BusETA prediction

The BusETA technology is different, and likely better

NextBus had a lot of accuracy problems. WMATA's switch to BusETA means it has joined the open source OneBusAway project, which is also used in Atlanta and New York City. That means that all the old apps that used the NextBus standard don't work for DC any more.

The switch to an open source standard via BusETA should promote innovation and help interested parties understand how and why various prediction apps are working. Anybody can contribute back and improve the OneBusAway project since the code is freely available as an open-source project.

This potentially makes the software quite powerful: If someone wants to write a feature in, they can pull the freely-available code, edit it, and publish it back for approval. This freedom allows the application to be more feature-rich than it might otherwise be, and be developed faster than a typical commercial application.

In the long run, an open-source standard will hopefully mean more and better apps for DC.

Thank you to Gray Kimbrough, Chris Slatt, Abby Lynch, Jim Titus, Sebastian Galeano, Steven Yates, Brendan Casey, Bryan Barnett-Woods, Ronit Dancis, Andrea Adleman, Angela Martinez, Jonathan Neeley and Sarah Guidi for participating in this flash audit.

Transit


Crystal City's Metroway BRT is open and carrying passengers

The Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway officially opened on Sunday, upgrading Metroway bus service to bona fide bus rapid transit in Arlington.


27th & Crystal station. All photos by the author.

Metroway runs between Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations. For much of its route between Crystal City and Potomac Yard, it runs in dedicated bus lanes, making it the Washington region's first real foray into BRT.

The Alexandria portion of the transitway opened in 2014. Arlington's portion through Crystal City opened yesterday, Sunday, April 17.

Through Potomac Yard, the transitway runs in a totally exclusive busway—a completely separate road from the regular lanes.


27th & Crystal station.

Stations in the busway have substantial arched roofs and attractive wall panels.


South Glebe station.

Through Crystal City, bus lanes and bus stations hug the curb.


18th & Crystal station.

Since northbound buses run a block away from southbound buses, bus stations are smaller through this section. They're more like large bus stops.


23rd & Clark station.

Crystal City is pretty quiet on Sundays, so there weren't many opening day riders, and buses only came every 20 minutes. During the week there'll be a lot more riders, and buses will run every 6-12 minutes depending on the time of day.

Head over to Crystal City and check it out! Or see more pictures of both the Arlington and Alexandria transitway sections via Flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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