One of the key advantages of D.C. Circulator buses over WMATA Metrobuses is how they are scheduled. WMATA will soon adopt a more Circulator-like approach for one of its busiest routes.
Circulator buses don’t have a traditional schedule, they simply try to keep about 10 minutes apart from each other, so that riders never have to wait long for a bus. WMATA buses, on the other hand, try to keep to a timetable, which is often impossible and which inevitably leads to “bus bunching,” in which multiple buses come at the same time and leave large gaps between them.
As a frequent rider of the S-series Metrobuses on 16th Street, I can say with authority that bus bunching is the rule there, rather than the exception. It’s incredibly frustrating to wait 25 minutes for a bus that is supposed to come every few minutes, and then to have three buses roll by all in a row. Incredibly frustrating. And it happens all the time.
The good news — the fantastic news — is that with Circulator’s successful example out there proving how timetable-less, headway-based scheduling can work, WMATA is now willing to make its own experiment with the idea. They will first implement headway scheduling on the 90s series bus routes. Rather than futilely hoping to stick on a timetable, this weekend 90s-series buses will begin to try and remain seven to eight minutes away from other 90s-series buses.
I’m sure the experiment will prove successful, and hope WMATA quickly shifts to headway scheduling on other high-frequency bus lines, such as 16th Street, 14th Street and Georgia Avenue.
Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at BeyondDC.com. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.