New Directions

October 7, 2011

Transportation experts must have various metrics to determine whether a bus route is a success. But I think you have a clear winner when passengers aren’t just boarding — they’re boasting. “I’m going to call my dad,” 24-year-old Ashley Young announced to me Wednesday as we rode into Anacostia. “He’s going to say, ‘What do you mean you’re on the Circulator? The Circulator doesn’t come here.’”

That changed Monday, when the red buses run by the District Department of Transportation debuted the first route to head east of the Anacostia River. The $1-per-ride system that promises buses every 10 minutes has been immensely popular since it launched in 2005. And these days, the Circulator is hauling passengers on upward of 500,000 trips per month with its five easy-to-navigate routes. But low ridership on the Convention Center-SW Waterfront line persuaded the department to cancel that service and instead send the buses between the Potomac Avenue Metro station and Skyland, via Barracks Row.

Although Metro and Metrobus provide residents east of the river with several connections to the employment, education and other opportunities in the downtown D.C. core, city officials hope the new Circulator route makes these trips more convenient and affordable. But first, folks need to know it exists.

Despite news reports and the fliers with free ride coupons that were sent to thousands of households, many people are still in the dark about their expanded options. On Wednesday, the driver on my ride had to pitch the service to passengers waiting for Metrobuses at their shared stops: “Are you headed down Good Hope Road? Come with me!” And there were plenty of different questions for him to answer.

But once the passengers finally got on, their reactions were pretty much the same. “This is quicker and faster. Once people find out, they won’t be waiting for the 90 anymore,” said 57-year-old Clifton Hines, who estimated he’d get home before the Metrobus even arrived to pick him up. Virgo Darby, 24, enjoyed the peace and quiet, but he suspected word would get out before too long. “And if more people see it, Metro will be out of business,” he said. Even 9-year-old Tyree Williams was an immediate convert. “It’s got better air-conditioning,” Williams decreed.

Avon Braxton, of Barry Farm, couldn’t heap enough praise on the bus. “It’s on time and clean and there’s no graffiti or trash,” the 40-year-old marveled. There were two things she’d been hoping for in her neighborhood: a Starbucks (“I want to sit outside and drink my $3 coffee.”) and a Circulator route.

For now, she’ll settle for the latter. And maybe with more economic opportunity for residents east of the river, that Starbucks will follow.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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