“Most of the time I have to wait,” Jalloh, a 22-year-old physical therapy student, said as she flipped through her textbook after a morning of classes.The wait for the C26 that afternoon was 30 minutes. She was lucky. Other days, she can sit on the bench for as long as an hour, she said.
Such waits are common for midday Metrobus riders on the routes serving Central Avenue in Prince George’s County.
Outside of rush hours, the buses, serving a corridor that stretches from the Addison Road Metro station eastward to Upper Marlboro, are scheduled to run every 60 minutes (and every 30 minutes during rush hour).
It’s a timetable that can make commuting a grind for students, whose class schedules are unlikely to correspond to traditional rush-hour travel pattern times, and who in many cases are also juggling jobs and family responsibilities.
Even as bus ridership has been rising, service levels have largely remained the same.
Each weekday, about 3,000 people use Metro’s Central Avenue buses, up by nearly 1,000 riders in three years, Metro statistics show. The Prince George’s transit system — the Bus — also serves the community college on weekdays, but Metrobus remains a preferred option for many riders, especially those connecting from Metrorail’s Blue Line.
The effect of the growing ridership is obvious to Metro officials.
“That probably says, yes, there needs to be more service out there,” said Jim Hamre, director of Metro’s Office of Bus Planning.
But Metro and the county say they do not have the resources to increase service as much as needed. And in the case of Metro, the Central Avenue line is one of many in need of more service. Systemwide, Metrobus’s average weekday ridership has risen to 438,352 passengers from 416,148 in 2010, according to the transit agency.
Job losses, high gasoline prices and increased activity downtown may be factors in increasing demand for bus service, transit officials said. Increased ridership in the suburbs also reflects population shifts in many metropolitan regions as jobs migrate out of city centers, and low-income householdsmove to the suburbs, said Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution.
“People aren’t always just going downtown for their jobs during the rush hours,” said Puentes, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. “They are going in between suburbs, they are going at different times, they are going for different purposes, like school or jobs at night outside of rush hour. So transit agencies, in some cases, are finding themselves challenged to address those kinds of trips and to adapt to these rapidly changing trends.”
Along the Central Avenue corridor, for example, ridership has been driven by recent development and the promise of additional growth. With the county envisioning more mixed-use and transit-oriented development in the area, Metro officials say an investment in bus service will be needed.