D.C. Circulator bus riders deserved answers

When the District launched its Circulator bus system six years ago, it wasn’t clear that people would go along for the ride. The city was already the heart of an extensive transit system.

But at a March 17 meeting of city residents and transportation officials, the answer was plain: Riders have become deeply invested in the handful of Circulator lines.

About 50 people from Southwest Washington came to the meeting near Nationals Park because they heard a rumor that the District Department of Transportation planned to cancel their Circulator. They refer to it as the 7th Street line, but the District calls it the Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront route. Circulators on this north-south run, one of the original two launched in 2005, carried more than a half-million riders last year.

The D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) billed the March 17 session as “the first semi-annual public forum for the DC Circulator . . . to give passengers an opportunity to participate in discussions about current and future bus service.”

“These forums are intended for riders to let us know how we’re doing and to discuss the critical issues that will affect the future of the Circulator,” DDOT Associate Director Scott Kubly said in a statement accompanying the announcement about the meeting. “We have a very dedicated customer base and we value their input as we strive to make service even better.”

On the agenda were some service changes scheduled to take effect in April, including changes in the location of a few Southwest Washington stops. But what most of the “dedicated customer base” at the meeting wanted to discuss was a more important issue: The rumor going around that the District planned to cancel their Circulator route.

Instead of responding to their concern, Kubly and Deputy Associate Director Aaron Overman steered the group discussion toward a more general review of the Circulator’s performance. They noted that a meeting on a 10-year plan for the Circulator would be coming up on Thursday, March 31.

Several days later, when the Transportation Department’s 10-year plan became public, many of those people were surprised to learn that their rumor was a reality: The plan said their bus route should be discontinued.

Many of them were still angry when they got to that second meeting. They were angry that the bus line is in jeopardy, and they were angry that the city officials focused their attention on a handful of bus stop relocations when their department had a plan to kill the route.

Barbara Herwig spoke for many other Southwest residents Thursday night when she told Transportation Department officials it was “the worst kind of bait and switch I’ve seen.”

After the meeting, I asked Overman why they couldn’t have come clean with the customer base at the first meeting. There’s a “formal process,” he said. “The study hadn’t been published.”

There’s no government process that should stand in the way of telling people the truth. Going forward, there’s no government process that should stand in the way of the D.C. Council and the mayor listening to their constituents and blocking this part of the Transportation Department plan.

Hybrids in HOV lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) last week signed the annual extension allowing drivers of correctly tagged hybrids to travel in the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes even if they don’t meet the carpool requirements. While I think the carpool lanes should be for carpoolers, many travelers are glad to have the exemption.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am grateful for the extensions. I commute to Rockville five days a week. I drive to the Springfield Station and take the Metro from there. I use the HOV in the morning, in my properly licensed Prius.

I do not see many hybrids at 6:15 a.m., though I see a lot of singles, and I tend to believe the complainers need to look to the cheaters and not to the hybrids.

Carpooling to Springfield isn’t really an option. The slugs don’t go there. When you add 11 / 2 hours on the Metro each way, no one wants that long a day, and I simply refuse to drive all the way to Rockville.

I had been driving an SUV and picking up slugs to commute to Arlington. People complained about the SUVs. I got my Prius, continued to pick up slugs, received a lot of complaints that I was taking away passengers from people who “needed” them.

The law allows hybrids. We are not taking over the HOV lanes. Stop whining!

—Lynne Finch Charlesworth, Woodbridge

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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