Tom Downs, a vice chairman on the board, said the overcrowding, unreliable schedules and bus bunching on the routes reflect increasing demand for service systemwide.
“It is not just this corridor in the evening. We are having significant growth in bus ridership, and we need to know where and how and why that is happening, and we need to know how to respond to that over the next couple of years,” Downs said in an interview.
He said he has asked Metro to analyze where ridership is increasing and to hold focus groups. For the 16th Street buses, Downs said that in addition to expanded route monitoring and longer buses, he wants Metro to consider starting some northbound buses at P Street NW.
An article in The Washington Post on Saturday highlighted the commuting struggles of janitors, security guards, busboys and other low-wage workers who travel the 16th Street bus routes between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Although the S2 and S4 buses, which run between the Federal Triangle and Silver Spring Metro stations, are scheduled to run an average of every 71
2 minutes, riders often wait more than 30 minutes at a bus stop. At some stops, buses are too crowded to pick up any more passengers.
“This has been a long-standing problem,” said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, home to many S2 and S4 riders.
“Those are the people who have every bit of greater claim as anyone else to effective and efficient public transit,” Graham said, adding that he hopes for greater advocacy for bus riders at Metro. “There needs to be a higher priority given to the issues of bus riders.”
The issue is expected to be discussed by the Metro board at a meeting Thursday.
Metro officials said the transit agency is increasing supervision of the night service in the corridor and is working to double the number of extra-long buses on the route to eight in the next two months.
Jack Requa, head of Metro’s bus division, said delays are often unpredictable and can be caused by residual delays from peak-hour service, traffic accidents and events downtown. But he emphasized that buses are scheduled to arrive every 6 to 9 minutes.
“If a bus breaks down, if there is heavy congestion downtown at some period of time, it is not that we are trying to run the buses every 30 minutes,” he said. “We are very sympathetic to what the customers are seeing. We are going to try to keep the buses spaced as well as we can. We are going to try to keep as much seated capacity and standing capacity . . . as we can.”