Circulator bus service may be expanded in D.C.

The D.C. Council appears poised to seek a major expansion of Circulator bus routes to serve new neighborhoods and the Mall, but the move could come at a price: Some fares could be double the current rate.

The popular red and gray buses supplement standard bus service by shuttling passengers between entertainment and shopping districts. The buses, which charge $1 a ride, reach Woodley Park, Georgetown, downtown, Capitol Hill, the Navy Yard and the Skyland area of Ward 7.

But on Thursday, a council committee is expected to support a substantial increase in the system’s range of service. Under the plan, prepared by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Circulator bus routes would extend to U Street and Howard University, Southwest Washington, Glover Park and Washington National Cathedral. The city is also working with the National Park Service to launch a route on the Mall, where tourists would be shuttled to monuments and museums.

“The combination of those expansions will put the Circulator very extensively around the District,” said Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. “The ability for people to get around is absolutely key to our continued economic growth, and the Circulator has been very popular because it’s very reliable.

If the plan is approved by the full council, Circulator rides would be $1.50 for riders using SmarTrip cards. Cash rides would cost $2. The fare increases are intended to pay for the expansion, including $4.7 million in start-up costs and $2.4 million in annual operating costs.


Cheh’s fare hike proposal would erode the Circulator system’s price advantage over Metrobuses. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Cheh said it’s only fair that Circulator riders — many of whom live in wealthy neighborhoods — pay a fare similar to that paid by other bus riders, who pay $1.60 to $1.80 on most Metrobus routes.

“It would simply equalize what people in some parts of the District have been paying for [Metro] buses,” Cheh said.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), said Gray is not expected to support higher Circulator fares. “The mayor made it very clear: He does not support the increase of any fees, fines or taxes,” Ribeiro said.

But Gray has signed off on a new route for the Mall, scheduled to begin in 2015. The route would be partly funded by additional meters at parking lots on or near the the Mall.

Launched by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) in 2005, the Circulator is designed to ease tourists and residents into bus travel. The vehicles make limited stops, which greatly reduces travel times as compared with Metrobus service. Circulator buses serve 5.7 million riders annually, according to officials.

The Circulator expansion is included in a budget plan that would add 30 parking enforcement officers, who are expected to generate $3 million a year in revenue, more than enough to cover the $2.4 million cost of hiring them. Cheh also proposes to increase fines for parking in violation of street-sweeping restrictions from $30 to $45 and to raise sidewalk cafe fees and commuter bus fees.

In addition, Cheh proposes to spend $400,000 for new Capital Bikeshare stations and $1.5 million to make taxicabs more accessible to people with disabilities, and she seeks funding to increase recycling at city parks and other recreational facilities.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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