Dulles-bound travelers object to canceling airport Metrobus when Silver Line opens

Robert Thomson
Columnist October 9, 2013

Many travelers who take transit to Dulles International Airport think that planners are getting ahead of themselves in proposing to eliminate Metrobus’s airport line after the first phase of Metro’s Silver Line opens early next year.

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. View Archive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I saw in your Sept. 15 column that Metro is considering ending 5A bus service [between L’Enfant Plaza and Dulles airport] before the Silver Line opens. I was unable to go to the hearing on this, but I have to say that I think it is a horrible idea.

Metro needs to take into account that people who make this trip are carrying luggage, sometimes lots of luggage. Most people, including myself, will have to switch trains at Metro Center to get to the Silver Line.


Two Metro Transit Police officers stand on patrol aboard a Metrobus. The District Department of Transportation has proposed eliminating the 5A Metrobus route from L’Enfant Plaza to Dulles Airport, instead putting fliers on a westbound train till they reach the forthcoming Silver Line’s Wiehle-Reston East station, where they would board a bus to the airport. It is one of several dozen bus reroutes under review. (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post)

Getting rid of the 5A will mean one additional exit from a train and two escalators with bags. When you are on a long international trip, the switch is just more travel exhaustion.

Now I take the Yellow Line or Green Line to L’Enfant (although getting bags out of or onto L’Enfant is challenging as well). The 5A is the most convenient and inexpensive way to get to Dulles. Metro shouldn’t be changing this service at all until it has a line all the way out there.

Mitchell Polman, the District

DG: I hope that particular proposal — one of several dozen changes to Metrobus under review — won’t make it past the Metro board this fall. The review process is a good one. It allows the transit authority to conduct periodic reassessments of Metrobus service throughout the Washington region.

The proposal to end the 5A service came from the District Department of Transportation. It isn’t crazy. Many other bus routes are going to change to take advantage of the new Metrorail service.

Now, Polman and others board a bus at L’Enfant Plaza and travel through some areas of heavy traffic in the region’s core before the bus reaches the Dulles Access Highway, where the trip is much smoother. The District’s proposal would have them stay aboard a westbound train till they reach the forthcoming Silver Line’s Wiehle-Reston East terminal, where they would board a bus for a much shorter ride to the airport.

Some travelers have said they don’t want to give up their one-seat ride to the airport. Steve Strauss, the deputy associate director for transit services at the District Department of Transportation, pointed out to me that unless a traveler lives at L’Enfant Plaza, it’s not a one-seat trip anyway. The goal in conducting the review, he said, is to use the new train line to provide the most efficient form of transit service to the airport and avoid duplication of services — buses and trains — along the same route.

Still, I think the idea of killing the 5A is at least one year ahead of its time. Dulles is the most difficult airport in the region to reach by transit. The direct bus link between the airport and downtown Washington is attractive to travelers and airport employees.

The start of the Silver Line and the rerouting of many other bus services early next year is likely to confuse many travelers. And Metro has not yet set the fares to the new Silver Line stations. Let’s at least get through that phase before messing with a familiar transit link to the airport.

Hybrids in HOT lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It is interesting to watch the progress of the new high-occupancy toll lanes on interstates 95 and 395.

What will happen to those hybrid owners with the Virginia clean-fuel plates as we transition from high-occupancy vehicle lanes to HOT lanes? Will there be an end to the hybrid exemption?

Will hybrid owners simply use their E-ZPasses to pay for HOT lane use, and will they be able to continue on the former HOV lanes past Edsall Road to the Pentagon and the 14th Street bridge? Or will they have to exit the HOT lanes onto I-395 at Edsall Road?

Jim Clark, Lorton

DG: Hybrid drivers who have been enjoying their exemption from the carpooling rules in the HOV lanes on I-95/395 will become toll payers in the 95 Express Lanes unless they pick up at least two passengers to meet the carpool requirement.

The 95 Express Lanes, scheduled to open by early 2015, will operate under pretty much the same travel rules that drivers now encounter when using the 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway.

As Clark points out, the express lanes will end around Edsall Road, just north of the Beltway. Unless Virginia changes the rules for hybrids, which I think is unlikely, a solo driver whose vehicle has the necessary clean-fuel tags issued by Virginia could continue north in the HOV lanes, just as he can today.

Other toll-paying drivers who don’t have the necessary license plates would need to exit before they get into the I-395 HOV lanes. Those qualifying clean-fuel plates would have been issued before July 1, 2006.

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