Union Station to become intercity bus center

Robert Thomson
Columnist July 30, 2011

Union Station will become a hub for intercity bus service under an agreement scheduled to be announced Monday by John D. Porcari, deputy U.S. transportation secretary and chairman of the Union Station Redevelopment Corp.

The agreement with Greyhound, Bolt Bus, Megabus and Washington Deluxe will allow riders to get on and off the intercity buses in the shelter of a reconfigured bus deck in the station’s garage. To put the deal into effect, the bus deck space will need to be restriped and some utilities will have to be relocated, according to a U.S. Transportation Department source familiar with the agreement. Riders should see the bus operations envisioned in the plan this fall.

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

Consolidation of the District’s intercity bus service is logical and should be a good deal for riders. The low-fare buses are especially popular, but they have not enjoyed a permanent, protected home. Instead, many stop on D.C. streets. Waiting riders are exposed to the weather, the locations of stops are obscure and confusing, and access to local transit is not always easy.

This deal also is likely to please downtown drivers who get caught up in traffic on streets where the buses stop.

In addition, Greyhound can move buses from its terminal at First and L streets NE, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal has not been publicly announced. This move also will be welcomed by bus riders. The old terminal, wedged between Union Station and the New York Avenue Metrorail station, is not convenient to either.

Putting the buses inside Union Station means riders can make easy connections with Metrorail and Metrobus, Amtrak, MARC, VRE and the D.C. Circulator buses. The garage is near the Bikestation on the west side of the terminal.

The deal also makes sense for the future of the District and its travelers. Union Station, nearly falling apart until its revival in the late 1980s, is on track to become even more of a focal point for transportation and community development.

The District government, redevelopment corporation and other public and private partners involved in Union Station operations have been looking at projects that include streetcar service on H Street NE, reconstruction of the Metrorail station, enhancements on the station’s shop levels, improvements in vehicle and pedestrian circulation in front of the station, and the residential and commercial development near and over the railroad tracks.

The bus plan won’t yield a profit for the redevelopment corporation, the source said. Initially, the bus companies will be charged an annual $30,000 fee per bus slip to cover the estimated revenue loss from the change in bus-deck operations. There also will be a 75-cent fee per bus rider to help fund the improvements on the bus deck and a nearby parking lot for the bus drivers.

Metro’s fragile escalators

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

About 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Pentagon Metro station, I approached the south bank of escalators that lead from the mezzanine up to the bus platform. Not surprisingly, two of the three escalators were dead. However, the one operating escalator was going down. The outbound rush-hour riders struggled up the dead escalators in the 95-degree heat, as a couple of people rode down on the operating escalator.

I have seen this before. This time, I walked back to the kiosk and asked if the direction of the operating escalator could be reversed. The agent said that if they stopped the escalator to reverse the direction, it would break.

Have we come to this? Not only are we expected to accept the fact that half of all Metro escalators will be out of service at any given time, but now we have Metro’s First Law of Motion, with a nod to Isaac Newton: An escalator set in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

— Tim Kelly, Springfield

It wouldn’t take an apple on the noggin to get Sir Isaac to acknowledge the gravity of Metro escalator problems. The moving stairs are way too easy to bust. You or I could do it if we ran up them. A stroller could do it by whacking a step.

Metro’s managers know this situation is one of the top sources of concern and frustration among riders. General Manager Richard Sarles was in Bethesda last week announcing that the entrance escalators at the Bethesda station will be replaced by new units. The Pentagon escalators also are on the replacement list, as are units at Foggy Bottom and the south entrance to Dupont Circle. Unfortunately, that makes a grand total of 12 escalators out of 588.

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 .

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