Montgomery County officials are considering a major restructuring of Ride On bus service in Germantown, discontinuing six routes while creating four and offering midday, evening and weekend service to many neighborhoods.
The communities affected by the proposed restructuring are Dorsey Mill, Milestone, Waters Landing, Seabreeze Court, Gunners Lake and Clarksburg as well as Urbana in Frederick County.
Seven underused pairs of bus stops will be eliminated along Bureau Drive and Middlebrook, Frederick, Firstfield and Longdraft roads, and new service will be provided along Richter Farm Road. Esther Bowring, county public information officer, said that only 40 people were using those bus stops and that the affected riders will have alternate stops within a quarter mile.
Ride On officials said the changes are necessary because many of their routes have proved inefficient for the rapidly growing area.
"There's a lot of new residential as well as retail and commercial development, and it's not being serviced well at all," said Phil McLaughlin, manager of operations and planning for Ride On.
Germantown is now home to about 80,000 people; in 1970, there were just 3,000 people in what was then a railroad outpost. Bowring said about 1,000 bus stops serve the area.
The county held a public forum on the proposal last week, and residents have until today to fax or e-mail comments to the county's Division of Transit Services. If approved, the changes would go into effect May 1.
Some residents already have voiced concerns.
The proposal calls for discontinuing direct service to the Shady Grove Metro station for some neighbhorhoods, such as Milestone and Seabreeze Court. Instead, residents would ride to the Germantown transit center, where express buses along the 100 route would leave for the Metro station every five minutes during peak periods. During midday hours, the 100 bus will operate every 15 minutes; on weekends and evenings, it will run every 30 minutes.
Ride On officials said the buses that had been transporting commuters from their neighborhoods directly to the Shady Grove Metro station were underutilized.
"The idea was to use the transit center as the hub, to bring people there," McLaughlin said. "We become more efficient by doing this."
But residents in the affected neighborhoods said they want to keep taking one bus to the Metro station.
"I fail to see how anybody is going to benefit time-wise from any of these changes," said Germantown resident George Tobin.
Tobin rents a townhouse in the Milestone community. Each morning he takes the route 82 bus, which stops outside his housing development, to the Shady Grove Metro station. It takes about 15 minutes. From Shady Grove he takes the Metro to the Rockville office of the county Department of Health and Human Services, where he is a senior program analyst.
Tobin said he will consider moving closer to the District or the Germantown transit center if the changes go into effect.
He also said he was concerned that there are not enough parking spaces at the transit center to accommodate those commuters who decide not to take a bus there.
The transit center, which is near Maryland Route 118 and Aircraft Drive, has 175 parking spaces. McLaughlin said Ride On officials would discuss with neighboring businesses the possibility of using some of their parking spaces for part of the day.
McLaughlin said the residents will get better, more frequent service in exchange for having to transfer.
All but three of the 14 bus routes now serving the Germantown neighborhoods stop running by 8 p.m., he said. The new 100 bus route that goes to and from the Shady Grove Metro station from the transit center will run until midnight, he said.
Residents who want to comment on the proposal can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org a fax to 240-777-5801. All comments must arrive by 5 p.m. today.