Connector Buses to Accept SmarTrip

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By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

The Fairfax Connector, the county-operated bus service, soon will allow riders to pay their fares with the SmarTrip debit cards used on Metro trains and buses, transit officials said in previewing their plans for the coming year.

The move to a cashless payment option will integrate Connector riders into the Metro transit network, officials said. The SmarTrip system could begin by early summer. Riders will also be able to pay with cash.

Also this year, a transit center is set to open on Bluemont Way adjacent to Reston Town Center. The station will include a climate-controlled passenger waiting area, restrooms and a store selling passes and fare cards. A Connector store is expected to open at the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, the first at a Metro station in the county.

The county expects as many as 36 buses to be delivered by the end of the year, with 15 more vehicles to be ordered during the year.

County transit officials recently outlined the improvements to the Board of Supervisors as they reported that the number of Connector riders rose for the seventh year in a row.

Since 1999, when the county expanded service along the Dulles corridor, the number of trips made by riders has increased from about 4.7 million a year to about 8.5 million.

For the budget year that ended June 30, ridership was up 5.9 percent over the previous year, transit officials said. Between July 1 and the end of September, ridership increased 15.4 percent over the same period a year earlier.

Officials attributed the increase to the expansion in the Dulles and Richmond Highway (Route 1) corridors, as well as to additional weekend service. The rise in gasoline prices has led some riders to use public transportation, officials added.

Thomas N. Black, the county transportation department's section chief for the Fairfax Connector, said that he was pleased with the ridership trend and that the increase mirrors the experience of other transit providers, such as Metro.

Black said the greatest challenge the bus system faces is finding "adequate resources to support what we see as an increasing need for services."

The Connector receives no federal money, Black said, and depends on the county's general fund, state grants and fares to support its operating budget, which is about $35 million a year.

Fares -- the minimum is $1 a ride -- generate 20 percent of the money needed to run the bus system, according to Black. There are no fare increases planned for 2006, he said.

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