Express Fare Gates, Rapid Bus Line Proposed

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 3, 2006

Metro is considering two service improvements likely to be welcomed by rail and bus riders: express lanes at fare gates to move SmarTrip card users through the system faster and express bus service on the heavily traveled Georgia Avenue corridor.

Both proposals are awaiting votes by Metro board committees Thursday. If the ideas are approved, they'll be put before the full board, and the services could start in the fall.

The fare gate express lanes could begin in October at three Metrorail stations: Anacostia (north mezzanine) on the Green Line, and New Carrollton and Vienna/Fairfax-GMU on the Orange Line.

The stations were chosen, Metro officials said, because they have high ridership, high usage of SmarTrip cards (80 percent of customers use them) and enough fare gates to allow several to be express lanes for card users only.

Each of the stations has nine or 10 fare gates, of which three or four would be set aside for users of the blue and green plastic SmarTrip cards. SmarTrip cards are processed electronically and move passengers through the system 45 percent faster than magnetic stripe Farecards.

Those are processed mechanically and must be inserted in the fare gate and removed before the gate opens. If the Farecard is crumpled or the stripe is demagnetized, the gate will not open, and backups can result. Tourists and others who don't ride the system regularly sometimes have trouble with the Farecards, frustrating regular commuters.

"This is a customer convenience issue," said Dave Couch, director of Metro's infrastructure renewal program. "This goes to eliminating frustration. Especially if there's someone ahead of you with a crumpled Farecard spitting back out at him and there's a line."

The success of the E-ZPass system, in which dedicated lanes at toll booths help drivers avoid backups, is something Metro would like to replicate, he said.

Metro would install overhead signs and cover the designated fare gates with graphics to let customers know which aisles are the SmarTrip express lanes. If the pilot program is successful, Metro could expand express lanes to other stations with enough fare gates, Couch said.

The proposed bus service, known as Rapid Bus, is a joint project with the D.C. Transportation Department and is scheduled to begin in late September. If approved, the service would help relieve congestion on one of Metro's busiest lines, where the 70 and 71 buses travel.

The existing Georgia Avenue/Seventh Street Metrobus route transports about 22,000 passengers daily between Silver Spring and Buzzard Point, officials said. The express bus would run between the Silver Spring Metro station or Eastern Avenue NW and National Archives via Georgia Avenue and Seventh Street NW.

It takes nearly one hour to travel the 54 stops along the corridor between Archives and Silver Spring on Metrobus routes 70 and 71. The Rapid Bus, with about 15 stops, would cut travel time to between 38 and 45 minutes.

The service, projected to cost about $1 million, would be paid for by the District but operated by Metro. The fare would be the same as Metrobus fare: $1.25.

The service also would feature the latest in bus technology. At those stops with a shelter and power source, real-time displays would tell riders when the next bus is arriving, D.C. Transportation Department spokesman Erik Linden said.

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