Rapid Buses May Be Expanded

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Metro is proposing to add rapid-bus service on 18 crowded bus corridors across the region during the next six years to speed travel times and increase reliability. Officials said the plan would improve service dramatically on "lifeline corridors" that carry half of Metrobus's 450,000 daily riders.

With the region's population forecast to grow 22 percent by 2030, Metro officials say better service on these priority corridors will help unclog roadways and get people out of cars and into mass transit. Washington already has the second-worst traffic in the nation.

The proposal, to be presented to a Metro board committee Thursday, is the first time in several years that the transit agency has recommended a regional action plan, officials said. In the past, the focus was on individual lines.

The improvements would make bus service along these corridors "much more reliable, shave 15 to 20 percent off your travel time, and make [rides] more pleasant," said Nat Bottigheimer, Metro's planning chief. Unlike the average subway rider, who rides the train to work, these key bus arteries have a more diverse ridership.

"These corridors serve every aspect of people's lives," he said. "There are kids riding, people going shopping and people going to work."

The plan would add rapid buses to three or four corridors a year, at an annual cost of $3 million to $4 million. In addition, Metro and the jurisdictions it serves also need $326 million in one-time capital funds for 135 additional buses, traffic signal technology to extend green lights, road improvements and additional parking at key transit centers.

Metro currently has rapid-bus service on five lines and is scheduled to start its sixth as part of a restructuring of its oldest and highest ridership line, the 30s, starting June 30.

If the Metro board committee agrees with the proposal, it would still be at least a year before rapid buses start running on additional corridors. The full board would need to act later this fall on funding the program.

The recommendations for rapid-bus service on key corridors are separate from a plan that Washington area transportation officials are studying to run buses on the shoulders of highways and other major roads.

Rapid-bus service would be modeled after the popular MetroExtra service on Georgia Avenue that connects Silver Spring to downtown Washington. The route is served by other Metro buses; the MetroExtra buses, which have a different design, run on the same route but save time by making fewer stops.

Although bus improvements would be tailored for individual corridors, all the corridors would have some traffic signals equipped with technology to give priority to buses.

If a bus is approaching a green traffic signal that would normally turn red in 10 seconds, it would hold the green for several more seconds to allow the bus to get through the intersection, according to Jim Hughes, Metro's senior planner.

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