New Rules Close Doors On Metro Shuttle Buses

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008

Metro will no longer provide shuttle bus service for Washington Redskins games, school field trips and, beginning next year, Wolf Trap performances, because of a new federal ban, General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said yesterday.

Under Federal Transit Administration regulations that became final May 1, public agencies cannot operate charter bus service if private companies are available to provide the service. Last year, Metro chartered nearly 2,500 buses for revenue of $1.6 million.

Without a waiver from the FTA, Metro cannot provide charter service unless it first checks with dozens of charter bus companies in the Washington region, a time-consuming task that would require Metro to send e-mails to every motorcoach company registered in a regional database, officials said.

"This rule, quite effectively, takes Metro out of the business of providing charter bus service," Catoe said during a Metro board meeting.

The ban has little financial impact on Metro. Metro's fees of $310.50 per bus for a minimum of three hours and $207 per bus for schools cover direct costs and overhead and allow for "a small profit," Catoe said. The concern, he said, is the inconvenience to customers and the non-Metro buses that would drive through Metro stations.

"We have no oversight on the charter bus providers, and that raises questions of safety for our operators, employees and customers," he said.

Last year, Metro chartered more than 1,300 buses for Redskins fans for trips between FedEx Field and the Morgan Boulevard Metrorail station. The team charged fans $5 for round-trip fare.

A Redskins spokesman did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

Metro sought an exemption from the FTA to provide charter bus service for Wolf Trap this year. The exemption was granted, and Wolf Trap spokesman Chris Guerre said shuttles will run on schedule starting today. The round-trip cost is $3 for travel between the West Falls Church Metro station and the performing-arts center.

"We are looking for other options for next year," Guerre said.

Members of the Metro board said the new regulations prevent Metro from providing critical services to the community. "That is really unfortunate, and our customers will want to know why," said the board's chairman, Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington County.

Improved bus service was the focus of yesterday's board meeting. Members praised a proposal from planners to add rapid-bus service to 18 crowded corridors across the region over the next six years. The aim is to improve travel times and increase reliability. Metro runs limited-stop service on five existing bus corridors. The board also gave final approval to add limited-stop service on the 30s line, which has Metro's highest ridership, as part of an overhaul. The changes will take effect June 30.

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