By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Congestion, delays and concerns about train safety after last month's crash on the Red Line drove many rail riders to board buses for their daily travel, which might have a lasting impact on commuting habits.
Johnise Price, 40, always took the train home to Silver Spring from her job, a block away from Archives-Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter Station. Right after the crash, she began taking the 79 bus, which essentially takes her from one station to another.
The bus isn't perfect, she said. The schedules aren't always reliable, and the stops and starts are jerky. But at least she's moving.
"I would prefer the train, but until they really get it up and running again, I'll stay right here," she said as traveled toward home aboard the 79.
According to Metro, bus ridership surged immediately after the June 22 train crash, which killed nine people and injured 80. Two bus lines, which allow riders to efficiently bypass stretches of the Red Line between the Metro Center and Silver Spring stations, have become especially crowded. About 17,000 more people took the 70, 71 and 79 buses that travel Georgia Avenue the week of the crash than the week before, a 19.5 percent increase. There was a 15 percent increase on the 16th Street service, which includes the S-1, 2, 4 and 9 buses.
Increased ridership continued last week, although not as high as immediately after the accident.
"The numbers show it definitely opened the eyes of some people to give the bus service a chance and a try," Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said. "Hopefully they'll like it and continue to use it."
Price, for one, is sticking with the bus. She tried boarding a Red Line train last week, but it took three hours for her to get to work because of delays, she said. The bus usually takes about 45 minutes, twice as long as the train did before the crash.
Metro said this week that through at least July 19 commuters on the Red Line should allow 30 minutes or more on top of normal travel times to account for delays. Until then, the Takoma Station will close at 10 each night as the crash investigation continues. The rest of the day, trains will share a single track between Takoma and Fort Totten.
The potential for continuous Red Line delays seems to be the biggest factor in the switch to buses, but concerns about safety are also affecting riders' decisions. Yanira Lopez, 16, of Silver Spring was on a train just ahead of the two involved in the crash. She said she had passed through Fort Totten about 4:50 p.m. The accident happened about 10 minutes later. She has taken the S-9 Express bus every day since to her job at a summer camp on P Street.
"I'd rather take the Metro, but I'm scared," she said.
There is a bonus, too, some switchers say: Riding the bus is cheaper.
Elena Spivak, 37, of Silver Spring "accidentally" took the S-9 after the crash, and she loved it. She spent $2.85 to ride the train from Silver Spring to Farragut North, but she can spend $1.25 with her SmarTrip card to ride the bus. That's $1.60 saved, twice a day -- more than enough to pay for her daily coffee.
During the week after the crash, Metro encouraged people to find alternatives to the Red Line and placed more and larger buses on the routes where more riders were expected. Metro has since returned to normal bus service patterns, which means many carry more people than before.
Metro officials are monitoring ridership data to see whether the changes have a lasting effect, Taubenkibel said.
Nancy Coleman, 62 of Silver Spring said she "discovered" buses because of the accident. She might ride the train again during the winter when it's cold and icy, but she has come to love getting a good view of the District during the summer.
Plus, she said, she almost always gets a seat, "so I can read my book."