Fewer stops, more headaches for bus to Gaylord Resort

For people who rely on public transit, the reconfiguration of the NH-1 route has lengthened their day and added to the cost of the ride.
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 20, 2010

Louis Marshall's apartment complex is a little more than three miles from his job, barely a seven-minute drive. By bus, it used to take the 55-year-old cook 12 to 15 minutes to get to work at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

But for the past six months, Marshall has spent upward of two hours making the three-mile trip. He hops on a bus outside his apartment building to go to the Southern Avenue Metro station. From there, he heads to the Branch Avenue Station. Marshall then catches the NH-1 bus, which makes a stop on Oxon Hill Road before entering National Harbor.

Marshall's easy commute, and that of many of his co-workers, became horrendous last summer when Metro changed its NH-1 bus route, the only form of public transportation to the mixed-use development of hotels, restaurants, art galleries, swanky condominiums and high-end stores.

Instead of starting at the Southern Avenue Metro station and making several stops in Oxon Hill, the bus now starts at the Branch Avenue Station, stops at a park-and-ride on Oxon Hill Road and ends on St. George Boulevard in National Harbor.

"It doesn't make sense. You have a great development project, and people can't get there," said John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer for Unite Here Local 25, a union representing Gaylord employees, noting the fewer stops made by the bus.

In October, Local 25 and Gaylord sent a letter to Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) requesting help to get the bus line restored to its original route and schedule.

The change "has imposed a significant burden on those who ride the bus, both in terms of substantial increased costs for transportation as well as lengthened commute times," the letter reads. "We believe that restoring the prior NH-1 route and schedule is the correct and feasible option for [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]. . . . According to WMATA's own documents, the change was revenue neutral, thus restoring the route should not have a budget impact."

Spokeswoman Angela Gates said Metro has not received a request from Prince George's about the NH-1 bus line.

She said that the county made the original request to change the route and that Metro is "awaiting direction from Prince George's County or [the Maryland Department of Transportation] for concurrence to move the route back to Southern Avenue."

Meanwhile, Susan Hubbard, a spokesman for the county Department of Transportation and Public Works, said her agency has not received a formal request from the union and hotel management to submit to Metro. Hubbard said county transportation officials met with union and hotel officials after receiving the letter sent to Johnson.

She said Gaylord originally asked the county to make the request to Metro to change the route.

But now, Phil Coffey, senior vice president and general manager at Gaylord National, said the resort "does not oppose Local 25's request to WMATA to consider restoring the NH-1 line back to its original route. Our priority has always been the personal safety of our employees and guests, and we have closely monitored the safety and reliability of the NH-1 service since its inception."

Coffey noted that there is also a private shuttle, OnBoard DC Tours, that provides transportation from National Harbor into the District.

Hubbard said that during the meeting with the union and hotel officials, they discussed the "potential ramifications" of drawing attention to the bus line while Metro is in the midst of a budget crisis. Some worried that Metro could eliminate the route, she said.

Since the route change, ridership has dipped 20 to 25 percent on a monthly comparison. There were 495 passengers per weekday in January, compared with 673 in January 2009, Gates said.

Boardman said it seemed shortsighted to develop major employment in an isolated area and then create hurdles for employees to get there.

According to a sampling of workers compiled by Local 25 last fall, the average daily cost of a commute for NH-1 riders to National Harbor rose from $5.05 to $8.19.

Terrell King, 23, who works as a lobby attendant at Gaylord and lives in Northeast Washington, said that because the NH-1 starts two hours later on weekends, he takes a cab to work on Saturdays. It costs him $20 each way, which cuts into his $13.30 hourly pay.

Marshall also calls a taxi on the weekends. Otherwise, he said he wouldn't make it to work on time. He pays $15 one way, he said.

"It's a hassle," Marshall said. "That's $60 a month, and my budget is tight."

The daily commute went from less than two hours to more than three, according to the data.

"I get off at 3:30, and I don't walk in the door until about 6," said Marshall, who sometimes catches the bus at St. George Boulevard at National Harbor to the park-and-ride on Oxon Hill, and then walks the final 1 1/2 miles home, rather than catching more buses and a train.

Marshall, whose cars were repossessed after a restaurant venture failed, held onto a plastic bag filled with his hotel-kitchen-prepared dinner while he made his trek home. He said that he can't afford a car and that he knows he's fortunate to have a job. As he looked out across busy Indian Head Highway, he said he just wishes there were a better way to get there.

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