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SW residents want temporary shuttle to become permanent

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2010; B03

Riders of a free shuttle bus that operated in a Southwest Washington neighborhood for 18 months as a way to offset the hardship that construction posed to pedestrians are asking District officials to find money to restore the service, which ended June 30.

The Shuttle-Bug operated between G and M streets SW, from Sixth Street to a little past Third Street, providing service to thousands of residents in that area. One of them, Barbara Tillman, said the shuttle had become "the heartbeat" of the community for many low-income and elderly residents. "In many respects, it was vital," she said.

Beth Paulson, founder of the Southwest Action Team, a community organization that helped initiate the shuttle service, said her group has collected about 500 letters in support of resuming the Shuttle-Bug, including one from an assistant D.C. police chief.

"We have testimonials," Paulson said. "People not only signed [a form letter], but they put heartfelt statements."

Even so, city officials said, a resumption of the service is unlikely.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said the shuttle service was created to mitigate the impact of the construction where the old Waterside Mall was. It is now home to an office tower and grocery store. Wells negotiated with a couple of developers, including Waterfront Associates, to help pay for the bus.

"Fourth Street is now wonderful and well-lit," Wells said. "The original reason is gone."

He said he understands residents advocating for neighborhood-based transportation. But, Wells said, "I think that getting the city to fund [a shuttle] for one neighborhood where there is no extenuating circumstance would be extremely difficult because funds are limited."

The construction work was finished this year, but the service continued because additional money was available to pay for it, Wells said. Those funds ran out last month.

Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), said the Shuttle-Bug was expected to run only until Fourth Street opened. Now that it has, Hobson said, "the agreement is met."

Frances Wade, 67, a former shuttle rider, said she sent letters to Wells and City Administrator Neil O. Albert.

Wade said she rode the shuttle to the Metro, going to and from work. Now, instead of catching a ride in the air-conditioned, 13-passenger bus, Wade, who has a breathing condition, said she is winded as she walks the five blocks to the Metro station.

"We truly miss it," she said. "I sure hope that we can get it going again."

Paulson said her group and other tenant associations in the neighborhood are seeking about $185,000 to resume the service for 12 months while they try to locate other funding.

Paulson said there appears to be "disparity" in how neighborhoods are being treated with the allocation of funds.

"Look at what is going into H Street," she said. "They have a free shuttle bus. We're just saying, 'What about us?' "

Paulson cited numerous reasons she thinks the Shuttle-Bug service should be resumed. A survey conducted by George Mason University students found that one-third of participants said they took the shuttle for safety reasons. Twenty-five percent said they have difficulty walking, and nearly two-thirds said they do not own a car or do not drive.

"This bus is independence and freedom for a lot of people," Paulson said.

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