Protests from commuters have convinced District Officials to rethink their proposal to end through Metrobus service along Connecticut Avenue as a way to force nearly 10,000 bus commuters onto the subway system.
City Councilmember Polly Shackleton announced to a cherring crowd of about 250 bus riders last week that at least one bus route -- the L5 -- will not be eliminated after all, at least for now. However, hefty price increases and boarding restrictions may be imposed.
In addition, city and Metro Officials hinted at the public hearing that other changes may be made before the bus proposal, which would affect all nine L-route buses along Connecticut, is officially presented to Metro's regional board of directors Oct. 8. Any changes would go into effect in early January.
The fragmentation of bus routes -- stopping buses at the new subway stations and forcing transfers to the subway or other buses -- is designed to funnel bus riders into the three new Connecticut Avenue subway stations that will open in December: Woodley Park-Zoo, Cleveland Park and Van Ness-UDC.
The changes would save an estimated $468,000 a year in bus operating expenses by eliminating much of the bus service on Connecticut Avenue south of the new subway stations. But actual savings to the Metro system would be only $80,000 a year after additional subway operating expenses are deducted, according to Metrobus operations specialist Richard Dawson.
Even before last week's hearings, riders of the L5 buses won their case with city officials when they complained that commuters to the State and Interior Departments and the area around the Kennedy Center would be hit especially hard if the L5 were eliminated. They argued they would need to take three buses or two buses and the subway, and also pay significantly higher fares, in order to get to work.
The latest proposal for the L5 buses, which may be changed again before it goes to the Metro board, would make the L5 an express bus, charging riders a premium fare of $1.35 and imposing boarding restrictions designed to limit its use to areas not served by the subway system.
The L5's longterm future is still uncertain. District officials want to continue it only on an "experimental basis" until next summer, according to Anthony Rachal, city director of mass transportation.
While commuters at the hearing hailed the temporary reprieve for the L5, many others criticized the District's overall plan to truncate other bus runs along Connecticut Avenue. Many, including other city government officials, argued that it will be a great hardship on the thousands of elderly people who live along Connecticut Avenue and may find transferring to the subway difficult or intimidating.
"The Connecticut Avenue corridor has the largest concentration of older persons in the city. . . . There are 24,000 elderly in Ward III alone . . . and the arbitrary elimination of these bus lines . . . would leave them no way to get the necessities of life and cause them a financial strain," the executive director of the District's Office of Aging, D. Richard Artis, told the hearing.
"We should not force the elderly to give up their familiar travel for the unfamiliar, inconvenient and frightening subway travel," said Joseph J. Senturia, speaking for the Brandywine (Apartments) Tenants Association at 4545 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
"Keep the L4 or at least retain some bus service getting down below Dupont Circle where there are stores and medical offices," said Leo McCann, representing the Parker House Condominiums at 4700 Connecticut Ave. NW. "There are large numbers of elderly persons who use buses in the off-peak hours. Many need helping getting on a buss and many won't ride the subway. My wife won't get on.I don't know what we can do. But we do need the L4" or some other regular bus service going all the way down Connecticut Avenue, McCann said.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C, which represents 20,000 citizens in neighborhoods around Connecticut Avenue, proposed that at least one bus route, the L4, be maintained to run continuously between Chevy Chase and Dupont Circles during the day and go below Dupont to the Federal Triangle during non-Metrorail hours.
A bus service "that does not require transferring at Van Ness-UDC will insure that riders generally, particularly the elderly who use services up and down the Connecticut avenue corridor, will not be inconvenienced or discouraged from riding public transportation," Commissioner Lynn Ohman told the hearing.
Many speakers said they were pleased the L5 line would not be eliminated but criticized the premium fare and boarding restrictions proposed for it.
"I don't think riders should be penalized for riding a bus with fares that are 100 percent higher than what they pay now and also would have boarding restrictions," said Alexis Obolensky, a Russian-born prince who works in the language services section of the State Department and commutes on the L5 from his home at 5437 33rd St. NW.
The increase actually would be 134 percent, said Charles Lanman, who works at the U.S. Bureau of Mines near the Kennedy Center and takes the L5 from his home near Nebraska and Connecticut Avenues. "I pay $11.50 now with a two-week flash pass and would have to pay $27 with a $1.35 fare each way."
"I'm upset to be told that there's now going to be a test period for the L5. We've got better things to do than fight for the L5 every two months," said Richard Levine who commutes to Foggy Bottom from Connecticut and Porter.
Last May the District held another bus hearing, at which it proposed to eliminate the L5 and all other direct rush-hour bus service between Northwest Washington and Foggy Bottom and the Federal Triangle. It withdrew most of those route cutbacks after angry citizen protests.
Levine said a premium $1.35 bus fare, and even the $1.20 bus-subway fare, would make taxicabs seem reasonable. "I can get a cab downtown now from Connecticut and Porter for $2.25," he told the hearing.
Metro officials said after the meeting that the $1.35 fare mentioned was only a ball-park figure and that if a premium fare is charged, it might be as low as $1, the amount now charged on the two premium-fare routes in the city, the L1 and the P9.