A quotation about a proposed bus system in Fairfax County was attributed incorrectly yesterday. The statement, "I don't think some of the members of the Board of Supervisors understand what is involved," was made by Fairfax Supervisor Joseph Alexander.
Fairfax County officials have discovered that it's a lot easier to talk about creating a new bus line than to create one.
Last October, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which has voiced frequent objections to the rising costs of Metrobus service, decided to replace some Metrobus service around a new subway station with county bus service, but those efforts have been stalled because of confusion and political turf fighting.
"If we don't get moving on this it's not going to do the county much good," said Democratic Supervisor Joseph Alexander of Lee District, south of Alexandria where many of the buses would be operating. "Once people get used to driving to the subway in their cars, its hard to change their habits."
But other supervisors, whose districts would not be served by the buses, say the $6 million project is getting out of hand. "I am extremely disturbed because I think we're getting farther and farther afield from where we started," said Republican Supervisor Nancy K. Falck. Her Dranesville District is in northern Fairfax, far from where the county buses would be running.
"I don't think some of the members of the Board of Supervisors understand what is involved," says Marie B. Travesky, the Springfield supervisor.
"I don't think they are really familar with a bus operations," said Alexander.
Fairfax, like Montgomery County and Alexandria, has decided that it can save money by running its own bus system around busy Metro subway stops and thus avoid high Metro labor costs.
But plans to operate about 30 buses near the Huntington subway station when it opens in December are currently more than a year behind schedule. The board is scheduled to again consider the issue today, but no one is predicting whether the proposal will move forward.
The confusion began in October, when the board, after receiving a favorable report from the Systems Design Concept Inc. transportation consulting firm, directed county staff to consider routing the county buses on smaller neighborhood roads not now traveled by Metrobuses.
The staff completed most of the neighborhood roads study by the end of January, but in February the board told the staff it did not want a neighborhood study. It also asked the staff to come up with a plan for hiring another consultant to study other aspects of county bus service.
Then in April, at the urging of Alexander, the board said that since the neighborhood roads study was more than 80 percent completed, the staff could finish it. It also told the staff to have the consultant look at the neighborhood plan as well. Last week, however, the board complained that the staff emphasized the neighborhood plan too much in its advertisement for a consultant and refused to approve it.
During every board discussion on the issue, supervisors have launched into confused and emotional debates over exactly what they had agreed to and how they would proceed.
At the end of each debate, the weary county staff was sent back to the drawing board with new orders.
Numerous questions remain unanswered. The county must still decide whether it should run the system on a day-to-day basis or hire a transportation expert to run the show.
However, the thorniest political question the board must face is where the bus routes will go. Falck argues that the new bus system should stick to the Metro route to provide an accurate measure of comparing what it costs the county to run a bus and what it costs Metro.
Alexander and Democratic Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth, whose district would also benefit, counter that it does not make sense to mimic Metro's routes when the county's buses, which would be about 10 feet shorter than the Metrobuses, could travel on smaller neighborhood roads and signficantly increase ridership at little additional cost.
But Falck and others say it would be unfair for Huntington-area residents to get an improved bus system when other county residents will not. "My people would also like enhanced bus service," said Supervisor Martha Pennino, a Democrat who represents the Centreville District.
"I honestly think there are some board members that are jealous and think we're going to get something that they're not getting. That's not so," Alexander said, adding that the county intends to develop similar programs around the other five subway stations planned for Fairfax if the Huntington bus line is successful.
Montgomery County encountered similar complaints when it developed its feeder bus system around the Silver Spring subway stop five years ago.
Despite the controversy, the county plunged ahead and the bus system is considered a success.
Indeed, these tribulations do not seem to have diluted Fairfax's interest in partially disentangling itself from Metro. Pennino said that despite her concerns, she supports the project. "My feeling is I may not be getting the baby, but I'm not going to ask to have it cut up. . ." she said. "If we can prove that we can do a good job, as well as Metro at considerably less costs, then we can talk about putting this bus service in other areas of the county and we can talk about expanding it."
Nor has the haggling tempered board criticism of Metro. During a recent board discussion on the Huntington bus line, Republican Chairman John F. Herrity said that despite the problems, he still believes the county can do a better job. "I don't know what you think Metro stands for, but I think it means Mighty Expensive Transportation Rip-Off."