Alexandria's fledgling bus system has nearly doubled its ridership since taking to the streets in the spring of 1984 and is losing fewer dollars than expected, according to new transit reports.
The 17-bus DASH fleet carried 90,010 people in June, compared with 49,254 bus riders in April 1984, its first full month of operation, Alexandria Transit Co. figures show.
The figures, released in a report to the City Council, indicate that for the fiscal year that ended June 30 the DASH deficit was $669,567, or 22 percent less than the budget estimate of $857,409.
The council approved DASH (the inevitable acronym stands for Downtown Alexandria SHuttle) in 1983 because it wanted to reduce Alexandria's annual subsidy to Metrobus and exercise more control over fares and routes.
All fares within the city are 50 cents, and trips through Arlington to the Pentagon cost 80 cents. The buses have been used to entice Christmas shoppers to Old Town Alexandria by offering special reduced December rates, and more recently, have been used to provide free service during the Red Cross Waterfront Festival.
The new DASH buses reduce the number of Metrobuses needed and saved the city saved about $600,000 in subsidies to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, according to city budget reports. The city's annual WMATA subsidy still exceeds $6 million.
In May, the council cut the money it feeds the DASH system by $100,000, to $985,750, triggering discussion that the fare could increase this fall by 10 cents. At the same time, the council voted to add two more of the 31-seat blue and white buses.
Mayor James P. Moran Jr. made the bus system an election issue last spring, citing its expense and criticizing then-Mayor Charles E. Beatley's enthusiastic support for DASH, which Moran called "one of Chuck's toy train sets."
Moran beat Beatley handily at the polls, but he now says that since almost 1 million people boarded DASH last year, he is committed to keeping the buses rolling.