Falls Church officials are considering the creation of a minibus system to provide transportation for city residents between their homes and the West Falls Church and East Falls Church Metro stations scheduled to open in June.
Last week, city planners in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission chose a consultant to survey every Falls Church household to determine the level of support for such a service. The survey, which will be funded primarily by a federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration grant, is expected to take place in the next two months.
Falls Church planner Hal Glasser said Robert Hitlin, who heads a research and consulting firm in Falls Church, will leave written questionnaires with all 4,250 city households and arrange to pick them up several days later. Hitlin will then conduct a sample telephone survey of residents who do not respond.
"We're really trying to get to the commuters," said Glasser. "We want to find the transit market in the city. Once we have that estimate, then we can see how best to serve them."
Glasser said a rush-hour van service could be practical in Falls Church because the 2-square-mile city is so small that commuters will not want to drive such a short distance to Metro and pay all-day parking, nor will they want to spend money to ride Metrobus if they live only 10 minutes from a station.
Even if most residents are willing to drive, Glasser said, rush-hour traffic congestion and lack of sufficient parking at the Metro stations would present problems for the city.
"We are trying to get them out of their cars," Glasser said. "We're not planning on directly competing with Metrobus."
While Metrobus travels along the city's major roads such as Broad and Washington streets, Falls Church planners envision a van service that would travel through the city's neighborhoods.
"This would be pushing transit service virtually to the front door," Glasser said.
He said rides could be free or cost 25 to 50 cents.
Glasser said questions residents will be asked include where they work, when they work, what kind of fare they would be willing to pay, how often they would want the vans to run, whether they have drivers' licenses, how many cars they have and whether they currently ride mass transit.
"We're not going to give them a book," Glasser said. "It's not going to be difficult."
"When Mr. Smith gets done with it, we want him to give it to Mrs. Smith," said Glasser, who said the questionnaires will have room for several respondents.
He said that some residents who might support the concept of a rush-hour minibus also might not use it.
"I'm not really too interested in the guy who just likes the idea," he said. "The person you won't believe is the person who works in Great Falls."
In order to get a rough idea of how much a bus service would cost the city, Glasser has worked out several possible scenarios.
As a model, Glasser imagined a bus system with two main neighborhood routes operating from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Glasser figured that a service with buses operating every 10 minutes would require nine buses and cost the city more than $300,000 annually, whereas a service with buses operating every 30 minutes would require four buses and cost about $140,000. A 15-minute frequency would require six buses and cost about $210,000; a 20-minute frequency would require five buses and cost about $175,000.
Given the cost estimates, Glasser said a bus system running every 15 or 20 minutes might make the most sense.
Glasser said that Hitlin is expected to hand the results of the survey to city planners in the spring. If enough commuters express support for a rush-hour van service, Glasser said, it could be in operation during the summer of 1987, a year after the Metro stations open.
In the meantime, Glasser is optimistic about the idea. "I'm doing this because I believe there's a need and something will happen," he said.