A plan to reroute bus service in parts of Southeast Washington has angered some residents, who complain that their needs are last served and their wishes most often ignored.
Metro officials plead efficiency and economy as the reasons for proposing to halt most Metrobus service across the Anacostia River when the Anacostia subway station opens in late December.
As when other suburban stations opened, most buses will be rerouted to provide feeder service to the station, delivering an estimated 15,000 riders each weekday, according to Metro estimates.
District and southern Prince George's County commuters who have traveled by bus across the 11th Street or South Capitol Street bridges from Interstate 295, from the Suitland Parkway, on the A, B, P, V, W and M routes will find themselves dropped off at the new rail station. Only the 90s, the Garfield Loop buses, will continue to cross the 11th Street Bridge at all times. The A22, A26 and A28 will cross the river when Metrorail is closed.
The proposal, which is subject to Metro board approval, would save money for the transit system and the District while raising transportation costs for thousands of riders who live in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
To some bus riders, the Metro plan typifies the callousness of policy-makers toward a population that depends on public transit, cannot afford another fare increase on top of the recent increase in June and must travel to downtown Washington for jobs, doctors, movies and all the services absent in a woefully underserved corner of the District.
"We're powerless out here," said Absalom Jordan, a member of the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the Ward 8 Democrats. "It's painful to see how people dismiss us, treat us with indifference."
At least 200 Ward 8 residents turned out for a community meeting last week to challenge the Metro plan and vent frustration and anguish over a variety of issues: Metrobuses that seem dirtier and more broken down than others elsewhere in the city, the 15-year wait for the subway to reach Anacostia and a recent Maryland proposal to eliminate a Congress Heights Metro station.
Metro officials concede that the buses, sent to Southeast Washington when they were new in 1983, turned out to be lemons, and also break down more because they traverse roads torn up by subway construction.
The Anacostia station will open more than 15 years after the first Metro station, largely because of protracted disputes in Maryland about where to build the line.
Maryland's recent proposal to save money and time on Metro construction by bypassing Congress Heights was quickly killed, Metro board members said.
That history fuels the sense of victimization expressed by some residents who oppose the Metro plan. Riders who have been paying one bus fare to cross the river would have to pay twice, once to ride the bus and again to board the subway.
"We're poor people; we can't afford it," said Valerie McGuire, a mail clerk who rides Metrobus from her Congress Heights home to her job downtown. She expects her transportation costs to increase from about $34 a month to more than $47 a month. "Money is very tight. It's going to be hard on all of us," she said.
Metro and District officials defend their plan as the most economical and sensible, and say the benefits of Metro will outweigh the reductions in bus service.
"When we open a new rail line, we try to eliminate parallel bus service because it's not efficient to compete with ourselves," said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg.
The rail system, once it is built, will be more economical to operate than buses because rail fares will cover a larger share of costs. The price of a rail fare will cover about 70 percent of the cost of the trip; a bus ticket barely covers 50 percent.
The cash-strapped District government can spend less to subsidize Metro for every passenger who takes the subway instead of a bus, about $3.4 million less a year after the Anacostia station opens, according to Metro estimates.
The District uses half of all the Metrobus service provided, paying about $70 million a year. The District pays $30 million a year more for its share of the Metrorail subsidy.
"No question, the system is designed to encourage people to take rail," said Matthew S. Watson, a District member of the Metro board.
Metro faced similar opposition years ago when it eliminated most buses that ran from Virginia across the Potomac River to downtown.
Most downtown-bound Metrobuses in Virginia now feed stations such as the Pentagon. Most recently, Metro rerouted several Metrobuses in Montgomery County to feed the new Wheaton station.
Metro and District officials backed down years ago when opposition arose to plans to divert many Southeast buses to feed the Eastern Market and Stadium-Armory stations.
Every time Metro has rerouted long-haul buses to feed subway stations, riders have seen their transporation costs rise an average of 50 percent, said Metro Planning Director Peter Benjamin.
Any increase would hit hard east of the Anacostia. The median household income -- the level that half the households are above and half are below -- is $23,479 a year in the Zip code 20019 area and $25,450 a year in the Zip code 20020 area, according to census data compiled by Donnelley Demographics, an information service. The median household income for all of the District is $29,497 a year.
Southeast residents now can ride a bus across the Anacostia for $1. Riders also can buy a Metro Flash Pass that allows them unlimited bus rides for $17 for two weeks, or roughly $34 a month.
Under Metro's plan, a trip downtown would cost 35 cents for the bus ride to the station and another $1 minimum for the subway ride.
Elsewhere in the city, a rider pays a minimum $1 bus fare to a rail station and then $1 for the cheapest subway ride. The District plans to subsidize the bus ride for residents east of the Anacostia.
The District already provides free transfers from rail to bus, so the cheapest rail-to-bus return trip for all riders costs $1.
Metrobus riders such as McGuire now buy two Flash Passes a month. That covers their trips to work and back, as well as any errands or visits.
When the station opens, McGuire would pay at least $2.35 a day for 20 workdays a month, or $47.
"It's definitely going to cost a lot of people a lot more," McGuire said. "I don't think it's fair."
The increase would come on top of fare increases that took effect in June, when the minimum price of a bus or rail trip rose from 85 cents to $1, an 18 percent increase. So, a Metrobus rider who paid 85 cents to cross the river in early June would have to pay $1.35 in late December for the bus and rail trip, a 59 percent increase in six months.
Another potential problem for some residents is that Metro opens at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays. Marietta Anderson-Young, a school bus driver, said she has to clock in at her job at 6:30 a.m., and doubts Metrorail will get her there in time.
Anderson-Young said she now takes two buses, which carry her from her Congress Heights doorstep to a block from her job. Under Metro's plan, she would ride the bus to the Anacostia station, ride the Green Line to the Red Line and end up more than four blocks from work.
"I might lose my job," she said. "I'm not frightened, I'm mad."