The Bethesda Eight may sound like a political group from the activist 1960s and the Downtown Dasher may sound like some streaker from the exhibitionist 1970s, but these are the practical 1990s, and the Eight and the Dasher are new shuttle bus routes designed to move residents and workers across the county.

The new bus lines are part of a massive expansion in Ride On service that is taking effect in Montgomery County this week--the largest increase in service not associated with a Metro station extension in the county transit system's 25-year history.

"This is really going to significantly boost our ability to help people move within the county and get to Metro stations," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D).

Duncan said the improvements not only will help relieve traffic congestion but also will help get people who rely on public transportation to work.

"When you hear from working people about what they really need to make their lives better, two things always pop up--transportation and child care," Duncan said.

Along with the new, free, weekday shuttle bus services, the county is adding weekday rush-hour routes in the Upcounty and early and late-night service on eight major routes that connect Metro stations and working class neighborhoods, Duncan said.

The $2.25 million expansion will provide patrons with an estimated 45,000 hours of new bus service annually. Most of the changes will be taking effect this week.

The new Bethesda shuttle is being called the Eight because of the eight-minute frequency it will provide. It will circle through downtown Bethesda with a stop at the Metro station on weekdays, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., except on official holidays.

The Downtown Dasher will provide service in Silver Spring from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., starting at East West Highway and Colesville Road and traveling to Georgia Avenue. County transportation officials project that each will serve about 300 riders a day at a combined cost to the county of about $500,000 a year.

In the Upcounty, three new Ride On weekday rush-hour routes to the Shady Grove Metro station are being added or extended, including one with service to Poolesville and others serving Gaithersburg and Germantown.

All five of these new Ride On routes will be operated by Metro, working under contract with the county.

Another change is the extension of operating hours on eight current Ride On routes, with added early morning and late night service, aimed at workers who need public transit to get to and from early and late shifts.

The funding for this extended service is being provided through the county's portion of a federal Access to Jobs grant, funds administered locally by the Maryland Mass Transit Administration.

Duncan said the transportation improvements are part of his Rewarding Work initiative, which is aimed at helping the county's working poor. The initiative includes adding services to provide low-wage workers with child care, health care, housing and job training.

For further information about the routes, call the Transit Information Center at 240-777-7433.