The District Department of Transportation has formally announced changes affecting three of its Circulator bus routes: The Smithsonian-National Gallery loop around the National Mall, a tourist season route started in 2006, won’t operate this year. The savings will be used to extend the hours on the Union Station-Navy Yard route,starting Friday. On the Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront route, several stops in the Waterfront area will be relocated.

These changes are significant for the D.C. communities along the routes, but they’re relatively small compared to the changes proposed in a recently released DDOT study that will be the subject of a public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the Capital Hilton’s Ohio Room, 16th and L streets NW. The study proposes a fare increase and the elimination of the Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront route, which accounted for more than a half-million rides last year.

I hope at this meeting tonight DDOT officials will be more forthcoming with D.C. residents than they were at another meeting on Circulator service held March 17 at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel near Nationals Park. The transportation department billed that session as “the first semi-annual public forum for the DC Circulator ... to give passengers an opportunity to participate in discussions about current and future bus service.”

“These forums are intended for riders to let us know how we’re doing and to discuss the critical issues that will affect the future of the Circulator,” DDOT Associate Director Scott Kubly said in a statement accompanying the announcement about the March 17 meeting. “We have a very dedicated customer base and we value their input as we strive to make service even better.”

On the agenda were the changes outlined above. But what most of about 50 members of that “dedicated customer base” wanted to discuss was the rumor going around that they were going to lose their Circulator route, the Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront line. DDOT officials instead steered the group discussion toward a more general review of the Circulator’s performance and noted that the meeting on the 10-year study would be coming up March 31.

This was not exactly a model of transparency. Turns out that the Southwest Washington residents were quite right to be concerned about the route’s future. They should have been told that and given time to voice those concerns when they took the trouble to assemble for the March 17 meeting.

Now, they have to go to another meeting tonight, in a less-convenient location for them.

The D.C. Circulator Transit Development Plan, the one to be discussed tonight, says this about their route:

“DDOT should discontinue the Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront route and reinstate service after new National Mall service is implemented. After improved Mall service is in place, the route will provide a valuable connection from the Mall to other key visitor destinations and District neighborhoods.

“Savings: 6 vehicles, $2.7 million annual operating costs.”

See a pdf version of the report.

A recommendation in a D.C. government report doesn’t make something a done deal. But a Southwest D.C. resident reviewing Table 7.1 in the report couldn’t help but notice the proximity of these two lines:

Convention Center-SW Waterfront Discontinue route

Smithsonian-National Gallery of Art Discontinue route

The latter route is gone. So Southwest residents should now throw everything they have into the defense of their bus service.

Other changes

Besides formally cancelling the Mall loop, these other changes in Circulator service take effect Friday.

Through Sept. 30, the Union Station-Navy Yard route will operate Mondays through Fridays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. When the Nationals play at home, the route will operate later into the evening and on Sundays to accommodate fans. See a 2011 baseball schedule with Circulator hours.

Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront service will be moved off Water Street SW and onto Maine Avenue SW. Circulator stops will move to Maine Avenue at 7th Street SW and Maine Avenue at 9th Street SW, because of the upcoming construction of the Washington Kastles stadium on Water Street, which will narrow traffic lanes.