The Wednesday hearing held by D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser pivoted from a discussion of Metro’s policy on criminal background checks into a review of transit service. These are some of the highlights from that part of the hearing regarding Metrobus service.
16th Street buses. Kishan Putta, a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for the Dupont Circle area, renewed his call for the District to experiment with dedicated bus lanes on a portion of 16th Street NW. The Metrobus S Line connects Silver Spring with downtown D.C. and is among the most popular in the Metrobus system. But as with many popular routes, riders complain that there are big gaps between buses, which then arrive in bunches, and that the buses are sometimes crowded to the point that they can’t take any more riders.
Metrobus managers, working with the communities along the route and with the District Department of Transportation, have made several improvements to the route, including the establishment of the S9 limited-stop service on the entire route and the short loop service providing extra buses between downtown D.C. and Columbia Road NW.
Still, the S Line shows up frequently in Metrobus service alerts, as in this one Thursday morning: “Due to traffic congestion at 16th & Columbia Rd NW, buses are experiencing up to 20 minute delays in both directions.”
Metro Assistant General Manager Jack Requa said the transit authority puts 42 buses on the route between 8 and 9 a.m. each weekday. “There really isn’t much more room to put more buses on the street,” he said.
The best ways now to add capacity are to operate bigger buses and to give buses priority over other vehicles when traveling on 16th Street. Buses can be given priority by adjusting traffic lights in their favor and by setting aside a lane for their use. Putta, the only member of the public to testify at Bowser’s hearing, would like to see an experiment with a dedicated lane on a stretch of 16th Street south of Arkansas Avenue NW.
Signal priority for buses. The D.C. region has received federal grants for work on establishing bus priority corridors, but progress has been slow. Metro is working with transportation officials in Virginia to set up a pilot program along Route 7, a heavily traveled commuter route. By the summer of 2015, Metro officials hope to have a signal priority program in operation at 25 intersections along Route 7. The traffic signal system will give a priority to buses at those intersections, which should make it easier for them to stay on schedule.
On-time performance. Sarles cited improvements during the past three years in the on-time performance of the bus fleet. He attributes this in part to technology that allows for better tracking of bus locations. Many riders dispute Metro’s self-evaluations for bus service, just as they do with Metrorail service. Among rider complaints about the measuring system: Metro sets its own definition of “on time,” which includes some leeway in measuring whether a bus is early or late; and the overall measurement may not reflect the reality of travel on a particular line where buses must maneuver through heavy traffic.
Metrobus ridership. In the past six months, it’s grown 4 percent in Maryland and Virginia and 5 percent in the D.C.
Bus crime. Crimes on buses increased in 2013. Metro attributes this to more thefts of portable electronic devices, an increase that also occurred on Metrorail. Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said transit police have increased their attention to buses, putting more officers on board and using others to trail buses.