Once again the Metrobus 5A to Dulles International Airport is on the chopping block.
The route, which launched 15 years ago, is the only direct bus connection between the District and Dulles, and it’s used by an average of 1,050 people on weekdays.
Although ridership has dropped by about 300 passengers in the last year since the Silver Line opened, the 5A remains popular among Dulles workers and air travelers who find the one-seat ride to the airport convenient, cost-effective, and more manageable than having to make multiple transfers when carrying luggage.
The recommendation to eliminate the 5A is one of about 80 Metrobus changes the transit agency has proposed. If the proposal is approved after a Sept. 17 public hearing, passengers will have the option to take Metro’s Silver Line to Wiehle-Reston East where they can board a bus to Dulles.
This isn’t the first time Metro has tried to cut the route. When the transit authority proposed eliminating the route in the fall of 2013, riders strongly opposed the idea, prompting Metro to reconsider.
So why is the 5A back on the short list? The reason is funding and a disagreement among Metro board members over who should pay for it.
Metro said the 5A receives a special subsidy from local governments, based on the share of riders that come from each jurisdiction. This year’s budget calls for an annual allocation of $990,000, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said. She said the District contributes $405,900, Prince George’s $188,100, Alexandria $9,900, Arlington $79,200, and Fairfax $306,900.
In May, however, when the Metro board of directors discussed Metro’s six-year capital program, Maryland representative Michael Goldman proposed an amendment to do away with his state’s subsidy for the 5A. Maryland shouldn’t have to pay for a bus route that starts in the District and ends in Virginia, Goldman said. The state pays for the B30 bus that runs from the Greenbelt Metro Station to BWI airport.
Metro officials said that the route was first proposed by the District in an effort to provide workers from the city a bus link to the Dulles corridor. The city funded the first 18 months of service but then it became a regional route because it crosses jurisdictional lines, they said. Now the District, Maryland and Virginia help pay for the route.
Stunned by Goldman’s proposal, Fairfax representative Catherine Hudgins said that if Maryland wasn’t paying for the route, why should Fairfax County pay? After all, she said, the Fairfax residents are likely taking Fairfax Connector buses to Dulles.
“This is a regional system and I will put my money on the fact that there are Marylanders that are using it as well,” Hudgins said.
She offered a solution: If it’s serving D.C., let D.C. pay for it. Then the board agreed to put the route back on the docket for public hearing.
The idea, however, still doesn’t sit well with riders. Some say eliminating the 5A means hassles, greater cost to travelers, and yet another reduction in service.
“It has been reliable, fast, and you can’t beat the $7 fare,” D.C. resident Bob Weller said.
The 5A starts at L’Enfant Plaza, with stops at Rosslyn and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride Lot before reaching Dulles. Riders pay $7 for the ride. A ride on the Silver Line from L’Enfant is $5.90 and a Fairfax Connector bus to the airport would cost $1.25 if transferring from the rail system. The Washington Flyer offers service from Wiehle-Reston East to Dulles for $5.
Weller takes the 5A when he fly out of Dulles and finds it convenient, reliable and less time consuming than taking the Silver Line. For an early flight, he said the bus is the only option. The 5A starts as early as 4:45 a.m. and runs as late as 11:30 p.m., usually taking about 45 minutes each way. By comparison, he said, the earliest Silver Line train leaves L’Enfant Plaza around 5:30 a.m. Without the bus, he said, he would depend on Uber or an expensive taxi fare to make a 7 a.m. flight.
“It’s fine if you’re on an expense account, but not great if you’re flying home to see mom,” Weller said. Until the Silver Line is completed with the extension to Dulles, he said, “eliminating the 5A will mean greater inconvenience and greater cost to me. For students and airport workers, it’s probably an even bigger inconvenience and a larger part of their paycheck.”
Other riders say Maryland’s point not to pay for the route makes sense since the state pays for all of the B30 service.
“What I don’t understand is why the other jurisdictions wouldn’t be willing to pick up the slack for a route that is both popular and critical,” a reader recently commented on a Post story mentioning the plans for the 5A.
When asked what other options riders have to get to Dulles in the event that Metrorail isn’t operating at its best, Metro spokesman Richard Jordan said to avoid trains to Reston, the 5A is currently the most efficient bus route to get to Dulles Airport. “However, Metrobus customers would still be able to reach those destinations from other lines with multiple connections.”
So if you use the 5A speak up now or be prepared to let it become part of the Metrobus history. Metro will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Sept. 17, at the Jackson Graham Building, 600 5th St. NW, in the District.