A couple of weeks ago, I walked with my children along MacArthur Boulevard. At a bus stop, we saw a couple (maybe tourists) trying to make sense of the posted timetable. They asked us when the next bus was coming, and I answered: “In about 30 minutes. And by the way, this schedule is not valid anymore. It was posted before my daughter was born.” My daughter, a proud first-grader, stood next to us on her scooter.
But many bus stops have no schedule posted. If there is a timetable, usually it is out of date. Perhaps Metro thinks the schedules are not important since the buses are often late, if they come at all.
Years ago, I decided to move within walking or biking distance of my employer because I realized that Metro trains were not reliable. However, the bus system is not running very well either. At least once a week, I have to use the 30-line buses along Wisconsin Avenue. On a weekday afternoon, there should be a bus every five minutes in either direction. Once, I managed to walk from P Street in Georgetown to Edmunds Street near Washington National Cathedral (more than a mile uphill) without seeing one bus. Since then, the 33 line was introduced, but on-time performance seemingly has not improved. This year, I waited at Upton Street for more than 30 minutes for a bus.
Last year we lived in Berlin, a city with amazing public transportation. Every bus stop has a current schedule printed, and the buses run pretty close to schedule. It has about 10 each of underground and aboveground train lines. There are problems at times; but a different route is usually available. The city government and the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, the equivalent of Metro, are very aware that the city is growing and plan to adjust train and bus services accordingly.
Here, very little seems to happen. When I moved to the Washington area in 2000, the Purple Line, envisioned as a semicircle through the Maryland suburbs connecting the “spokes” of the existing system, was talked and written about. Sixteen years later, things have not moved much.
Metro’s website offers the estimated arrival time of buses. I use this tool regularly. It works well sometimes but is not reliable. Drivers on the 30 line say that downtown and Georgetown traffic delays the buses. This may be the case, but I do not understand why buses cannot leave the Friendship Heights station on time. Berlin also has bad traffic, but it manages its bus systems better. The arrival times given by the Berlin system note with a dot whether a bus is on time (green), slightly delayed (yellow) or seriously delayed (red). Metro’s BusETA system does not do this, but the result would be pretty embarrassing.
A few years ago, I was visiting Hamburg. At the main train station there was a big sign apologizing to riders that the trains from that station would leave one minute earlier than scheduled. Can anyone imagine Metro informing of and apologizing to riders for a one-minute schedule adjustment?
Metro’s bus service could be improved with a little effort and the dedication of its leadership. For a start, post current timetables at each stop. On-time performance can be improved by serving the first stop on every line as scheduled. And get the BusETA in line with actual arrival times.