Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Metrobus Improvements--Limited Service Buses

Photo, courtesy of VisitingDC.com
Recently, Greater Greater Washington's Malcolm Kenton reported that WMATA was adding a new bus line to supplement the 90's series buses. The 90-series buses run from Southeast to Northwest, and as Metro-Venture comments, despite serving U Street, Eastern Market and Adam's Morgan (all popular nightlife destinations) the ridership on the 90-series is more local, lower-income commuters than those seeking nightlife destinations (here's looking at you, Circulator).

The newly proposed bus, the 99 bus line, will have a limited stop-service much like the S9 16th street line. I think this is a great development, especially because limited-stop service lines are a boon to longer-range commuters.

However, this article did get me thinking back to an article I read on Human Transit, about justifying increased fares during peak hours. The post specifically cites the inefficiency caused by routing buses and metro cars back to the initiation of the line (since most riders are coming from the suburbs into the city center).


Photo courtesy of theburgerboy.com

Does the inefficiency really have to exist? What's keeping metro from sending a full service bus from the suburbs into the city center, and then making the bus a "limited stop" express bus when it finishes the loop from city center back into the suburbs? Obviously we wouldn't want to replace all return routes with express buses. People do reverse commute, afterall. But wouldn't this alteration speed the buses return to the high-demand area, and increase the frequency of buses going where people want to go?

A few possible obstacles I see to implementing.....
  • Bus exteriors Express buses are a different exterior color and have a general design different than many of the other regular-series buses. If I understand WMATA's intentions, the differentiation is to make it clearer that the express bus is has fewer stops and  is more expensive than the regular-series. But, is this really necessary? Couldn't the older buses be programmed to flash "42-Express" for example, or an abbreviated "42E?"
  • Programming the revised cost into the fare machine. Express buses cost more than regular buses--over twice as much, actually. As you may recall, WMATA already had quite a bit of trouble re-programming the fares when it implemented the peak-of-the-peak fare rates...adding additional fares would likely also be problematic. But if increased efficiency meant increased ridership, wouldn't this cost be justifiable?
  • Cost of disseminating information about the changes. Can't really get around this one...if you change a public transportation route, then you need to adequately inform people (although, some might comment that the Circulator was less than clear about its recent changes)
I personally think it's a feasible option, but given WMATA's bureaucracy, I don't think we'll see this sort of common-sense solution soon.

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