You can tell the D.C. Council is serious about destroying Metrobus when it proposes eliminating the 42, one of the busiest bus routes in the city.
Actually, it’s not the council that’s made that proposal—Metrobus planning is not that simple. It’s Metro that plans to kill the 42, based on the council’s refusal to pick up the full tab for city bus service. D.C. owes Metro $127.6 million for fiscal 1995, plus $7 million in post-due payments, and has appropriated only $117 million. To close the $17.6 million-gap, Metro has proposed to increase bus fares for the elderly and Anacostia residents, who currently pay lower fares than other Washingtonians, to charge a 25-cent fee to transfer from Metrorail to bus, and to trim service.
Among the latter proposals, the abolition of the 42 may not actually be the most disruptive. Service on the route from Farragut Square to Mount Pleasant would be replaced by a northwesterly extension of the X2 line. (That route currently runs from Capitol Heights to Lafayette Square.) The route would disappear east of Farragut Square, although some jiggling of the D2 and 54 lines would provide limited service to portions of the downtown and Capitol Hill routes the 42 now travels.
A few other areas of the city would lose service altogether. Metro proposes eliminating both the L4 and the 46, killing all service to Kalorama Triangle and from Dupont Circle and upper Northwest to the Foggy Bottom/Kennedy Center area. Also marked for death are such rush-hour lines as the D1, D7, H1, N1, and N3. Virtually all express service to the Foggy Bottom/Potomac Park area would end, forcing commuters to that area to transfer on K Street NW to the S1 (rush hour only) and the 80.
Compelling riders to transfer is one guaranteed way to suppress ridership, which raises the issue of whether or not these cutbacks will actually save money. They may simply dissuade so many riders that Metrobus revenues will decline to the point of swallowing all the projected savings. They also will certainly increase automobile use, which means the service reductions can be challenged on Clean Air Act grounds.
Many routes would lose early-morning, late-evening, and weekend service, cutbacks that will have a ripple effect throughout the day: Why take the bus if you can’t get home again? Such cuts will disproportionately hurt those who don’t have 9-to-5 jobs, some of whom are ideal targets for council budget trims: They don’t vote, or even necessarily read English well enough to understand the announcement of proposed cutbacks.
Even without these cutbacks, Metrobus has long done an effective job of discouraging ridership. It provides less route and schedule information at bus stops than any major city bus system in the industrialized world, and treats the bus as a poor relation of rail service. Those who use both bus and rail to travel the city—and there are a lot of places Metrorail just doesn’t go—can’t buy a transit pass that covers both. Those are available only to suburbanites who make long trips; downtowners who use both bus and rail regularly must buy separate passes for each mode, at a cost that few regular riders could justify. (Such a combined pass would be even more attractive if the 25-cent rail-to-bus charge is imposed.) The messages are clear: Metrorail and Metrobus do not compose an integrated transit system, and Metro is primarily for commuters.
That, of course, is how public transit is defined in the suburbs, where it’s assumed that virtually all non-rush- hour trips will be made in a car. One of the major benefits of urban existence is seven-day-a-week, 24—well, 20-hour-a-day transit service. These proposed Metrobus cuts are part of an ominous trend toward pseudo-suburban thinking at the District Building and 1 Judiciary Square. This thinking threatens to bring Washingtonians all the disadvantages of city living, combined with all the drawbacks of suburbia.
Hearings on the proposed cutbacks will be held Monday, Jan. 30, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in the lobby meeting room of the Jackson Graham Building, 600 5th St. NW. To sign up to testify, call (202) 962-1092 by Jan. 20.
Suburban Wisdom What Washington Post columnist concluded, in the paper’s Jan. 12 issue, “Build more middle-income housing and retail will follow”? Could it have been Rudolph A. Pyatt, that tireless crusader for the disastrous policy of emphasizing office development in D.C.’s “retail core”? Well, yeah, but don’t get excited: Pyatt was writing about downtown Silver Spring, not downtown Washington, which apparently is subject to different economic logic than Montgomery County.