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If the District’s pastime is complaining about Metro, then surely the minor-league equivalent is griping about the X2 bus. For residents of the H Street NE and Benning Road corridors who depend on the bus, it usually takes the form of bemoaning overcrowding and long waits. For the rest of the city, it’s more anthropological, with hyperbolic claims about the rare species of miscreant that rides the bus. In reality, of course, the X2 and its passengers are no different from a dozen other bus lines in the city that pass through neighborhoods with a mix of incomes, ages, and races. And yet the X2 generates a strange sort of lore, recently encapsulated in a Washington Post collection of fascinated tweets about the colorful characters on the bus.
But it’s reliability where the X2 could use the biggest boost. And according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro and Metrobus, that issue has been substantially resolved.
In a post on PlanItMetro, WMATA’s planning blog, the agency says it’s taken steps to make the X2 more dependable in recent months. The bus has more than 13,000 daily riders, making it more heavily trafficked than the Silver Spring Metro station. It’s also been deeply unreliable, with just 65 percent of buses arriving on time for most of last year.
In December, WMATA made a few changes to improve reliability on the X2. Those changes include increasing the frequency of X2 arrivals so that they come every eight minutes on weekdays, deploying supervisors to help ensure even bus spacing, and adjusting scheduled running times by about 15 percent to make them more realistic.
The result, according to WMATA, has been a 14 percent jump in ridership, from 12,700 riders a day in October to 13,800 in February. The on-time rate has increased to 83 percent. And, WMATA claims, “overcrowding (particularly during the midday) has been virtually eliminated.”
If that’s true, it not only means a better commute for H Street/Benning residents; it also casts more doubt on the need for a streetcar, from a transit perspective. The long-delayed streetcar could provide some development benefits, particularly on Benning Road, but its utility as a transit mode has been an open question, given that it will share a lane with cars and buses and could end up slower than both, particularly if it gets stuck behind double-parked cars or delivery trucks. If a few simple tweaks to bus scheduling can “virtually” eliminate overcrowding and improve reliability, then the streetcar truly may not make it any easier for people to get around H Street and Benning Road.
But WMATA hasn’t provided any numbers on the claim that overcrowding is a thing of the past. (I’m waiting on a response to a request for ridership data.) And anecdotal evidence suggests that the X2 is often still jam-packed these days. What’s your experience? If you’ve ridden the X2 since December, have you noticed any improvement?
Update: So far, readers aren’t impressed with the supposed improvements:
— Meg Kuhagen (@megluku) March 25, 2015
@aaronwiener Mid-day claim has to be based on drivers not making riders swipe cards bc mid-day is worst time & not any better since Dec.
— Liz (@LizNewmanSnook) March 25, 2015
— HStreetGreatStreet (@HStGreatSt) March 25, 2015
— Gina Chirillo (@ginachirillo) March 25, 2015
Photo by Flickr user Elvert Barnes; chart via PlanItMetro