The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will adjust several D.C. bus routes as of Sunday, June 24, and one more a week later on July 1. These changes, some of which will make life harder for Metrobus riders, reflect one longstanding Metro bias and two relatively new wrinkles in the agency’s muddled approach to bus planning.

The June 24 shifts affect slightly such major lines as the 42 and the 50s; the most significant cutbacks will be on the S and 90 lines. One route, the X6 shuttle to the National Arboretum, will be eliminated. The July 1 adjustment is that the 98, which links Adams Morgan and the U Street Metro during party hours, will get 50 percent more service.

It’s hard to argue against the X6 cut. I’m one of the few Washingtonians who’s ever taken a Metrobus to the Arboretum, and even I have never been on an X6. But the 90 and S changes are another matter. They will increase waiting and travel times, as well as crowding, on two heavily used lines.

The S cutback is modest in scale, but devastating in effect: During evening rush hour, the northbound S4 will leave from 13th and I Streets NW, not 10th and Pennsylvania. (The S2 will continue to run the entire route.) This means riders on the line’s southern section face a 50 percent service cut—-and at rush hour, no less.

The reduction reflects a decades-old Metro penchant for removing bus service to downtown. On the theory that such lines duplicated Metrorail, many bus routes that once served the F Street corridor or the Federal Triangle have been cut back or routed away from the area. Most infamous of these changes was the 1995 retrenchment of the 42, once one of Metrobus’ busiest routes. The line used to run from Mount Pleasant to Stadium-Armory via F Street and Union Station—-a true downtown “Circulator.” The eastern part of the route was erased, and the F Street section moved to K Street, a change that was expected to suppress ridership, and did.

The 90-line changes are an example of one of Metro’s newer obsessions: truncating routes in order to improve on-time statistics. As of June 24, all 90, 92, and 93s will end at the Duke Ellington Bridge rather than McLean Gardens. The 96, which begins at Capitol Heights Metro, will be extended to McLean Gardens; it will be the only 90-line bus to go there. Statistics may improve, but service will decline.

Meanwhile, the little-used nighttime 98, whose route is duplicated by the other 90s, will run every 10 minutes, instead of every 15. A three-month test of the expansion, pushed by the Adams Morgan Partnership, will be subsidized by $70,000 in D.C. money.

Thus the “privatization” of city bus planning, but not funding, continues. Heavily used routes are trimmed, while little-ridden shuttles devised by business groups are increased. (The prime example of this is, of course, the underperforming Circulator, routed by the Downtown and Georgetown Business Improvement Districts but largely bankrolled by D.C. taxpayers.) If you want better bus service in your neighborhood, it seems, don’t call your councilmember—-organize a BID.

Photo courtesy of WMATA

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