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Georgia Avenue’s rush-hour express buses have finally arrived, six months late and with a different name, but otherwise as promised. When announced in June 2006, the service was called “Rapid Bus” and was slated to begin that September. It actually started running on Monday, dubbed “Metro Extra.” The important thing, though, is that the line does indeed cut traveling time on Georgia Avenue, whose 70/71 Metrobus route may well be the slowest major one in D.C.
Where the 70/71 can make up to 54 stops per trip, Metro Extra serves only 15 between the National Archives and Silver Spring Metro. (Wisely, the planners ultimately decided against terminating the line at Eastern Avenue, which would have stranded passengers short of a major transfer point.) This express schedule was projected to cut nine minutes from a trip from one terminus to the other. To judge by a ride I took on Wednesday, it does better than that.
The predominantly blue, low-floor buses are supposed to operate every 10 minutes. As rush hour ended on Wednesday, they weren’t hitting that mark. I waited 22 minutes at 7th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, after watching a Metro Extra glide by just before I reached the stop. Yet once I was on board, things went smoothly. The bus was crowded for about half the trip (although it might not have been if the scheduled 10-minute headways had been maintained).
There were a few hitches. Although Metro Extra has a distinctive look and an electronic signboard on the vehicle clearly indicates the next stop, not all the passengers realized that they were on an express. There were cries of distress as the bus rolled past a local stop. (Later, the driver picked up passengers at one crowded but non-express location.) A group of teenagers crowded the back door, so an automated recording of “please do not stand in the rear doorwell” repeated more than a dozen times. (They finally backed up.)
The bus made it to Silver Spring in 36 minutes, slightly quicker than scheduled and substantially faster than the 70, in my experience, covers the same run. The S4 from 16th and P generally reaches Silver Spring in about 40 minutes; the 70 from 7th and P can take twice as long.
The new service doesn’t rate the fancy signage of the Circulator, the D.C. transportation department’s pet project; it just gets a simple blue placards attached to existing Metro signposts. It also lacks priority lanes (except for a short downtown section), all-day service, and various technologies that are common in other cities, although some of these things are planned. Even without them, however, Metro Extra is a notable improvement for Georgia Avenue riders.
All-day service would be nice, though. By the time I reached Silver Spring at 7:18 p.m., the southbound Metro Extra had stopped running.