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Coming soon: Less bus bunching, more MetroExtra

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Coming soon: More blue buses.

On June 17, WMATA will roll out its biggest set of enhancements to bus service in years. It will expand the limited-stop MetroExtra service, add capacity to the most crowded routes, and adjust schedules to reduce bus bunching. These changes will significantly improve service for many riders.

The most visible change will be that the Metrobus Express brand will disappear, to be replaced completely by MetroExtra.

Other major improvements will include new local and MetroExpress routes, more articulated “accordion” buses on the 16th Street line, increased service on several busy routes, and restructuring of the Georgia Avenue line to follow a headway-based schedule. WMATA has released a complete list of the changes.


All of Metro’s limited-stop bus services will now be called MetroExtra instead of Metrobus Express, although buses painted with the Metrobus Express scheme won’t be repainted right away.

It was always a little bit silly for Metro to have two competing brands for similar limited-stop services, so rebranding them all under one banner makes a lot of sense. WMATA picked MetroExtra as the name to keep because in bus parlance “express” usually means a route that either runs along a freeway, or that doesn’t stop at all between two far apart points. Routes that have widely-spaced stops like the 39 and S9 aren’t technically express routes; rather, they’re “limited-stop”. Meanwhile some bus routes that are more legitimately expresses, such as the 5A to Dulles Airport, weren’t branded as part of Metrobus Express.

The old system was needlessly confusing, and the new one will be clear. It’s a good move.

Beyond the rebranding, there are several MetroExtra-related service improvements coming as well. Wisconsin Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and 16th Street will all see additional MetroExtra buses, as routes 37, 39, and S9 are expanded. There will also be more buses running on Leesburg Pike’s limited-stop 28X. Finally, new limited routes will begin operation along Chain Bridge Road as an alternate 15L, and between Pentagon and Rosslyn as extensions to the 9E and 10E.

The 28X will be fully rebranded as MetroExtra sometime this fall, when a second round of MetroExtra improvements is scheduled to hit. When that happens, MLK Avenue’s A9 route and Columbia Pike’s 16F and 16Y routes will also be converted to the MetroExtra brand.

All in all, there are going to be a lot more blue buses on the road.

Georgia Avenue line

Changes coming to routes 70 and 79 won’t be so obviously visible, but they could be more profound from an operational standpoint. For these routes, Metro will be shifting to headway-based scheduling, which means that rather than trying to have buses stick to set arrival and departure times, dispatchers will try to keep all the active buses along the corridor about the same distance apart from one another.

The idea is that trying to keep to a timed schedule is a lost cause, and it’s better for riders if a bus comes regularly every 12 minutes than for a half hour to go by and then have 3 buses all come at the same time.

This is how DC Circulator works, which is why there’s no such thing as a Circulator timetable, and also why it’s rare to see multiple Circulators from the same line bunched together.

This will be WMATA’s first second experiment with headway scheduling. Theoretically this change should make riding the 70 and 79 much more predictable. It will be harder for a route as long as the 70 than it is for Circulator, but it’s a worthy experiment.

WMATA has been using headway scheduling on the 90 and 92 since September, 2011. Director of Communications Dan Stessel reports that it has worked quite well. On time performance has increased by 15-20%.

16th Street line

The S-series buses are among the most overcrowded in WMATA’s entire network. I personally ride them for my commute, and most mornings I have to wait for 2 or 3 to pass by full before one with open capacity comes along. One rainy morning I literally counted 10 full buses pass me by. So I am personally very, very excited about the increased capacity WMATA will be adding to this corridor.

And it will be a lot of new capacity.

First, the MetroExtra route S9 will be getting additional service, as previously indicated. Limited stop buses will run every 7-8 minutes instead of the current every 10. These additional runs will be new buses, not buses cannibalized from the S1, S2, or S4, meaning they are 100% new capacity for 16th Street.

In addition to being convenient for longer-distance riders, this should also have a positive effect on bus bunching. Since S9s stop less often than other S-series buses, they bunch less. That means the more riders WMATA can shift to the S9, the less of a problem bunching should be along the whole corridor.

Secondly, more articulated buses will be put to use on the S1, increasing capacity for local riders. Because of space constraints at WMATA’s Northern Division bus storage facility, there are only about 30 articulated buses available for use on routes serving Mid-City. Among those 30, the busy Georgia Avenue line gets first priority. Historically, whatever articulated buses Georgia Avenue didn’t use were kept in reserve, but now as many as possible will be made available for 16th Street. The number of articulated buses on S1 runs on any given day will vary, but it’s going to be more than now.

One reduction planned for 16th Street is that weekday midday S4 trips will terminate at Franklin Square instead of going all the way to Federal Triangle. Except for this, S2 and S4 service won’t be modified.

Other changes

Although MetroExtra, Georgia Avenue, and 16th Street are the biggest winners, several other routes benefit as well. The G8 and W4 will have additional buses, shortening waits and relieving crowding. Schedule and route adjustments are planned for dozens of other routes, including the F, L, P, Q, R, and Y series.

Unfortunately, all of this comes at a cost. Although WMATA is pumping a lot of new money into Metrobus, and working to squeeze additional efficiencies out of the reserve bus fleet, such a major restructuring inevitably also includes service reductions. The changes coming will result in better bus service for more people overall, but some specific lower-ridership routes will see service decline.

Reductions of one kind or another will come to the 74, D3, D6, 3T, and 22A, as well as to riders on some of the restructured F, L, P, Q, R, and Y-series buses.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

June 12th, 2012 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation



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