The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s bus system in the District of Columbia recently received a poor but passing grade for its service and residents are quick to weigh in on the assessments’ accuracy.
Representatives from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and MetroHero, a free D.C. Metrorail APP, held an informational meeting on the study, “Making DC Buses the Best Report Card,” on July 10 at Georgetown University’s downtown campus in Northwest to explain how WMATA’s bus system got a grade of “D” and why. Jennifer Hill, from MetroHero, said the concern about the city’s bus system became apparent with the significant drop-off of riders in recent years.
“The use of the bus system has dropped 12 percent in five years,” Hill said. “To respond to this, we decided to examine the top nine corridors in the city and measure bus performance in those corridors.”
Hill said there are approximately 200,000 riders each week in the District and the studied corridors consisted of Anacostia/Congress Heights, 14th Street, Georgia Avenue/7th Street, H Street/Benning Road, North Capitol Street, Rhode Island Avenue, 16th Street, U Street/Garfield, and Wisconsin/ Pennsylvania Avenue. The WMATA buses that operate on those corridors received grades on schedule adherence, headway adherence, and average speed.
The results culminated in a “D” grade, with 60 percent schedule adherence, 64 percent headway adherence, and a 9.5 mph average speed. The Anacostia/Congress Heights corridor got the best schedule adherence with 68 percent of buses coming on time while Georgia Avenue had the worst with 52 percent. The 16th Street corridor had the best headway adherence with 69 percent while Wisconsin/ Pennsylvania Avenue had the poorest with mph. Despite the dismal numbers, Hill remained upbeat.
“Our goal is to get to 79 percent on-time performance in schedule and headway adherence and 11mph in average speed,” she said. “I am confident that we can get there.”
The report recommended that District elected and agency officials do four things: give buses priority in their dedicated lanes, make the boarding process more efficient, expand transit signal priority and queue jump locations, expand limited-stop service and consolidate bus stops and improve rider experience with customer-focused service.
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, spoke at the meeting and seemed receptive toward the recommendations.
“We will need enforcement of the bus-only lanes because people like to park in those areas,” the council member said. “I definitely agree that transit signs are a priority. There should be a proposal to consolidate bus stops, but that is always problematic because some people are attached to their particular stop and eliminating their stop will cause pushback.”
Cheh said better protection for bus drivers and assessing criminal penalties to those who assault them “will be the right thing to do.” Cheh agrees with Hill on the bus system’s need to improve performance.
“We want to increase our grades,” she said. “We want all the categories to be an ‘A.’”
Terry Gaston rides the V4-Capitol Heights-Navy Yard bus to get around the District because his car needs repairs and he can’t get that done anytime soon. Gaston said he is frustrated with the bus service.
“They don’t have enough buses on these routes,” he said. “You have to wait a long time for a bus to come and the fares keep going up. This is absolutely ridiculous.”
Gaston said it seems that some of the drivers don’t appreciate their customers. He noted that many customers have to pay multiple fares each day to get around, “and that’s not fair at all.”
“I agree with the D,’” Gaston said. “I think it is a fair grade.”
However, Alfred Ngussan, who lives in Bowie and works in District Heights, disagrees with Gaston.
“I give the buses an ‘A,’” Ngussan said, waiting for a bus at the Addison Road-Seat Pleasant Metro Station. “The buses run on time, and I have no problem getting to my destination.”
Ngussan suggested that critics of the bus should plan their trips better and learn how to use the system more efficiently.
Darryl McCoy, who lives in Adams Morgan in Ward 1 but regularly travels to his daughter’s house in Ward 7 by bus, said the type of service depends on the time of day.
“I get excellent service in Adams Morgan, but when I come over here to Minnesota Avenue, things get worse,” McCoy said. “The bus bays are dirty, and the trash accumulates. I think they can do a better job on upkeep here at Minnesota Avenue.
“Also, the drivers in Adams Morgan are friendlier, and they say ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Hello.’” Over here, they wave you on the bus, and a lot of time they don’t even look at you.
“To me, bus service depends on location. If you live west of 16th Street, you get treated better, but if you live east of the Anacostia River, you are not treated as well,” McCoy said.