New Metrobus Rolls Out
The bus was a new style, with a new number. The driver told boarding passengers that it made "limited stops." An electronic sign behind him displayed the name of each stop. That electronic female voice announced the name of each stop.
But every half mile or so, an angered or alarmed passenger would rush up to the driver of the new MetroExtra bus operating along Georgia Avenue to tell him that he had missed the stop. "That's not my stop," he would respond.
Tough being a bus driver in ordinary city driving, but this was the first day of a new service, the Georgia Avenue express created by Metro and the District Department of Transportation. Bus drivers, unlike train operators, interact a lot with their passengers as well as with traffic. I saw two do a pretty good job of staying calm and focused on the job as they dealt with some confused riders and aggressive drivers on Georgia Avenue.
At Silver Spring Station, where I began one trip, a most helpful Metro employee was at the bus shelter to explain the new express service -- "We don't say 'fast', because we don't speed -- and hand out brochures that contained coupons good for free rides this week.
She made it plain that the advantage of the new service would depend on how far along Georgia I was going. The new 79 bus makes 15 stops from Silver Spring to downtown Washington, mostly along Georgia Avenue and 7th Street NW. It supplements the regular, 54-stop service provided by the 70 and 71.
This is a corridor used by more than 18,000 bus riders every weekday. Metro and the District are hoping the blue and silver MetroExtra buses will take some of the pressure off the regular routes while drawing more people onto transit for commutes and shopping along Georgia Avenue.
Few people are likely to do what I did, and use it for a round trip to the eastern side of downtown Washington. For the trip back to Silver Spring, I boarded on 7th Street, near the Verizon Center at 5:45 p.m. That bus took 52 minutes to reach Silver Spring Station. For a commute of that distance, you'd be better off on the Red Line, but you might take the bus for a change of scenery, the cheaper $1.25 fare, or in case the Red Line was having a problem.
The 79 stops near the Archives, Gallery Place, U Street and Petworth Metrorail stations. That outbound trip had about three dozen passengers -- not bad for the first day, though some clearly thought they were boarding the local bus, rather than this express.
This looks like a good service, operating about every 10 minutes during morning and afternoon rush periods, but it will be better when the drivers can operate the technology that extends green lights and passengers can receive "Next Bus" information. No bus operating on a crowded roadway like Georgia Avenue at rush hour can stick to an exact schedule, but keeping it close and keeping riders informed will build support for the new service.
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