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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.

MetroExpress stop.jpg New MetroExtra bus waits downtown to begin northbound trip. (Robert Thomson)

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.

MetroExtra sign.jpg

The MetroExtra logo has been added at the bottom of bus stop signs. (Robert Thomson)

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.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 20, 2007; 6:06 AM ET
Categories:  transit  
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I seem to recall Silver Express bus routes during the era of O. Roy Chalk (pre-Metro), but not on routes entirely within the District, and they didn't have a special paint job. In this time period, limited stop service in DC was somewhat the norm for the suburban lines, I suppose because of franchise restrictions. This could be a bit puzzling for the casual would-be rider: a bus that stops where you want to get on, and goes to where you want to go, but you weren't allowed to get on it.

Posted by: WW | March 20, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Woohoo! One of these "improvements" that finally actually helps me! :)

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

This is a great idea! I think I heard that they'd be starting an express route for 16th St., too -- where it's sorely needed. Any word on that?

Posted by: LB | March 20, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I rode the 79 Bus to and from work yesterday, as well as this morning and I actually enjoyed the ride. Aside from the riders who don't comprehend the concept of an express bus, there were no problems.

Suggestion: Have the Metro Extra promoters who are located at the stops, explain the route before the riders board.

Posted by: lekb2 | March 20, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Any hope they will start using these new looking buses on the J4 route (that connects College Park and Bethesda)? And any hope that route, which is also express, will run more frequently and/or with fewer stops. I would take that bus more often from Bethesda to College Park, but it's still faster to just take the metro.

Posted by: Laura | March 20, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Oh, how wonderful a 16th St. express bus would be! And I wonder why there isn't a set number or letter designation for express busses? Some other cities use an "X". So any rider on the 42 bus would know that 42X runs the regular route but only makes a fraction of the stops. The other thing that would speed up service would be drivers being on time for their shift changes. Sometimes the on-duty drivers even leave the bus with the engine running without saying a word to the passengers.

Posted by: Tracy | March 20, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Comments from Dr. G on the comments:
At the moment, I don't know of plans for anything similar to MetroExtra on other crowded routes, like the S's on 16th Street or the J4.

I'll check with Metro, but here's just a guess: The MetroExtra is in rolling because the District is subsidizing it. DC doesn't see it as a suburb to downtown commuter line as much as a way to encourage point to point transit travel along the redeveloping Georgia Ave corridor.

The lines that run on 16th Street and along East-West Highway are among those that are very crowded and need more service, but the jurisdictions that would be involved in paying for extra service might not see the same spill over advantages in those other corridors that they see along Georgia Avenue. (In other words, it's almost never just about moving people. When a transportation service expands, there's almost always a related goal of development or re-development.)

Posted by: Robert Thomson | March 20, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Tracy: I'd consider moving back to Mt. Pleasant if a "42X" went under Dupont Circle.

Posted by: Steve | March 21, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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