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Free Buses on Friday

Forecasters say Friday will be a Code Red day for air quality, which means most buses in the suburbs will be free. The District does not participate in the program, designed to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take transit, to help reduce pollution.

While Code Red forecasts are not what we want, since they indicate the day's air is likely to contain unhealthy levels of ozone, they do present a chance to try a bus and see if it might work for you on other days as well.

At, you'll find a list of the region's bus services, along with more helpful information on transit use.

What a Code Red forecast means: Don't run to the bus stop. Children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory ailments, emphysema, asthma or chronic bronchitis should reduce outdoor activities. Healthy people should limit strenuous outdoor work or exercise.

So you might also be thinking, This is a great day to telecommute.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 17, 2008; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Advisories  
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Next: The Weekend and Beyond


Lets hope someone tells Metro this time...

Posted by: Woodley Park | July 17, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: As WP points out, there was a day in June when every bus system in the region but Metro got the word about a Code Red day. Staff couldn't read the incoming e-mail or fax alerts and lacked the curiosity to pursue it with the sender.

Metro assures us the problem has been corrected. But it is a little tricky with Metrobus: The suburban routes are free, but not those in the District. Look for a message board sign on the bus that says, Code Red -- Ride Free. And the farebox should be covered over.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 17, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Good reminders. Thank you.

Not to get off topic . . . Well, it IS part of the topic I guess. I would ride Metrobus more if I did not have to wait at bus stops so long more clueless than usual as to when a bus will come. I wish the DC Metro bus system would have some type of alerting as to when a bus will be at a bus stop. I have seen this at some cities at the bus stops. I'd like to be able to go to a web site and see estimated arrival times at each bus stop based on real-time data. Seems I have seen something like this in the Post before. Maybe it is like the taxi-meters -- a 20 year ordeal! We're talking, what, GPS, some two-way radios, and a computer to tie it all together. Oh well.

Posted by: Bill | July 17, 2008 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Some jurisdictions have the capability of using a destination sign that says "OZONE ALERT-RIDE FREE". Ride-On is one of them, WMATA is not. The best way to determine if the bus is free is if there is a bag over the farebox. Also, they no longer display "CODE RED-RIDE FREE" because of concerns people might think there is a terrorist attack.

Posted by: OTP | July 17, 2008 10:52 PM | Report abuse

How many people are going to try a free bus on a sweltering day, waiting incessently with unhealthy air outside?

Posted by: joe | July 18, 2008 6:45 AM | Report abuse

*prays that WMATA got the memo this time*

Posted by: Metro Man | July 18, 2008 8:17 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Bill, Metro was using a bus rider alert system called NextBus, but suspended it because it wasn't working right. Metro says it hopes to have it back in operation next year. If it works right, riders at heavily-used bus stops would see an electronic display showing real arrival times. Any rider with a cell phone would be able to call up and get the time for the next arrival at his or her stop.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 18, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

The wait for buses is very hard in this heat. The 70 and the 71 buses do not run very often during rush hour after work because the 79 express buses have taken over. The trouble with the express buses is they skip a lot of stops.

In San Franciso there are timers that tell you how long you have to wait for a bus. This can reduce anxiety and stress levels considerably.

Posted by: Linda Sun | July 18, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse


Sounds like a snap. Maybe you can design this and put together an implementation plan this weekend.

Posted by: Project manager | July 18, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Are the Keller and Dillon commuter bus lines included in this? Both run major routes in and out of the District -- each bus takes 48 - 55 cars off the roads, depending on capacity.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | July 18, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Yeah a great day to telecommute... oh wait, the majority of the people running businesses in this area STILL have not figured out that we have this new fangled technology thing that makes it possible to do so.

Posted by: Katie | July 18, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I take a bus/rail combo every day, but I think days like these are the worst time for a newbie to sample public transit. I've noticed in the last couple of weeks that Metro seems to be turning down the A/C (maybe to reduce costs?), unless I've just been unlucky with certain cars or trains. Yesterday I was on a minimally cooled train (it seemed to have air coming from the vents, but not nearly enough to cool it off); on the hottest day last week, I got one that had no A/C at all. Pile those full of evening rush hour commuters, and it's just miserable. Then you get on a bus that, maybe half the time, has windows open instead of A/C, and you're dripping with sweat by the time you finish your commute. The hottest, most humid days are the ones I MOST wish I were driving. If I tried transit for the first time on one of these days, I doubt I'd give it a second shot.

Posted by: jane | July 18, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G. I just read the article on the WP homepage about the farecard scam. In the article it states that someone now can only trade in a farecard up to a maximum of 7 dollars (it used to be $40). Does this mean I won't be able to put the $20 metrocheck I have on my SmartTrip card now?

Posted by: Laura | July 18, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

From the article on the farecard scam and metro's kneejerk "punish them all" response: "Although the lower amount may be inconvenient for riders, it will limit the agency's vulnerability, [Lisa Farbstein] said."

And what does Metro do about all the money it steals from me when my farecard stops working? I have several metrochecks from my days as an intern that have over 20.00 on them and I have been unable to use them for over a year because they are demagnetized or whatever. I ride metro sparingly now because I have no business in the downtown core. It is very inconvenient to have to go to Metro Center to get these cards replaced, so they sit and sit. God forbid they could be replaced IN ANY STATION. Now they aren't even going to be accepted thanks to this fraud, and I am out hard earned benefits if they refuse to replace it?? Funny how Metro limits its liability but doesn't see that harm in stealing funds indefinitely and putting the burden on the customer to jump through hoops to get their money back. THANKS METRO!!!!!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | July 18, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I'll have to agree with CyanSquirrel. Metro's own employees were robbing them blind at the parking lots so they institute this 'Smart Card' joke where people have to pay $5 for a card to get out of the parking lot, even if they are tourists in town for a day. It's hardly fair to them.

Then the 'Smart Card' machine reads one amount for the remaining dollars on the card, but the turnstile read another amount. One includes the $5 you paid for it, the other one doesn't.

Now with this farecard scam, the regular riders will be punished for the actions of a few crooks just so Metro won't be vulnerable. Just as in other aspects of life in this area, there will always be crooks who can work around the system.

Posted by: Ex-Metro rider... | July 18, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Laura, I have the same question. The article says it will limit the trade-in of USED farecards, so maybe the machines can tell the difference between a used farecard and a new, unused Metrocheck. I hope they'll clarify that for us.

Posted by: jane | July 18, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Metro: "We can't vet our employees and contractors properly, so EVERYONE gets treated like a criminal."

Metro must be going for the incompetence trifecta this month.

Posted by: BOHICA | July 18, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Is a Metrocheck a farecard?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 18, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Yes. The ones my office gets look exactly like farecards, and come in $1, $5, $10, $20, and $30 increments. So for the monthly transit subsidy, you get several cards that add up to your particular commuting amount. The most practical way to use them is to add them all onto your SmarTrip card. (I wish we had SmartBenefits, where they just download the amount to your card, but no such luck.) If we couldn't do that, it would be a massive pain.

Posted by: jane | July 18, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Dr. Gridlock. I look forward to the new cell phone information system. I would definitely ride the bus more.

Posted by: Bill | July 20, 2008 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Metro busses are awesome. I saw one this morning cut off an entire crosswalk and then slam on its brakes to avoid hitting an illegal cyclist.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

come on, make a cyclist pancake

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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