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New Circulator Bus Gets Attention

This must be what the sponsors mean by branding and marketing: Along Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, people look over and stare as a new D.C. Circulator bus rolls by. The long-observed red, white and blue Metrobuses may blend into the street scene, but the red, black and silver Circulator is something different here, and it stands out.

The route connecting Woodley Park Station, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, 14th and U Streets and McPherson Square Station should work on several levels. As a transportation artery, it can move people between Metrorail lines, other bus routes, residential areas, business districts and entertainment zones.

"Get out of your cars!" D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty told people at the line's formal debut Wednesday morning in Adams Morgan. But he then tied the new service to upcoming development in many of the neighborhoods it crosses, which is the second promise of the bus route. It's an engine -- maybe a dozen engines, actually -- for economic development.

Chief backer of the thing is D.C. Council Member Jim Graham, who represents the area, and also serves as Metro board chairman and head of the council committee that oversees the District Department of Transportation. (There's a coincidence.)

The other new Circulator is across town, linking Union Station, Eastern Market, Barracks Row, the Navy Yard Metro station and Nationals Park. While the Adams Morgan line is a new route, the Unoin Station-Navy Yard service is pretty much a straight-up replacement for Metrobus N22. And its hours are more limited than the other Circulator's. Union Station-Navy Yard is 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, with extended service on Nationals' game days. The Adams Morgan line is 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday and 7 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Nice going, Jim.

"How's that for a bus route?" he asked his constituents.

"Now there's every reason to ride the bus," he said. And in an aside to himself: "Jim Graham, did you hear that? Oops."

While happy to provide transit for others, Graham has been famously reluctant to use it himself. See Lena H. Sun's Post story.

Karyn LeBlanc, spokeswoman for DDOT, told me that the District has been working for a while to boost the bus connection between Union Station and the Anacostia waterfront, citing the history of the N22's development.

The original N22 route, before the opening of the baseball stadium, was largely a commuter service and ran only every 20 to 30 minutes, she said. When Nationals Park opened, DDOT and Metro funded an experimental service, at a cost of $1.03 million beyond the annual subsidy for the route, to decrease the headways to every 10 minutes. They also ran service late nights and weekends.

But the ridership on the extended hours was low, she said, The per rider subsidy was very high. However, the service did well on game days.

In developing the new Circulator route, she said, "We tailored the service down to meet the baseball demand but saved some operating costs by eliminating late night and weekend service otherwise. This was mainly done for budgetary reasons." (Makes sense.)

But she said DDOT will watch how ridership grows -- in part through better marketing of the Circulator over the N22 -- and make the case for extended hours of service based on that growth.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 2, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  transit  
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every 10 minutes on the N22/now circulator line was great, but I'd be willing to wait for 20 or 30 minutes between buses if it gets us our nights and weekend service back. Right now, for those of us who used to as a neighborhood to neighborhood service on nights and weekends, we no longer have service at all and the new circulator is completely worthless.

Posted by: RedBirdie | April 2, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: RedBirdie, I understand your frustration. While the Circulator will go into overtime on game days, that still means people who just want to go out to dinner on Barracks Row will have to follow the baseball schedule to know what the bus schedule is. (As soon as I can find out what the extended hours will be, I'll post them here on the blog and im the newspaper.)

But I would give DC a chance to see if it can boost ridership with the distinctive Circlator. It's not just about recognizing the bus. It's about recognizing the bus because it goes to the place you want for a dollar and it arrives every 10 minutes.

So I wouldn't expect the city to play around with the times and hours. Just promote the thing and build up ridership, so the hours and days can be permanently expanded. (The District subsidizes all the Circulator routes, so it's your tax dollars at work, not just the fare revenue.)

Posted by: rtthomson1 | April 2, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

If DC subsidizes the Circulator, how can they get away with offering special extended service on game days? I thought that type of service was limited to charters.

Posted by: cprferry | April 3, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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