Will D.C. Kill The Bargain Buses?
The lines curl around the corner of 14th and G streets, or up at 15th and K, or over in Chinatown. On curbsides dotted all around downtown Washington, bargain-hunting travelers queue up for the best deal on the East Coast, the burgeoning intercity bus companies that are deep into a wild, price-chopping war for passengers.
The price revolution launched by the Chinatown buses three years ago has accelerated in the last few months, as big companies such as Greyhound (operating as Bolt Bus) and Megabus developed their own cheap D.C. to New York bus services to compete with the relatively improvised Chinatown outfits. Suddenly, it seems there are bus stops all over the place, which is exactly why the D.C. government tried to step in--but alas, they did so in such a hamfisted manner that they could well have killed off the entire lineup of bargain buses.
The District's plan--yet another attempt to assert new policy through emergency legislation--was to force all of the bus companies off downtown streets and make them get permits (nothing wrong with that) and do all of their pickups and dropoffs at the preposterous location of L'Enfant Plaza. Yes, you read right: The city proposed to have a convenient and pedestrian-friendly method of transportation move from where the people are to perhaps the single most anti-pedestrian chunk of lousy and forbidding planning in the entire central portion of Washington.
Luckily, the city botched the announcement of the purported emergency, and is now withdrawing the proposal--but watch for it to come back sometime soon. Transportation department spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc told The Post's Simone Baribeau last week that the agency was suspending the rule and reevaluating the program.
"We quickly determined that we really needed more than one location," she said, emphasizing that the agency would reach out to bus companies this time.
"Intercity bus loading, in particular, adversely impacts the safety and welfare of current residents and businesses," the city's announcement of its emergency rules said.
To the contrary, the new gatherings of waiting bus riders enliven city sidewalks and have created temporary little communities of people who share bus advice, tell stories and make friends. The only adverse impact is that felt by big bad Greyhound, which is taking a beating on its traditional intercity service from the godforsaken bus station at 1005 First St. NE. (The dog is trying to sell that station to a developer and move its operation to the far more palatable Union Station, but even that move would pale in convenience next to the naturally emerging system of bus stops all around downtown.)
The District's emergency rules provided for permits for bus companies that want to use city streets to pick up passengers as well as fees for using the curb as a loading point--all reasonable enough. Then the city laid down the big one: All intercity buses using public sidewalks for pickup would do so at "The curb lane of northbound 10th Street, SW, south of D Street, SW, beneath the L'Enfant Promenade."
L'Enfant Plaza--the windswept, utterly barren failure of urban renewal that is one of the most depressing and Soviet spots in all of urban America--is precisely the place to guarantee the death of many of the new bus services. I'd rather drive to the burbs than slog over to L'Enfant. Arriving there, say, late at night would be every bit as forbidding as the Greyhound station, which wins must-avoid status on many travelers' web sites.
But don't take my word for it. The District government itself agrees. The city's Office of Planning described the plaza like this in a document on the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative: "The barren design of the L'Enfant Promenade also discourages pedestrians from approaching the Southwest from the National Mall."
Keep the buses going--keep them far away from L'Enfant.
By Marc Fisher |
July 7, 2008; 8:37 AM ET
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