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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.

Riders and advocates for good city planning were aghast at the District's clumsy move, and some fought back, trying to drum up popular support for the current, widely spaced selection of bus stops.

"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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Comments

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Businesses, particularly those with outdoor seating, have regularly complained to elected officials about the passenger queues. They maintain that lines of passengers waiting for a bus is not attractive and deters their businesses.

What they don't say is that the passengers often stop in their businesses early, patronize their establishment, or patronize smaller businesses, such as the sidewalk vendor.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 9:23 AM

Another example of why DC does not deserve even the limited home rule it has. DC should only be one run by the miscreants elected to Congress and why you all are too stupid to deserve to have voting representation in Congress and 2 senators.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 9:26 AM

Great.... Grab a bus to NY and get shot for your efforts.

They better allow concealed carry permits in DC if they expect people to hang around their ghetto areas...

Posted by: Great | July 7, 2008 9:32 AM

I don't really ride the bus as I have no reason to go to New York City anymore, but isn't one advantage of L'Enfant is that it is Metro accessible?

Posted by: Jacknut | July 7, 2008 9:35 AM

Lenfant isn't scary/dangerous, per se, as much as depressing and inconvenient. Plus, leaving Lenfant forces these buses to drive through MORE of DC, which slows them down and adds to traffic.

The buses are for the most part a great deal, esp with current gas prices. Enjoy them while they last!

Posted by: chaz | July 7, 2008 9:37 AM

Never can leave well enough alone.

Posted by: E | July 7, 2008 9:45 AM

Great column, and great news as well. I was upset about the proposed move to L'enfant. Greyhound allegedly lobbied aggressively for this in Boston, and got the city to relocate all of Boston's chinatown busses to South Station, where greyhound bases their operations. perhaps unsuprisingly Greyhound and Peter Pan took 28 of the 29 loading gates in South Station, and effectively muscled out the chinatown busses. See Steve Bailey's column in the Boston Globe from 6/18/04. The same thing was being lined up here.

There were only two spots for loading at L'Enfant, and the area is just as deserted as greyhound's location way behind union station. I imagine that Bolt Bus (greyhound)would have ended up with most of the spots in L'Enfant. These bus lines are a great thing. They allow us to move about the country cheaply and making mass transit cheap and easy is a good thing for traffic, the environment, etc.

Posted by: pants | July 7, 2008 10:02 AM

There is also some sort of intercity bus in front of the Cosi on Lynn Street in Rosslyn, a short block from the Metro. No doubt there are other suburban stops that are equally convenient.

As I work in the L'Enfant area, I note that one Metro entrance is closed for construction and the one within L'Enfant requires toting stuff down a flight of stairs while the third is way over on Maryland Avenue.

Posted by: Book Guy | July 7, 2008 10:11 AM

Why not have them stop on the massive curb lane on 9th street next to the parking lot that is the old convention center site? It's close to Metro, wouldn't block traffic, is well-lit and well-traveled. And it would give the city an incentive (as if they needed one) to both ticket & tow illegally parked cars there, and perhaps even (*gasp*) enforce the bus/bike only lane on that street.

Posted by: Moose | July 7, 2008 10:18 AM

This dumb proposal about moving the buses to L'Enfant Plaza is just another reminder to me that maybe we erred when we elected Fenty Mayor.

Its not the big issues, but a lot of little decisions which are telling. Be it spending $50,000 of tax payer funds so Fenty could travel and campaign for Obama in partisan primaries; to destroying the Office of Attorney General by hiring a non-DC resident politcal hack to run it; to ill conceived new parking plans for Capitol Hill which soak the residents and non-residents with higher hourly parking fees; to last minute submissions to the City Council on the expenditure of millions in contracts for school repairs requiring approval without documentation; to the lack of public notification to the public on numerous neighborhood issuses; etc. etc.

Maybe all this means was that Fenty clearly was not ready for prime time and is making a major mess of it all. But not to worry, because if Obama is elected maybe Fenty will leave for some Schedule C political job and take Nickles with him. There is always hope!

Posted by: Not Ready for Prime Time | July 7, 2008 10:39 AM

Yet another stupid idea from the idiots running the District Government!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 11:02 AM

How do the buses adverselely impact the safety and welfare of current businesses and residents? Is there some evidence of increased crime? Increased traffic accidents? I've taken several of the DC-NYC bus services and riders tend to be orderly and in no way causing trouble. However, I did take a a bus from the Grehound station over behind Union Station once and swore I'd never go back to that crap hole. Why is the District not concerned about the safety and welfare of people at that location?

Posted by: DCrider | July 7, 2008 11:05 AM

Well, the city does need to do something about these intercity buses parking at Metrobus stops while picking up/unloading passengers. Metrobus passengers are forced to walk in the streets, and that's if the Metrobus stops there. Sometimes when they see one of those intercity buses they blow right past.

I expect more from you, Marc. Really sloppy work. These intercity are inconveniencing a huge portion of the DC population.

Posted by: Metrobus Rider | July 7, 2008 11:28 AM

Just remember: these DC government hacks are the kinds of people who would tax lemonade stands, ban 4th of July fireworks, and install "security" checkpoints.

Home rule my tuchas!

Yeagh!

Posted by: Hey, buddy, ride THIS! | July 7, 2008 11:41 AM

"yet another attempt to assert new policy through emergency legislation"

Regulatory rulemaking and legislation are not the same thing. Rules are adopted by agencies to enforce legislation passed by the Council. I agree that the Council has abused the Emergency Legislation provisions, but you have not provided any evidence that the DC agencies have abused the emergency rulemaking provisions. So the phrase "yet another" is not appropriate.

I also agree with Metrobus Rider. The move to L'Enfant Plaza was illconceived. Nonetheless, the residents of Gallery Place are disproportionately burdened by the lack of regulation of the buses. The city does need to do something to regulate the time and place of the bus pickups. But I agree that it should ensure that those locations are still located somewhere downtown.

Posted by: Reid | July 7, 2008 11:45 AM

I agree with many of the commenters who note the advantages of having the NY bus pick-up (and presumably drop-off) points to be contiguous with, or at least close to, METRO stops. If the city's transportation planners would "connect the dots" regarding public transportation, they would also consider locating those METRO stops to reduce downtown congestion, e.g., by locating them at or near the ends of METRO lines serving the largest numbers of people who use these bus services.

Posted by: Jack | July 7, 2008 11:57 AM

DCrider: They impact residents because the passengers for the intercity buses clog the sidewalks (there are not uniform lines) and the buses themselves often stop in the WMATA bus stops making which usually forces those who are waiting for the WMATA bus to walk into the street. These intercity buses are about as pedestrian un-friendly for residents as you can get.

Posted by: Adams Morgan | July 7, 2008 12:13 PM

Being the "glass half full" kind of guy that I am, I wonder if the real point of this policy was to try to revive the L'enfant area. Some fellow might have noticed that all the places these buses stop now seem to have a lot of growth and figured, it must be because of the buses.

Were it not for the danger of harming the Metro tracks I would be for nuking L'Enfant Plaza and using the rubble for rock climbing. Besides the movie theatre that used to show badly dubbed Kung Fu movies has that place made any singular contribution to the area's business or cultural climate?

Posted by: Paul | July 7, 2008 12:20 PM

Typical stupid move by our local government.

Does anybody really expect us to get to govern ourselves (and MAYBE be a state) as long as we keep making bonehead decisions like this?

What ignorance will the morons put in the 2nd attempt? Maybe ALL Metro buses will be limited to pick-ups from L'Enfant Plaza too. And while they are at it, the same for taxis and the Metro trains.

Posted by: DC Voter | July 7, 2008 12:21 PM

Marc,

How 'bout the DC government allow ping-pong tables on the sidewalks around the new L'Enfant Plaza bus stops. This could kick start the " enlivening of city sidewalks and creating temporary little communities".

What's your take on the express bus to Dulles runs out of the L'Enfant plaza. That bus is so crowded that nobody takes it any more.

Posted by: Mr. Yoo hoo | July 7, 2008 12:36 PM

Remember jive like this when anyone says let the government run healthcare. or statehood.

Posted by: Stick | July 7, 2008 1:00 PM

It's heavy-handed legislation like this that makes one reconsider the wisdom of granting the District home rule. This, and the fact that DC somehow thought that the 2nd amendment didn't apply within its borders.

Posted by: rhadams | July 7, 2008 1:08 PM

First and foremost, Great, as someone who for years took buses at L'Enfant Plaza, this is a quiet area of the city, so your comment is rather ignorant of the facts. The problem is that the buildings above the Plaza (Dept of Transportation and HUD) are both eyesores. So please do a little research before getting on your soapbox.

Second, I kinda like the idea of the buses being close to major public transportation hubs. I took the Megabus from Baltimore (White Marsh) to NYC and loved the fact that they drop you off Penn Station. L'Enfant is in the conjunction of three major Metro Lines (Green, Orange, and Blue) and furthermore is designed for bus drop off with a myriad of bus stops available. Compared to the middle of nowhere pick-up for Megabus in Baltimore, I'd prefer L'Enfant any day. Then again, I don't live in the city anymore.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 1:09 PM

"Another example of why DC does not deserve even the limited home rule it has. DC should only be one run by the miscreants elected to Congress and why you all are too stupid to deserve to have voting representation in Congress and 2 senators."

The only stupid people are the ones who think that you have to pass some type of intelligence test to have your Constitutionally guaranteed right to representation if you're being taxed. Everyone who feels as the quoted poster does should have THEIR voting rights suspended until they can prove that they "deserve" them back.

If we're going to let people be represented based on IQ; Florida should've lost their rights after the 2000 election. Can't read the ballot? Too dumb to have Congressional representation! How about Mississippi? They always rate at the bottom for education. Too dumb to pass 9th grade? Too dumb to have Congressional representation! Did you base your 2004 Presidential vote on the candidates position on gay marriage instead of the economy? Too dumb to have Congressional representation! Still believe the lies our current administration shovels like manure? Too dumb to have Congressional representation!

By the time we got finished eliminating places from having representation based on someone else's idea of how smart the citizens of that location are, nobody will be voting.

Posted by: Va girl tired of the bull-- | July 7, 2008 1:28 PM

To anonymous 1:09, the Promenade isn't so much an eyesore as it is non-descript.

And most of the current bus stops are near Metro Center, a pretty convenient transportation hub.

The point is that these buses are a booming success, ergo, the people looking for a cheap bus ride to NYC seem to have no trouble finding them. It would seem that if the issue really is "safety and welfare" then forcing the buses to board at L'Enfant is basically an admission that no one goes to L'Enfant.

Posted by: Payne | July 7, 2008 1:32 PM

Get off your high horse, Metro Rider. Imagine the horror of having to walk into the street to board the bus! If you are wheelchair bound I can see the problem, but if you are like the 99.95% of us who are not, I fail to see the dilemma. As for Metro buses ignoring waiting passengers, this is a phenomenon that long predates the emergence of the Chinatown bus.

Posted by: $0.02 | July 7, 2008 1:36 PM

I see this as part of the DC government's growing assertive stance toward suburban commuters. They see the average NYC bound traveler as a suburbanite who works downtown so they dreamed up a little way to make his life more complicated

Posted by: cheapo traveler | July 7, 2008 1:49 PM

Where did all of the comments go? Is Greyhound trying to sabotage the replies to this post?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 1:58 PM

If DC actually succeeded in moving all the NYC buses to L'Enfant, that would give me one more reason to take the Vamoose bus from Rosslyn instead. Just one more reason not to live in DC...

Posted by: arlingtonian | July 7, 2008 1:58 PM

FYI...the L'Enfant Plaza Metro entrance on D Street reopened on July 1st. At least the L'Enfant location is covered...I noticed during the downpour yesterday afternoon that lots of people were waiting for Bolt Bus, DC2NY, etc. and had no where to go to escape the rain. Also, that location would make it easier for buses to get in and out of the city, since the entrance to I-395 is nearby. Despite its "No-Man's Land" location, L'Enfant is one metro stop away from the Smithsonian & Penn Quarter and two stops away from Gallery Place, Nationals Park, & Pentagon City Mall.

Posted by: SWill | July 7, 2008 2:00 PM

It's important for arriving/departing buses to be near Metro/transit hubs, but it is also important for them to be reasonably close to tourist attractions.

As someone mentioned, the NY end of the trip is generally right near Penn Station or the downtown shopping district. The DC dropoff should likewise be near restaurants, shops, and attractions (as in, near Metro Center), not a federal wasteland like Lenfant.

Posted by: chaz | July 7, 2008 2:03 PM

When did Greyhound manage to muscle out the china town buses? Lucky Star and Fung Wah leave out of South Station non stop all day. They actually make for a faster trip to NY cause the Greyhound bus actually weaves all the way down Manhattan from Harlem down to 42nd street. And those asian tour buses to foxwoods and mohegan run all the time too. I found the move to south station made everything a little bit easier, but of course it's easier to get to than anything in DC.

Posted by: Boston | July 7, 2008 2:06 PM

is there anything that the local DC government *can't* [fbleep] up?

Posted by: Impressed | July 7, 2008 2:10 PM

Stop criticizing the DC government. They are busy trying to draft up another unconstitutional ban on semi-automatic handguns! UNBELIEVABLE!

Posted by: Aaron Burr | July 7, 2008 2:55 PM

@ $0.02:

Um, I think it's pretty dangerous to have people bolting into the streets to try to catch Metrobuses, handicapped or not. Can't wait for the first person who gets hit to sue the city, WMATA and whichever intercity bus line was hogging the Metrobus stop. He/she will make out pretty good, if they're not dead.

Now go away, jackass. This is a major problem that the city tried to fix (albeit in a ham-handed manner). People like you aren't helping any.

Posted by: Metrobus Rider | July 7, 2008 3:04 PM

"Um, I think it's pretty dangerous to have people bolting into the streets to try to catch Metrobuses, handicapped or not."


Good point. I know someone hit by a Metrobus and nearly killed while crossing a street in a crosswalk when the bus made an illegal turn. Walking anywhere near a Metrobus with their terrible drivers is dangerous.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 3:19 PM

The buses do need to get out of WMATA's bus stops. If nothing else, having them there is an ADA/accessibility lawsuit waiting to happen. It's not just folks in wheelchairs who can't get on buses stopped in the street; it's also anyone with a mobility impairment, which is a significant percentage of bus riders.

The solution, I think, would be to remove a block of parking at either Chinatown or Metro Center and dedicate that block to intercity bus waiting. Either Chinatown or Metro Center would be a much better pickup spot than L'Enfant, which is just not close to where most people arriving in DC city want to go, or to Metro's Red Line that takes them there.

Posted by: dal20402 | July 7, 2008 3:28 PM

It seems as if the DC government and PG County Government are always in a contest to see which government can be the most stupid and most corrupt.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 3:30 PM

The bus that stops at 6:00pm on Mass Ave @ Dupont Circle always makes me mad! There is no standing allowed for cars why should we allow does the city allow these busses. When I read that they didn't even have permits to do this I got even angrier.

Posted by: DC ERRR! | July 7, 2008 3:36 PM

Well, Metro Rider, you consider this to be a "major problem" and I'm a jackass?

"I think it's pretty dangerous to have people bolting into the streets to try to catch Metrobuses, handicapped or not." Who said anything about "bolting?" The bus stops, you walk about 12 feet then you get on your bus. It happens hundreds of times a day around the city with no casualties.

"Can't wait for the first person who gets hit to sue the city, WMATA and whichever intercity bus line was hogging the Metrobus stop. He/she will make out pretty good, if they're not dead." I may be a jackass but apparently you're a sadist.

I like the idea of a downtown with lots of people, businesses, and transportation options. It's called a city. You can't have the concentration without a few inconveniences. Moreover, as popular as these buses are they only run a few routes a day so any inconvenience they cause is fleeting.

Posted by: $0.02 | July 7, 2008 3:38 PM

"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."

Let's not talk crazy here...L'Enfant is still light years better than that horrid Greyhound station. Still, moving from the Metro Center/Gallery Place hub is a dumb idea. The city should absolutely be able to find a solution to keep buses downtown but address the concerns that have been expressed by businesses and residents.

Posted by: Anna | July 7, 2008 4:24 PM

It may be a matter of time until the money people get rid of this bargain service. But the entertainment will be to see who has been bought off and what excuses they offer to kill the service. I would expect it to be "safety."

Posted by: Gary E. Masters | July 7, 2008 4:43 PM

Bring back the S.F. style trollies!

Posted by: Benjamin Dover | July 7, 2008 4:56 PM

busybody dc bureaucrats might want to take a field trip, or even one of their beloved retreats, to Vamoose Plaza on Waverly Street where Vamoose buses start and finish their journeys after the city was banished by dc in a commercial dispute. all in that Bethesda neighborhood seem to be happy and the trip to nyc is shorter because the bus doesn't have to fight traffic in the city.

anything the city does will be good for vamoose which is turning out to be the inadvertently lucky winner here.

Posted by: jim jaffe | July 7, 2008 5:01 PM

I hate knee-jerk conspiracy theories.

Gary E. Masters "thinks" some mysterious "money people" will somehow get rid of the bargain service.

Um, the only "money people" it could hurt are the big established bus companies: Greyhound and CoachUSA. And both of them are fighting it through competition, not dirty tricks.

BoltBus = Greyhound
MegaBus = CoachUSA (a dirty employer, btw; I strongly suggest using BoltBus instead)

That said, the unauthorized commandeering of both WMATA bus stops and lanes of traffic is indeed unsafe. There needs to be an organized location, somewhere that is actually convenient for travelers (unlike L'Enfant), for these buses to load and unload.

Posted by: dal20402 | July 7, 2008 8:32 PM

dal20402: Be careful there. You are making sense. That means your posts may not remain in this blog very long.

Posted by: DCMustGo | July 7, 2008 11:15 PM

Note: if you live in DC there is not a Constitutional right to vote so you can't claim something that doesn't exist.

Also if you want other people to give you something you don't have then you have to pass whatever test or qualification they think is necessary to give you what you want.

Posted by: Stick | July 8, 2008 8:28 AM

My coment is in regard to tday's column on VA's roads. When are you fellas gonna get it about taxes. Since Gilmore left office, our state budget has gone through the roof. ALL for social programs. What guys like me want is for government to do the kind of things that government is suppose to. Roads, infrastructure, law enforcement, etc. AND, to add insult to injury, thanks to guys like Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, VA is now considered a "high" tax state, and that means we're more likely to get pushed into the AMT on our Federal taxes. People have to take responsibility for themselves.

Posted by: Joe May | July 8, 2008 10:25 AM

Duh. What about the old Convention Center site?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 8, 2008 12:02 PM

I've taken Chinatown buses, Megabus, and Greyhound. I far prefer the first two to Greyhound. Not only are the buses nasty, the location for the station is far from great. Since I've usually had to get there from Union Station very early in the morning, or late at night, I don't feel very comfortable. As to businesses, I've actually used businesses in DC while waiting for buses. Restaurants, drug stores, etc. that I would never have visisted, but for the buses. Require permits, etc., but don't send them to the back of beyond.

Posted by: Fairfax | July 8, 2008 12:43 PM

Took Megabus once and Easterns once. Easterns sucks because they lied about their pickup point in NYC, causing me to miss two buses and not get home until after Metro shut down. Megabus was just really late getting me back for reasons unexplained by traffic. The departing bus was 45 minutes late getting to us. Also, the pickup and drop off point in NYC is horribly overcrowded since Megabus, Bolt, Vamoose and DC Trails all use the same patch of ground at Madison Square. I;m tempted to use Greyhound next time since I usually go up there to catch another bus from the PA anyway.

Why would L'Enfant be such a bad idea? There's Metro rail access even closer than Metro Center, though handicapped access could be an issues unless there are some changes proposed for the entrance there. Adding a street-level entry would be a good idea anyway.

I work there. During the day it's just fine and the two hotels out there and the 5 star Cityzen restaurant seem to do ok, so it's not a total dump. If they wanted to move some of the bus lines over there that would be great if they could coordinate it with getting more retail into the mall and the streetscape.

Posted by: EricS | July 9, 2008 12:38 AM

Before you reserve a seat from megabus, please read my experience at http://megabussucks.blogspot.com

Posted by: Megabus sucks | July 20, 2008 11:52 PM

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