How do you build a better regional bus network? This coalition has some ideas.

Bus Pickup under Arch by C Buoscio licensed under Creative Commons.

In 2019, a group of advocates, business leaders, and transit agency officials created the Washington Area Bus Transformation Project (BTP) to help develop a regional strategy for WMATA and other regional transit agencies to dramatically improve and expand bus service throughout Greater Washington. The goal was to make the bus the central mode of transit for the region by 2030, and the project laid out 26 recommendations and an action plan to help bus providers get there.

Now another group is looking back at the last few years to see how many of the recommendations from BTP have been implemented.

The Bus Transformation Project Progress Report, released last week by the MetroNow Coalition — which includes the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Federal City Council, Greater Washington Board of Trade, Greater Washington Partnership, Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce, the 2030 Group, and Tysons Partnership —is a report card, in some respects, on how well bus providers are expanding services to riders. Here is a snapshot of what’s in the report.

First the good news

The report highlights some high points in the region’s larger bus network. Alexandria’s DASH created a redesigned bus network. Prince George’s County’s TheBus initiated Saturday bus services in Nov. 2020. Fairfax started an EV autonomous vehicle shuttle pilot program.

The report also highlights several moves the WMATA board made to improve service: from ending its transfer penalties for rail to bus travel, to releasing its first annual line performance report. The agency also created a Metrobus Service Guidelines & Equity Framework, which according to the document provides a formalized plan for routing, service, and budget decisions, as well as establishing equitable policies and practices.

But the pandemic…

While there was progress, many of the recommendations from the Bus Transformation Project are off schedule according to the report. A lot of this is due to the pandemic, which severely impacted ridership and revenue throughout the region and beyond.

“The pandemic, ongoing Metrorail saga and a looming FY24 operating budget fiscal cliff facing our transit agencies shows that it is more important than ever that we double down on the transformation of the bus, and build a more efficient, effective, and resilient transit system,” said JB Holston, CEO of the Greater Washington Partnership.

Six steps towards the future

The report outlines six next steps for 2022 that the coalition hopes will transform the region’s bus network to be reliable, affordable and accessible for everyone. Those include:

  • Launching WMATA’s regional bus network redesign process
  • Adding 10 miles of new bus and bus lane enforcement strategy
  • Creating a regional strategy to hire and keep bus operators
  • Building a plan for zero emissions infrastructure and workforce
  • Consolidating the regional strategy for bus operations and best practices and
  • Making a plan to address the transit funding fiscal cliff when federal dollars for transit are spent

Next steps

BTP's timeline for transforming the region's bus network. 

The progress report was shared with the WMATA as well as state and local officials. MetroNow also hopes to have roundtables with the public and other stakeholders to help figure out ways to speed up bus transformation in the region.

You can read the entire report here.

(Disclosure: David Alpert, GGWash’s founder and former executive director, was on BTP’s executive steering committee. He no longer works at GGWash and has no oversight over editorial content per our editorial policy.)