Make buses better in Baltimore, Richmond, and Washington, says a regional business group

CityLink bus livery detail by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond should all make their bus service a priority with more lanes, faster boarding, better infromation, and much more. Those are recommendations from the Greater Washington Partnership, a super-regional business-led organization which just released a new issue brief on bus service.

The Partnership was founded two years ago by 17 CEOs and is led by financier Russ Ramsey, businessman and sports team owner Ted Leonsis, and banking executive Peter Scher. They worked together on the region's bid for the Olympics, and when that fell apart, created a new organization to help the greater "Capital Region," from Baltimore to Richmond, be more globally competitive.

Transportation is one of the key issues the Partnership decided to take on. I've been working with Partnership leaders and transportation staff in the last year or so, and they are very forward-thinking in their approach, including very supportive of transit. One of their early recommendations, from a task force led by David Zipper, was to integrate fare payments across transit, private transportation services, and more; Zipper has been posting here about that idea.

Now, the Partnership has released a new brief, called Rethinking the Bus. It includes a lot of strong thinking (and not just because I advised them as part of their working groups), and overlaps in many ways with the seven ideas to transform the bus which DW Rowlands and I created for the WMATA Bus Transformation Project.

The brief lists five big "actions to rethink the bus." They are:

  1. Optimize routes to improve service and better match demand: Basically, this is the Jarrett Walker bus network redesign approach, where among other things, you consider combining many branching or parallel low-frequency routes into high-frequency routes that make it easier to transfer if needed.
  2. Make space for buses on the region's roads: Bus priority, like dedicated lanes, optimizing signals, building bus bulbs to speed boarding, and more.
  3. Make boarding faster, like off-board payment, all-door boarding, and making it easier to pay.
  4. Make buses easier to use, with simpler schedules, real-time information, better signs, and fare policies like free transfers and passes to encourage using the bus. (We'll talk about this more in #4 and #5 in our transformation series.) Also, Zipper's integrated mobility platform.
  5. Measure and report on bus performance, with open data and regular report cards. They note that WMATA doesn't publish on-time performance by route, nor does the Maryland MTA in the Baltimore area or GRTC in Richmond.

For the Washington region, they recommend five specific "next moves":

  1. "Make buses more reliable and efficient through a coordinated regionwide effort to optimize bus service." Use the current WMATA Bus Transformation Project and then, likely, more detailed Walker-style network redesigns.
  2. "Develop a regionwide strategy for implementing dedicated lanes, signal priority, and other bus priority treatments to improve reliability and speed of buses on congested corridors."
  3. "Complete ready-to-go bus improvement projects such as 16th St., Downtown West [the proposed contraflow lane on H Street NW] and US-29."
  4. "Establish mobile fare payments to speed boarding and coordinate with other services." This includes the Zipper concept.
  5. "Amend the formula for allocating Metrobus costs to include incentives for prioritizing buses." This is something from our list of seven bus recommendations, which I'll be writing about more when we get to that part, the sixth in my series with DW Rowlands.

In Baltimore, the Partnership calls for more frequent routes and longer hours, dedicated lanes, better reporting of bus performance, and a commission to create a bold vision. In Richmond, the ideas are expanding service in surrounding counties, laying groundwork for another Bus Rapid Transit line, consolidating transportation staff into one agency, and reporting on-time performance.

Take a look at the report. What do you like?