We Need Better Buses

Despite possessing the largest suburban bus transit system in the country, Montgomery County's bus system still falls far short of meeting its transportation needs. Waits between buses are too long. Clear schedules and maps are rarely posted at bus stops. Riders are confused when different providers serve the same route. Buses move slowly, stuck in the county's sluggish traffic.

Increasing the total amount of bus service is essential, but if new funding is used just to add more routes like those we already have, these weaknesses will limit growth in ridership. While buses cannot adequately substitute for rail on high-volume corridors like the future Purple Line, they can more than adequately serve most other corridors with fast, reliable, frequent, comfortable and affordable transit if we make the necessary investments.

What Needs To Be Done?

1) More frequent and efficient regular busses

Frequency and efficiency are the bread and butter of good transit. If a bus does not come often and/or takes meandering paths which take too long to reach a potential rider's destination, it will have low ridership. A good bus network will come frequently enough that you do not need a schedule and take a direct enough route that it can get you where you need to go in a timely manner.

To this end, ACT supports:
  • Increasing frequencies to a minimum of every 15 to 20 minutes off peak for most bus routes, and every 10 minutes or better on high demand routes. 
  • High frequency bus service every day of the week at all hours of the day. All hours transit helps to keep our communities connected and safe as it can:
    • Keep drunk and dangerous drivers off the road, reducing accidents by as much as 37%!
    • Help vulnerable and lower income individuals individuals get home or to night shift jobs safely.
  • Rethinking existing bus routes to design a system that better balance service to ensure higher ridership and better coverage, increasing access to transit for everyone. 

ACT is pleased by current ongoing efforts by WMATA to redesign their bus network and their addition of several 24/7 bus routes, and we will continue to engage with them and keep putting pressure on other agencies to ensure our communities get the transit outcomes they deserve. 

2) More Information at Bus Stops

Even in an ideal world where a bus would come so often that you shouldn't need to check a schedule, most people still want to have some idea of:

A) Precisely when/how often the bus will come?
B) Where a route will take them from a particular stop?
C) How long the bus should take to get them to their destination stop?

Clear and accurate information about schedules, routes, and travel times is needed by current riders and is essential in attracting new ones.

Governments and agencies don't need to spend large sums on expensive electronic displays to achieve what ACT is proposing. Basic analog signs which are easily attached to the existing poles can display all of this information easily and be tailored to specific stops across the network. This is tried and tested, as evidenced by the sign from London in 2019.

ACT is calling on WMATA and Ride-On to make a truly meaningful investment of funds and management attention in the unglamorous but very important task of posting helpful signs at all stops which make the system easy to navigate by riders of all levels of familiarity and experience. It is little touches like this that can make transit systems thrive.

3) Better Bus Stops

Montgomery County and WMATA are making some high dollar investments in electronic displays at a few stops. While this is all fine and good for the benefiting stops, this has left most other stops in the county as nothing more than a sign with a route number. No time table, no route map, often not even a tree or shelter to keep the sun/rain at bay. Just a pole in the ground with a sign, often only on one side of the pole, that prompts you to check your phone when the next bus is.

Investing in better transit includes investing in better bus shelters. At a basic level, better shelters tend to be more visible than simple signs on sticks. This makes people more aware of the presence of transit in their neighborhoods, which tends to make people more likely to take said transit.

In terms of what a better bus shelter includes, each element is an important contributor to the quality of the shelter and the benefits it brings. When people are able to wait, however briefly, for their bus comfortably such as by sitting or taking some cover from the elements, they are more likely to choose the bus as their mode of travel. By providing people with public trash cans, both riders and passersby are able to dispose of potential litter in a manner which keeps the community and its busses cleaner. As already stated, by providing people with better information with schedules and maps, system transparency and usability is increased. 

ACT calls for bus shelters, of every transit operator, all across the county and region to be upgraded so that every rider can wait for their bus with informed comfort.

4) Bus Rapid Transit

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is a proven way to upgrade bus service, especially on busy roads which do not have enough demand for rail based transit, but have higher demand than regular bus service can sustain.

True BRT requires at least all four of these key components:

If a system only has one or two or three, but not all four, of these elements, then it is not real BRT.

ACT supports the addition of real BRT to the Montgomery County transportation network.

Studies by Montgomery County's rapid transit task force and the Planning Board staff have shown that better bus service is possible using the concepts of bus rapid transit. These studies have made clear that the best way to create an effective, affordable BRT network is to phase it in by converting existing roadway lanes to bus lanes. A perfect place to start is on the county's most congested roads, as a BRT lane can serve over 4x as many people as a regular mixed traffic lane.

Taking one lane from cars for real BRT effectively adds more than four lanes to the road without actually widening it by a single inch.

The throughput capacity of a four lane, two way road, if one lane in each direction were converted to BRT lanes, would become greater than that of a ten lane super highway.

Image created by Lev Boonin using Canva