Report Says Montgomery County Has Good Bus Service, But Area Needs More Investment
A report released Thursday by a regional coalition of businesses and smart growth organizations commends Montgomery County for its Flash Bus Service and free Ride On service fares, while calling for improvements to bus service in the region.
The report was published by the MetroNow Coalition, which has eight members in the Washington, DC area.
The report says bus systems and transit agencies in Montgomery County and the rest of the DC area should provide more frequent bus service, prioritize routes for buses where possible, and reduce traffic. tariffs for low-income users, among several recommendations.
John Hillegass, Head of Regional Mobility and Infrastructure for the Greater Washington Partnershipand Laura Miller Brooks, Senior Transportation and Infrastructure Associate for the Federal City Councilcontributed to the report.
They said in an interview that Montgomery County is a leader in many ways when it comes to regional bus service.
“Montgomery County has kind of been at the forefront of a lot of these strategies in the region… [such as] launch of their Flash bus service. They are also doing great things to test different types of mobile detection systems to make it safer for pedestrians so buses don’t accidentally hit [them]said Hillegass.
That of the county Flash bus service began operating in October 2020 as a bus rapid transit line along US 29. Additional lines are being developed in two segments – on Md. 355 from Clarksburg to Bethesda and on Md. .586 from Wheaton to Rockville.
Hillegass and Brooks said they look forward to seeing the results of the county’s Ride On Reimagined study, which is looking at the entire bus system and whether routes need to be changed to better serve riders.
Officials can either offer more bus routes at fewer hours or offer fewer bus routes in busier corridors and areas but with more services, they said.
Chris Conklin, director of the county’s Department of Transportation, said he appreciates MetroNow’s report praising the county’s Flash bus service and free Ride On rides.
He said County Executive Marc Elrich’s capital budget, released this week, calls for expanding Flash service routes and improving the entire bus network.
“Public transit is a big part of our future and a big part of achieving our climate action goals,” Conklin said. “And making it more accessible and reliable, and meeting more travel goals for our employees, is an important part of that.”
Shortages of bus operators due to the coronavirus and the pandemic have resulted in more limited Ride On service, starting this week. Brooks said elected officials need to consider whether to pay those drivers more, to potentially allow more routes and services on those routes.
She said government entities need to rethink their view of bus drivers, given their inherent value in getting people where they need to be for work, health appointments, errands or other needs.
“Driving a bus is such a tough job,” Brooks said. “And we undervalued it, I think from a societal perspective. … The very first thing we need to do is really elevate that, that we don’t take bus drivers for granted. … This work is much more than knowing the routes and driving.
The study also notes that in 2018 – the most recent data available – 47% of Ride On bus passengers were low-income, meaning they earn $30,000 or less per year. Some Montgomery County Council members used this argument during the vote to expand the free Ride On service. until early July.
Hillegass and Brooks said discussing and debating free fares is only part of improving the entire regional bus system, including in Montgomery County. But they added that the free fares can help low-income residents pay for other needs, like rent or groceries.
Overall, fighting for a few million dollars in a transit system’s operating budget when discussing free fares can miss the bigger picture of trying to make a regional bus system more reliable and efficient, Brooks said.
“Pushing for the most impactful versions of whatever we need should kind of be the base…and I think Montgomery County is really leading the area in being willing to have that conversation,” Brooks said. .
Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]