Odenton MARC station. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The Department of Defense is now promoting alternatives to to the more than 5,800 employees relocating to Fort Meade in August due to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) changes.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) headquarters is moving from the Pentagon in Virginia to Fort Meade in Maryland, and represents a substantial number of the relocated jobs. Unlike the the Pentagon, which is adjacent to Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines and one of the largest bus hubs in Arlington, Fort Meade is nearly transit-inaccessible.

Approximately 25 MARC trains (PDF) on the Penn Line stop daily at nearby Odenton Station Monday through Friday. Several organizations on Fort Meade offer shuttle service from the station to their facilities, which are about two to five miles from the station.

Virginia-based DISA workers certainly have no reason to celebrate their commute being lengthened up to 30 miles each way due to the move. But the commute might not be as daunting as expected thanks to a couple of commuting options that DISA and other DoD Agencies are pushing to their employees.

For commuters who live near VRE stations, there is a cross honor agreement with MARC, allowing riders on inbound VRE trains a free transfer to outbound MARC trains.

If, for instance, riders are coming from Woodbridge and going to Fort Meade, they only need a ticket to Union Station, where they can then board an outbound MARC train to Odenton for free. This is still long commute with two transfers (VRE to MARC, MARC to shuttle), but with the federal mass transit subsidy recently being raised to $230 a month, it can be done for no additional money out-of-pocket.

For those who can get to Union Station via Metro or bus, MARC has the Transit Link Card (TLC). For $102 in addition to a MARC monthly pass ($125 for Union Station to Odenton), the TLC will offer unlimited monthly ridership on any service that accepts SmarTrip or Charm Cards.

The monthly cost for those going to Fort Meade via Odenton is $227, which again can be covered in full by the federal mass transit subsidy. Additionally, the TLC card can be used on weekends and holidays, making it fiscally advantageous for Fort Meade commuters to potentially give up their cars all together.

MARC’s TLC can be used with Metro, Metrobus, DC Circulator, the future DC Streetcar, ART, CUE, DASH, Fairfax Connector, Loudon County Commuter Bus, OmniRide, Ride-On, TheBus, the Baltimore Subway and Light Rail, and any MTA bus. This connectivity makes it a highly viable option for Washington and Baltimore commuters to other BRAC sites, including Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which is also served by the MARC Penn Line.

Currently, MARC’s TLC is the only way to get an unlimited use pass from Metro.  MARC’s TLC is the only pass that allows unlimited rides on multiple modes. Non-MARC Metro riders can use rail and bus passes which are fairly limited; several have recommended creating more flexible passes.

Will these services prevent a traffic nightmare from occurring? Probably not. MARC service is limited and does not run on weekends, and many employees relocating from Virginia are probably not keen on 2-hour commutes with multiple mode shifts.

DISA’s move to Fort Meade isolates the agency from DoD headquarters and other related agencies in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, which in turn means more and longer commutes for meetings and conferences. This will also be the case with most agencies that are moving from the DC core to transit-poor exurbs in the BRAC as land in the city core sits undeveloped.

Nevertheless, the fact that the DoD is beginning to recognize the importance of mass transit’s role in providing an efficient way for employees to reach their facilities is an important step in the right direction.