Photo by Beechwood Photography on Flickr.

WMATA bus planners are proposing a set of changes to bus service, including a number of cuts along with a few increases.

The changes will be presented to the Riders’ Advisory Council tomorrow night, the WMATA Board on Thursday, and then (if authorized by the Board) out to the general public for comments. The board will not actually approve any changes this week, but will only authorize holding public hearings in advance of making a decision.

On a number of lines, WMATA would redo the schedules to better match reality. The schedule assumes bus trips will take a certain amount of time, but often the true running time is greater. As a result, buses are more widely spaced than the schedule says they should be.

Ideally, WMATA would have money to add more buses to keep up the headways, but they don’t. A few lines will get the extra buses, like the D12/13/14 in Oxon Hill and Suitland. Elsewhere, lines will get new schedules that keep service the same as it is today, but more honestly describe that service.

A large number of lines would lose “low-productive” late night trips (the 62, 64, A4, B2, C4, C22, C26, D2, D8, G2, H8, J2, P6, Q4, U4, U5, W2, W6, W8, Y7, and Y9). The 1F would lose late night service entirely.

Is this a good idea? It may turn on a policy question of whether WMATA should provide some minimal, long-headway service (such as a bus every 30 minutes) at times and in places where very few people ride the bus, or not. Providing the service gives a basic level of mobility to everyone, but also costs a lot of money compared to the numbers of people that actually use it.

Elsewhere, bus planners propose to increase service. For example, the U2 on Minnesota Avenue would get 30-minute weekend service that doesn’t exist now, while the M8 and M9 in Congress Heights would be extended.

Some bus routes could be eliminated entirely and restructured with other similar routes. On Connecticut Avenue, the bus planners want to eliminate the L4, reroute the L1 in the State Department area, and move the L2. The L2 now breaks off Connecticut at Woodley Park and runs through Adams Morgan, then down 18th Street to New Hampshire Avenue and rejoins the line at Dupont Circle. The new route would stay off Connecticut for less time, returning via Columbia Road instead and using the Dupont underpass to save time.

This actually eliminates the bus stop closest to my house, on the L2. However, I find that the bus is too infrequent to be of much real use. People living farther north on 18th, at a greater distance from Metrorail, might feel differently, however.

The P1/2/6 would become a single P6 route. Currently, the P1 and P2 go from Anacostia along M Street SE/SW to downtown, the P1 continuing to the State Department, while the P6 runs through the southern edge of Capitol Hill and then up to Rhode Island Avenue. The new route would use M Street SE/SW, skipping Capitol Hill, and then follow the P6 north of downtown.

Another proposal restructures the R and F buses in Hyattsville. The R3 and R5 would disappear, while the R2 and F6 would pick up pieces of the R3 route. The F6 would now go to Fort Totten station, where the R3 now ends. In Tysons, the chronically low-performing and circuitous 3T loses all weekend service and the piece of its route between Tysons Corner and Tysons-Westpark all the time.

The C8 will divert about a half-mile to go into FDA White Oak and Archives II (to replace the R3) along the route. It’s too bad these facilities weren’t built to be on the way of a bus instead of requiring a long detour, but given what they are, this may be worth the extra time.

Surely there will be riders inconvenienced by these changes, though other riders may benefit. At a public hearing, inevitably we will hear most from those who lose out, and it’s important to think hard about the loss. Some people may drive instead, adding traffic congestion. Transit-dependent riders might find themselves unable to travel at some times of the day. Riders with disabilities could start using paratransit more, which is far more expensive than fixed-route bus service.

At the same time, while it would be fantastic to serve every resident with great bus service, it’s reasonable to ask how few riders justify keeping a very low-performing line. Having a slightly smaller number of bus lines which run more often provides advantages. People can more reliably depend on these routes, and can take them without long delays, attracting riders who might not otherwise use the bus.

I’ll walk farther to get the Circulator, since I can count on its almost-10 minute headways, but rarely take that L2, which is barely 10 minutes even at its very busiest time though it stops very close. If a bus change would make one line more like the Circulator at the expense of another line like the L2, is that worthwhile even if some people lose service? I’m in good health, but what about someone with injuries or disabilities who can’t make that walk?

WMATA’s bus planners have considered these factors and devised a set of changes they feel are appropriate given the tradeoffs. Soon, it’ll be your turn to decide if you agree or disagree. We’ll all learn more at the RAC meeting, the Board meeting, and ultimately in public communications sent out for the hearings. If you want to hear more at the RAC, it meets tomorrow (Wednesday) at 6:30 in the lobby level meeting room of WMATA headquarters, 600 5th Street, NW.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.