Metro’s bus map can be daunting and confusing.  There are dozens of lines, a lot of them overlap, and they split and merge.  There’s no guide to which lines operate during rush hours only, on weekends or late at night.  The map gives the same weight and importance to lines that run frequently all day as ones that only run once per hour during rush hours. It’s hard to figure out which are the “good” Metrobus lines.  Even the brand-new Metro Extra lines like the S9 and 79, which offer fast, frequent limited-stop service, look exactly like their sister S1/S2/S4 and 70/71 lines.  Rob Goodspeed pointed out some of Metrobus’ information difficulties, including the complexity of the system map, in this excellent post.

Using the ride guide or trip planner is a little better, but it doesn’t give you the perspective of how often your bus would run.  What if there’s an unexpected delay?  Should you have planned a different route based on the frequency of service provided rather than what bus was going to arrive after your exact search time?

What if you don’t have ride guide or system maps available?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a picture in your head, like the Metrorail map, of what buses run frequently?

Los Angeles Transit attempted to solve these problems by distilling their full transit map to a map that shows only those lines that run at least every 12 minutes throughout the day.  The slogan they use is “Go Metro without timetables”, because when transit vehicles travel that often, people often forego exact timetables in favor of just showing up and taking the next bus.  In fact, since the DC Circulator travels every 10 minutes, DDOT does not produce timetables for the service.

Below is my version of the “12 Minute Map” for the DC area.  The lines depicted run at least every 12 minutes from 7 am to 6 pm, and many run even better hours. Some of the lines are actually combinations of routes, such as the 90/92.  The map only shows the common portion of such combined routes, where buses run every 12 minutes or more. For the full routes, use WMATA’s timetables.

This was a time-consuming, manual process.  Besides the Metrorail and DC Circulator routes (thanks to Tom Lee of DCist for his Metrorail map), I selected the Metrobus routes by looking over the route timetables for the routes with the most revenue trips per year.  This is still a work in progress.

WMATA bus planners stated that such a map would not be that useful for riders, because they generally know the routes they ride pretty well. They use the full system map to first select a route, then consult the timetables to learn more about a particular route.  They said that riders don’t typically look at Metrobus as a system, but rather as a route that they ride all the time.

What do you think?  Is this map useful?  Would you like to see an official WMATA version of the map?  Do you think you would ride Metrobus more often if you knew which lines operated almost as frequently as Metrorail?

Metrobus planners are redesigning the printed information available at bus stops. What would you like to see? How would you present the schedule?


  • There are some bus lines that had 13 minutes between buses at some hours in the evening.  I cut off the service hours at that point, 12 minute service sometimes resumes after those anomalies in the schedule.
  • The map is based on written bus schedules.  Bus bunching (where the lead bus is slowed by passenger volume and later buses catch up) pretty much destroys schedule adherence, especially on popular, long routes.  Your mileage may vary.
  • This map is not endorsed or produced by WMATA or DDOT.  There is no warranty.  Service may change; check printed schedules for details.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.