Photo by the author.

Metro is considering significant changes to several Metrobus routes across the region, including the express buses they run to Dulles and BWI airports. The agency may even end bus service to Dulles altogether.

The 5A express runs from L’Enfant Plaza to Dulles Airport, making two stops along the way. It was originally created to get workers from DC to jobs near the airport. But with the opening of the Silver Line early next year, there may be less demand for that service.

The B30 runs from Greenbelt Metro to BWI Airport, making no intermediate stops. Metro is proposing to run the bus more frequently and to add a stop along the way at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, where the Maryland Live! casino has just opened. Before making any changes, WMATA will survey riders and take public comments on the altered routes, which could start running next year.

Dulles service could get shorter

Metrobus 5A currently runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. The trip from L’Enfant Plaza to Dulles takes just under an hour. The bus starts at L’Enfant Plaza and makes stops at Rosslyn and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride on its way to Dulles. Though it was originally designed as a route to get workers to the airport, the 5A is fairly popular with airport travelers.

Map of proposed 5A route options from WMATA.

Airport travelers have a different option, the Washington Flyer, which runs non-stop between Dulles and West Falls Church. The Flyer leaves every 30 minutes, and trips to West Falls Church take about 25 minutes.

Within the next few years, Metro’s new Silver Line will reach Dulles. But for now, the new line will only run as far as Wiehle Avenue, still 7 miles short of the airport, when it opens early next year.

Once the first phase of the Silver Line opens, the Washington Flyer will start running buses only as far as Wiehle Avenue, discontinuing service to West Falls Church. Additionally, once the Silver Line opens, Fairfax Connector will reroute the 981 so that it runs between Wiehle Avenue (instead of Tysons-Westpark) and Dulles. That route will continue to run via Reston Town Center and Herndon-Monroe Park & RIde, and will depart every 20 minutes.

For the moment, WMATA has not decided what to do about the 5A. They are considering several options.

One option is to discontinue all service on the 5A. With the new Silver Line and shuttle services from Fairfax Connector and Washington Flyer, the 5A won’t be as important. Cutting the service will save the region money, which makes a lot of sense with the new options coming online.

Another option is to simply run the 5A between Wiehle Avenue and Dulles Airport. That duplicates the 981 and Washington Flyer services, but it would maintain the Metrobus brand as an option for getting to Dulles. A third option is to run the 5A only during times when a connection to Metrorail is not possible, like when the system is closed.

The final option is to keep the existing service. There may be some merit to this approach, since an express from Dulles Airport to Downtown Washington would likely be faster than the multiple-stop rail service. But it is somewhat incongruous with the rest of the system, where suburban buses typically feed into the rail system. The B30, for example, only runs to Greenbelt Station, not all the way downtown.

New local stops on BWI service

The Metrobus B30 runs nonstop from Greenbelt station to BWI Airport. This bus service has proven to be very popular, and some trips on the route can be very crowded. Currently, the bus runs every 40 minutes throughout the day.

Metro wants to shorten headways to 30 minutes during some periods, which should help alleviate crowding. The agency also wants to add a stop at Arundel Mills Mall, requiring a short detour from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which the B30 uses to get to the airport. In addition to the large collection of retailers, Arundel Mills is now home to one of Maryland’s new casinos, Maryland Live!

Map by the author.

There’s no other Metrobus service in this area. Since the B30 gets so close, Metro hopes to tap into the demand for more service here. A stop at Arundel Mills would also provide connections to other transit providers which serve the mall, including MTA local and commuter bus service, Howard Transit, and Central Maryland Regional Transit. But the diversion would add about 10 minutes to the trip time between Greenbelt and BWI.

One other possible change is making the B30 more of a local service. Metro’s proposed restructuring of the 87/88/89 line will eliminate bus service along Powder Mill Road in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Since the B30 uses this road to get to the B-W Parkway, Metro may allow it to serve stops along this corridor.

These stops are very lightly used, so it probably won’t add much time to trips. However, one effect of making local stops along Powder Mill is that the B30 won’t be as flexible. If there’s a crash on the Parkway, today supervisors can send the bus up I-95 instead. That won’t be an option if this change happens.

Are “airport fares” fair for riders?

A few years ago, Metro introduced a new “airport fare” of $6 charged to riders on the 5A and B30. Compared to the $10 fare on the Washington Flyer, the 5A’s $6 fare is a steal. The 5A will take you all the way downtown, whereas your $10 fare on the Flyer still leaves you with a $4.20 (rush hour) Metro fare to get to L’Enfant Plaza.

The B30, on the other hand, has always been less of a deal. The $6 fare only gets you to Greenbelt. From there, it’s still $4.00 (rush hour) just to get to Gallery Place (less the transfer discount). Riders instead choosing to take the MARC train can get to Union Station for $6, though it does require taking a free shuttle from the terminal to the train station.

If the 5A is discontinued, riders will be on the hook for about $5.75 in Metro fare (the maximum fare) in addition to the $1.10 fare for Fairfax Connector (less the 50¢ transfer discount). That’s a slight increase, but is still relatively cheap, given the distance Dulles is from the core.

With the B30 changes, though, the airport fare may make less sense. Passengers boarding along Powder Mill Road in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center today pay a fare of $1.60 to board a local Metrobus. If the B30 becomes their only bus service, their one-way fare will increase by 275%.

And riders bound for Arundel Mills or Maryland Live will also be stuck paying the airport fare, even though they aren’t headed for the airport. On the other hand, though, the B30 is one of Metro’s more far-flung routes, so a higher fare may be justified.

Adding a B30 stop at Arundel Mills seems like a good idea. It will give riders more regional transit connections and open up a major retail and entertainment area to transit users. Eliminating the 5A also makes a lot of sense, although it will likely be very controversial. In place of the 5A, Fairfax Connector is setting up a more frequent service to get riders to Dulles, which will mean shorter waits and less crowded buses.

The changes proposed for these routes will probably be positive for most riders. Soon, it will be easier to get to Dulles and BWI, and Arundel Mills will be much more accessible to Washingtonians.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.