When the Silver Line’s first phase opens sometime this year, there will be three new or altered bus routes connecting its temporary terminus at Wiehle Avenue to Dulles Airport. While they all serve a similar purpose, they’ll have different branding and uncoordinated schedules.


Graphic by the author.



Current service

Currently, the airport has a few bus options. Metrobus runs the 5A express from L’Enfant and Rosslyn to the airport. Fairfax Connector operates their 981 from the airport to Reston and Tysons Corner. And the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) runs the Washington Flyer express service between the airport and West Falls Church on the Orange Line.

Right now, each of these services serves a different market. The 5A connects airport workers and budget-minded travelers with downtown. The 981 serves to connect Fairfax County residents to other bus lines, Reston, and Tysons. The Washington Flyer is oriented more toward travelers, and gets them swiftly to the Orange Line for a steep $10.

But with the Silver Line’s opening just a few months away, each of these operators is revising its plans. The first phase of the new line will end at Wiehle Avenue in Reston, just 6.5 miles short of the airport.

The new plan

Once the Silver Line is open, the Fairfax Connector 981 will operate only between the airport and Wiehle Avenue, making a few local stops in Reston. The fare will be $1.80. The 981 will come every 20 minutes Monday through Saturday, and every 40 minutes on Sundays.

The Washington Flyer will operate similarly. It will run between Dulles and Wiehle Avenue as an express, not making local stops. The fare will be $5.00 and must be paid with cash or credit only, since SmarTrip isn’t accepted. The bus will run every 15 minutes during peak hours, and every 20 minutes at other times.

The 5A will be unchanged. It will continue to run between the airport and downtown DC, with stops at Herndon and Rosslyn. The fare will likely go up to $7.00 with Metro’s proposed fare increase. The 5A will run every 30 to 40 minutes.

Overlap

What this means is that a transit rider at Dulles has several options to get into the city. But the options will have separate branding, will use different stops at the airport, and will cost different amounts to ride. That’s not efficient, and it’s not particularly helpful to the user.

Potentially, up to 7 buses per hour will be leaving the airport headed toward Wiehle Avenue. That’s a bus every 8.5 minutes!

This is the perfect example of a place where coordination is best for transit users. If Metrobus, Fairfax Connector, and MWAA pooled their resources, the agencies could easily offer a commonly-branded bus service connecting Dulles and Wiehle Avenue.

And an ideal service would take SmarTrip and offer transfer discounts to other bus services and Metrorail. Buses could even carry a unique paint scheme to brand them as an airport connection. MWAA is buying new buses to replace the coaches currently operated on the Flyer route, and this would have been a perfect opportunity to have a fleet of airport-oriented buses.

But the lack of coordination between these agencies means that a passenger waiting for a Fairfax Connector bus that takes SmarTrip may watch one or two Washington Flyer buses go by. That’s frustrating to riders, and inefficient for agencies.

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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 Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.