London bus lane. Photo by a shadow of my future self.

Peter Benjamin, one of the WMATA Board members from Maryland, declared his strong opposition to a budget balanced primarily through service cuts and fare increases.

He feels that Metro must find more restructuring of operations and cuts in administration. Many other Board members expressed a belief that there are more savings to be wrung out of Metro and found in various line items. But this year’s budget gap is $175 million (or $205 million, without the $30 million in capital funds). There definitely isn’t $175 million in waste in a $1.5 billion budget, especially when most of the labor costs are tied up in union contracts.

There’s also still the possibility that local jurisdictions could pony up more for Metro. Last year, everyone said they couldn’t, but faced with some draconian service cuts and stubborn refusals by many members (including Jim Graham) to raise fares, suddenly localities, especially the State of Maryland, found some more money. Maybe that can happen again. Still, last year’s gap was $29 million. That’s a lot less than $175 million.

There is another way for local jurisdictions to contribute: allocate more roadway space to buses where it will significantly speed up person throughput. MWCOG has done a study and found that on 11 miles of the Metrobus Priority Corridor Network, dedicated bus lanes would not only move buses faster and save Metro money, but also increase the total numbers of people the roadway network carries. That’s a net positive for the entire region.

Drivers also benefit when transit works well. Each person on a bus is not taking up the space of a private car, reducing overall congestion. If Metro has to cut routes or increase headways on heavily used bus routes, that will drive people away from riding buses and add more traffic. Therefore, it’s fair to ask drivers to contribute to a better transit system as well, by dedicating some roadway space around key intersections to buses.

Transit First! emphasized this point in their statement on today’s budget:

To fill the gap in Metro’s budget, the first place to turn is fair treatment of buses and their riders on the roadways. Current traffic engineering practices often force buses loaded with dozens of passengers to stand motionless at intersections, running up costs for Metro, as vehicles carrying far fewer passengers pass through first. State and local traffic engineering organizations must recognize that roads are for people and give the appropriate priority to the rapid movement of buses. If jurisdictions continue to impose unnecessary costs on Metro by delaying bus passengers, they should be required to reimburse Metro for the added expense.

Last night, the RAC approved a letter (which I wrote) urging DDOT, MDOT/SHA, VDOT, and local DOTs to identify opportunities to add strategic bus lanes and “queue jumpers” to speed up buses, reduce bus operating costs, and improve the quality of transit service as soon as possible. I’ll post the letter when it’s issued.

Virginia could also allow buses to use the shoulders of existing freeways or expressways to bypass traffic, a practice common in Minnesota and elsewhere (and in use in some places in Maryland). Northern Virginia officials have pushed for this in the past, but VDOT has refused permission, even though the shoulders can accommodate buses safely.

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.