Photo by WMATA.

Columbia Pike is one of the most heavily-traveled transit corridors in the area. A streetcar there is no longer a transportation option, but that only highlights the need for a solution for current and future congestion.

Reader Brandon Shaw wants to know why there are only standard buses on Columbia Pike as opposed to articulated buses, which are longer and can carry more passengers:

Why aren’t there articulated buses on Columbia Pike? My understanding is that replacing the current 40 foot buses with 60 foot buses would have a 50% increase in passenger capacity.

Ryan Arnold wrote a post in 2012, when Arlington first solicited comments on the option to replace the streetcar with articulated buses, that tackled the streetcar vs. articulated bus debate. He emphasized that articulated buses are appropriate in many areas but don’t accomplish the same goals as streetcars.

In Columbia Pike’s case, streetcars were favorable because Arlington’s main goal was to transform the corridor from a suburban commercial strip into a dense, mixed-use neighborhood.

But with that option off the table, is it possible that articulated buses are the next-best thing?

The Columbia Pike routes, also known as Pike Ride, are a combined Arlington Transit (ART) and Metrobus service on Columbia Pike that consists of three main Metrobus lines, two MetroExtra routes, and three individual ART routes. All of these buses are operated with standard buses (vehicles with a length of 35 to 42 feet).

Standard buses are enough if bus service is what Arlington is sticking to

Currently, there is no demand for articulated buses on this line. As Metro planned it years ago, standard buses are enough to provide the service and frequency desired.

Chris Slatt mentions that Arlington Transit staff are moving forward with streetcar alternatives by conducting a study that’s part of Arlington’s revamp of their Transit Development Plan.

There’s not enough space to store articulated buses

Metrobus stores their articulated buses in three bus divisions (garages), and none of them are in Virginia. At one time, the Four Mile Run division, which runs the Columbia Pike Metrobus routes (16 Line), stored articulated buses. But the garage was renovated to store their current fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.

The 2010 Metrobus Fleet Management Plan showing Metrobus fleet at the end of June 2009. Only two articulated buses were assigned to the Four Mile Run division. Image from WMATA.

A new Metrobus garage is scheduled to open in 2016 in Fairfax County, replacing the Royal Street division in Alexandria. The new Cinder Bed Road division will store about 160 buses, but there are no plans to store articulated buses.

Articulated buses are more expensive

Canaan Merchant points to possible maintenance issues with using articulated buses on Columbia Pike saying, “the road at present would deteriorate faster due to the excess weight and wear and tear”.

Articulated buses currently in revenue service by Metrobus have a maximum life cycle of 12 years before they need to be replaced. Standard buses, on the other hand, have a maximum life cycle of 15 years. A number of standard buses that are about 7.5 years old have gone through a “mid-cycle refresh” or rehabilitation in order to keep them running their full life cycle. Only six articulated buses have been rehabbed and a number of them are planned to be replaced by a new order later in 2015.

A Metrobus articulated bus that is scheduled to be replaced in the near future.Image from Robbieraeful on Wikipedia Commons.

The long maintenance bays needed to service articulated buses could be restored or added to the Four Mile Run division in the future, however there are no plans or funding in place.

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Michael Lewis is a native of Montgomery County and currently lives in Olney. He has a BS in Community & Regional Planning from Temple University in Philadelphia. An avid rider of Metrobus and Metrorail, he was formerly a Professional Development Associate at the American Planning Association and an intern at the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County.