Metro’s rail service isn’t the only arm of the organization that’s having financial problems. Its bus arm, Metrobus, is struggling too. Increased competition from other bus services and slower travel speeds are the big reasons why.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

This information comes from a recent post on PlanItMetro, the WMATA’s planning blog.

Riders have more options

While Metrobus is the region’s most common for taking the bus, there are a number of localized services as well. These “local operators” are mostly county-run systems that fill Metrobus’ “gaps” by different providing routes and service times. Examples include Ride On in Montgomery or Fairfax Connector in Fairfax.

These systems’ growth is a challenge for Metrobus, which is adding service routes of its own but not as rapidly. With local routes providing more and more options for commuters, it’s not surprising that they’re becoming a more popular way to travel.

Metrobus has seen its share of passenger trips fall nearly 10% over the past 15 years, and competing services are undoubtedly a factor in that drop.

Graphic by PlanItMetro. Click for a larger version.

Metrobus service is slower

Local buses also often get riders to their destination faster than Metrobus— 2.5 miles faster on average, to be exact. Metrobus’ slower operating speeds have two consequences. First, they throws off schedules, requiring more buses to continue operating on the same timetable.

The second consequence is largely rooted in perception. When riders can notice a differece in speed from one service to another, they’re likely to favor the one that gets them there quicker in the future. In this case, the faster trips are the ones on localized buses.

Graphic by PlanItMetro. Click for larger version.

It’s no secret that WMATA is having a tough time lately. Metrobus has had fewer close calls with danger than Metro does, but there are certainly signs of trouble that warrant being addressed.

Katie Gerbes is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, where she obtained her Masters in Community Planning. Her interests are largely focused around urban design and community development. Originally from Baltimore, she currently lives in downtown Silver Spring.