Why run a bus through here and not pick up eager passengers? Image by Google Maps.

In late March, Metro started running a new bus line, the G9, that made limited stops along Rhode Island Avenue between downtown and Mount Rainier, Maryland. Funny thing, though: the bus doesn't actually pick up or drop off passengers in Maryland. 

The G9 is the first direct, one-seat transit trip from the Rhode Island corridor to downtown since the streetcar era. But on March 20th, the first day of service, residents of Mount Rainier were stunned to watch the bus cross Eastern Avenue into Prince George's County, drive around the traffic circle and by the bus terminal at the center of town, and drive back across Eastern Avenue... without stopping to pick up any passengers. 

Mount Rainier residents were excited for the G9, which is a major disappointment 

The G9 was first proposed in a 2014 WMATA study of the corridor, where the agency set out to address crowding on the existing bus lines serving the area. In that study, Mount Rainier was identified as the terminal location (see page 25), and from there, Mount Rainier residents advocated for the line with joyful anticipation both on GGWash and elsewhere. 

As recently as January of this year, Matt Friedman wrote a GGWash post that said the G9 would end in Mount Rainier

Instead, the G9 is stopping at bus stops near the corner of Eastern and Rhode Island Avenues, just inside the District line. G9 riders would have to walk several blocks to use Mount Rainier's park-and-ride lot or transfer to/from TheBus route 17, and bus drivers are too far from the bathrooms at Mount Rainier City Hall to use them (which drivers of other lines, like the B2, often do). G9 passengers don't get the large shelter roofs and benches of the Mount Rainier terminal, either— the bus stop is just a sign at the curb in front of a used-car lot instead.

The G9 is driving across Eastern Avenue and into Mount Rainier... but not stopping. Image by Google Maps.

Why doesn't the G9 stop in Mount Rainier?

WMATA and DDOT say it's about space

I asked WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly why the G9 terminal isn't in Mount Rainier when the agency's own planning study put the stop location there. She said the issue is about space: "The existing bus bays at Mt Rainier are fully occupied by existing Metrobus and TheBus routes," she told me. 

But Ly also added that Mount Rainier's terminal "was considered as a potential option but in the end was not a viable option due to its location, funding, and interest." At face, that's not consistent with her previous explanation that "it's actually a space-constraint issue." Editor's note:  (Ly followed up to clarify that with this quotation, she was talking about a different location.)

The G9 pilot is being funded as a reimbursement project, meaning WMATA is running it and DC is paying the agency for the costs. Could that have anything to do with why it's not stopping in Mount Rainier?

When I asked Steve Strauss, DDOT's Deputy Associate Director of Transit Delivery Division, about the terminal location, he also said the issue was about a lack of capacity at the Mount Rainier terminal.

Strauss did add an interesting wrinkle: DC's preference was actually to extend the G9 to run to Fort Lincoln, but the WMATA board didn't approve that idea. Once that idea didn't go through, DDOT deferred to WMATA's saying that the Mount Rainier terminal was full and stuck to having the G9 end at Eastern Avenue.

After we spoke, Strauss said he intended to follow up with WMATA to ask more about the G9's terminus. "We can also confer with our Maryland counterparts on their thoughts about the G9 terminal location," he told me.

The G9 route. Based on the inset, wouldn't you think the bus would stop in Mount Rainier?  Image by WMATA.

This could change, and let's hope it does

The G9 bus is literally driving through Mount Rainier, right past the terminal. Even if there isn't space for the buses to idle there at the end of their route, why can't the G9 collect fare-paying passengers? No boardings for the G9 in Mount Rainier may negatively affect ridership, which wouldn't be good for DC residents paying WMATA for costs or businesses that might welcome custom from a neighboring jurisdiction.

In the short term, WMATA should put a G9 stop in Mount Rainier and at least pick up passengers, even if the buses have to continue to idle on Eastern Avenue. This way passengers get all of the terminal amenities, even if the G9 drivers don't. This is what the planning process called for, and it's the line riders supported. To change that at the 11th hour, for a totally solvable problem, isn't acceptable.

The District, which funds the line, is open to it, according to Mr. Strauss. And if it doesn't happen at the planning level at WMATA, Prince George's County WMATA board alternate member Malcolm Augustine said that "the G9...will be part of the FY19 State of Good Operations program for bus as a regional route at which point we will have the opportunity to pursue a stop at the Mount Rainier bus terminal."

Residents of Mount Rainier can hope that decision makers at WMATA, DDOT, and The Bus get together and bring the G9 just a little closer to home. In the meantime, the last G9 stop is a three block walk from the Mount Rainier terminal.

Tracy Hadden Loh loves cities, infrastructure, and long walks on the beach looking for cool shells. She holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the UNC-Chapel Hill. By day, she is a senior data scientist at George Washington University. By night, she is an activist, a military wife, and a baby mama. She served two years representing Ward 1 on the Mount Rainier City Council in Prince George's County, MD.