Image by Virginia Department of Transportation licensed under Creative Commons.

Of the pieces that make up the Washington region's extensive transit network, the region’s commuter bus networks might be the least known. Over fifty long-haul commuter bus routes spider out into the region, stretching as far as Purcellville and Woodbridge in Virginia, and Hagerstown and Kent Island in Maryland.

Outside of individual route information brochures, these routes are rarely depicted on maps, so it can be difficult to get a sense of their reach and usefulness. For many riders in farther out areas, though, these services might offer a better way into downtown. Here's a map of the routes:

Click for a larger version. Image by the author.

Three state and county governments manage commuter bus routes: the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (or PRTC) operates in Prince William County and Manassas, Loudoun County Transit provides service from Loudoun County via the Dulles Toll Road, and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) oversees a number of routes throughout Maryland (though these lines are managed by private contractors).

You can view details about pickup locations for the PRTC buses here, the LCT buses here, and the MTA buses here.

These lines shuttle commuters with the flow of rush hour on the weekdays, traveling into the District in the morning and out in the evening. In farther out, more suburban places, there are generally only a few stops, and they primarily serve park and ride lots where riders can drive from their homes to transfer to the bus. Some lines do operate as traditional bus services with standard flag stops.

In the District, the buses follow fixed routes through downtown, serving the majority of the major employment hubs and transit connections.

Between these two points, commuter bus routes converge on major thoroughfares en route to their destination. It is at this point that commuter buses make little to no stops, and can often be faster than auto traffic, using express infrastructure like HOT and HOV lanes without paying a toll, or even running on shoulders to bypass congestion.

Commuter buses are an underappreciated piece of our transit network. If you're looking for a new way to get to work, the bus might be the best option you never considered.