P1 route around 4th Street. Image from NextBus.

In this spring’s WMATA budget debate, transit advocates asked for and won a budget that contained “no service cuts.” But the actual ideal resolution would have been “almost no service cuts,” because in a few spots, bus service needs cutting.

One example is the P1 bus, which makes a one-block loop to stop in front of Federal Center SW Metro on its way down 4th Street across the Mall. Reader Tom Leonard writes,

I just moved to Southwest (from Upper Connecticut NW) and while I usually ride my bike to work, I occasionally ride Metrobus’s P1 line.

The areas of concern for me are where the bus turns up 10th St from Constitution to Pennsylvania and where the bus drives down 4th St and does a loop (on its way to Anacostia) just to make a stop at the Federal Center SW Metro station. It just seems to be such a waste of time and money, especially the loop because I have only seen one person get on the bus at the Metro station and no one got off.

I was hoping that you all could help me figure out why exactly Metro designed the route in this manner and whether they have data that supports its continued operation.

I asked Metro. Bus planner David Erion explained the rationale for these two diversions from the most direct path:

The P1 route in the PM rush travels east on Constitution Avenue, turns left on 10th Street and right on Pennsylvania to 4th Street where it crosses the Mall, and it has done this for many years.  Mr. Leonard’s point is why doesn’t it just go straight on Constitution to 4th Street.  The reason for the existing route is to have a common stop on Pennsylvania near Federal Triangle for P1, P2 and P6, so that riders going to Anacostia have access to all routes at the same stop.

The loop via D, 3rd and C Streets SW was created to serve Federal Center SW Station and to provide for bus-to-bus transfers when many Maryland routes terminated at 3rd & D.  Now it serves very few riders.  I had planned to eliminate the loop along with the 70-Line change as proposed last winter.  Currently, I am reviewing new ride check data to develop a revised proposal for restructuring the P routes.

The Federal Triangle diversion could make sense or might not. What do you think?

But it’s fairly clear that the Federal Center SW diversion isn’t beneficial. And one consequence of the decision to avoid all service changes of any type was that this and other similar pieces of bus routes stayed.

Unfortunately, the DC Board members negotiated for no service cuts whatsoever at the expense of other needs, and in the final accounting DC riders got a bit of a bad deal. In the staff budget proposals, most Metrorail fares went up by 15%, but the maximum fare only went up by 12%. The last staff budget proposal also had a late-night $4 flat fare, which DC didn’t want because it was unfair to short-range riders, and increases in the parking fees.

Fairfax wanted to keep the maximum fare low and eliminate the parking fee. DC wanted to get rid of the $4 flat fare. In the end, they both got those, but on top of that, the Board decided to increase the minimum fare another 5¢ beyond what had been proposed, but the maximum fare didn’t increase at all. Therefore, short-range riders ended up paying more, but long-range riders were kept harmless.

Why would DC’s representatives, Jim Graham and Neil Albert, agree to this unfair set of final changes? Since the negotiations went on behind closed doors, we don’t know the dynamics, but when I asked in an email why the DC reps agreed, Neil Albert wrote in an email that it “got all service cuts off the table.”

Albert was also not present in those final negotiations. I have long wondered whether, had DC had its team at full strength, if it could have pushed for a fairer balance in the budget.

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.