Prince George's County residents generally contend with worse transit access than people living in other parts of the region, our analysis shows. Even though much of the population lives in relatively dense communities inside the Beltway, more than half of Prince George's residents are unable to access their county courthouse in Upper Marlboro by transit.
Discussions of transit ridership and service both tend to focus on commutes to work, in part because doing so is easy: the Census's American Communities Survey reports information on people's commuting methods, and various data exists on the location of employers.
However, commuting to work is hardly the only travel people do. Trips for shopping, medical appointments, worship, and to visit government offices are also very important. Unfortunately, Prince George's residents are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to transit access to local government.
The distance from the county seat to its population centroid is the second largest in Maryland, as contributor Matt Johnson pointed out in his post on the subject in 2013. Buses from many places in the county don't get to Upper Marlboro by the start of jury duty time.
Prince George's residents are contending with a dearth of transit
It is difficult to quantify the quality of transit access in a single number since many factors are relevant. These factors include the frequency of service, the length of travel times to major destinations — which of course depends on the distance to those destinations — and what fraction of the population actually has access.
A common example of the problem residents face is that they generally have longer transit trips to work — particularly to higher-paying jobs — than other residents in the region. These problems are worse for commutes outside the normal rush hour, since the county's bus service, called TheBus, doesn't provide service on evenings or weekends.
Of course, this issue is not solely one of transit, but also of the fact that jobs in the Washington region tend to be concentrated in the western half, meaning that Prince George's residents are farther from the average job than their distance from downtown might suggest.
Travel to Upper Marlboro by transit is particularly difficult
Visiting government offices is where Prince George's residents are at a particular disadvantage. Their county seat, Upper Marlboro, is located in the rural outer tier of the county, far from the center of population and the dense, transit-dependent neighborhoods inside the Beltway. Upper Marlboro is connected to the rest of the county by two TheBus routes: the 21, which runs to the New Carrollton Metro Station, and the 20, which runs to the Addison Road Metro Station.
Since the last bus to New Carollton leaves at 6:00 pm and the last bus to Addison Road leaves at 6:40 pm, it is essentially impossible for residents to attend evening public hearings or council meetings and return home by bus. While participating in public hearings is important, it is not legally required. On the other hand, all citizens are expected to serve on juries, so it is even more essential that county residents be able to get to the county courthouse in Upper Marlboro in time for jury service in the morning.
Using the GTFS feeds for the transit services that serve Prince George's County: WMATA, the Maryland Transit Administration (which runs MARC and some commuter buses), and TheBus, contributor Chris Slatt created a map of travel times by transit to reach Upper Marlboro by 7:30 am on a weekday.
Looking at this map, it is immediately obvious that residents of the rural southern tier of Prince George's County and of the northern tier in the vicinity of Laurel cannot reach Upper Marlboro by transit. Residents of outside-the-Beltway areas south of US-50 mostly are able to reach Upper Marlboro in ninety minutes or less. However, residents of Bowie — which is one of the densest areas of the county outside the Beltway — need nearly two hours to reach Upper Marlboro, if it is possible for them to do so at all.
Most concerning is that residents of the northeastern portion of the county inside the Beltway — which is generally the densest and most transit oriented part of the county, as it largely consists of former streetcar suburbs — is either unable to reach Upper Marlboro at all, or needs more than ninety minutes to do so. It turns out that less than half — roughly 45 percent — of the population of Prince George's can reach the county courthouse in ninety minutes or less by transit.
It is much easier for Montgomery County residents to reach Rockville
Prince George's County's neighbor to the west, Montgomery County, has a similar median population density to Prince George's County. However, the county's bus network is much better than Prince George's and the county seat, Rockville, is located in both the geographic and population center of the county.
Still, it was a bit surprising to discover that 90 percent of Montgomery County's population can reach the county courthouse in Rockville by 7:30 am on a weekday with a transit trip of ninety minutes or less. The densest parts of the county, including nearly all of those those inside the Beltway, can do so in seventy-five minutes or less, and even communities such as Damascus and Poolesville, which are on the edge of or surrounded by the county's Agricultural Reserve are able to reach Rockville by transit in ninety minutes or less.
Have you ever tried to reach Upper Malboro by transit? How did it go?