Some of Montgomery County's busiest Ride On bus routes could come less frequently this fall. County Executive Marc Elrich wants to reduce bus service to save money, reflecting a larger push to defund things that benefit the county's urban areas. The County Council will vote on restoring the bus cuts this Thursday.
The seven bus routes affected serve major job centers like White Flint, major shopping destinations like Wheaton and Lakeforest Mall, and Upcounty communities with limited transportation options, like Germantown and Montgomery Village. Four of the routes, the 55, 49, 57, and 59, are among the county's busiest bus lines, together carrying over 11,000 riders each day, or about 15% of Ride On's entire ridership.
Elrich recommends reducing the frequency on all seven routes starting in September. Five of them would go from running every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes, while two other routes would come every 30 minutes instead of every 20 to 25 minutes. The cuts would save about $2.6 million, including $1 million in operating costs and $1.6 million for replacing three buses that would no longer be needed.
This isn't the first time Elrich, who was elected last fall after 12 years on the County Council, tried to cut bus service. This winter, he tried to impose mid-year cuts on the same seven routes, which the county council rejected.
“I am frustrated that the county executive recommended cutting service for some of the highest performing Ride On bus routes,” says County Councilmember Evan Glass, who serves on the council's Transportation and Environment Committee, which recommended restoring the money. “Reducing bus service on well-utilized routes will simply force more people into their cars and away from transit, thus inhibiting the county's goal of having a sustainable transportation system.”
These cuts could hurt riders—and the county
Ride On, Montgomery County's bus system, is the largest in the Washington region after Metrobus, carrying over 75,000 riders each day. Its busiest routes cover a variety of urban and suburban communities, making it a lifeline for residents who either can't or don't want to drive. Meanwhile, the county has to make budget cuts because its population is growing, but the tax base has been shrinking.
In addition to reducing Ride On service, Elrich has proposed a number of high-profile cuts or reductions this spring, including cancelling the popular Silver Spring Jazz Festival after 15 years, cutting funding for bikeshare, and reducing money for affordable housing projects.
These cuts all contradict the county's own goals. Many of them directly impact the handful of areas in Montgomery County that are actually growing, like Silver Spring, White Flint, and Gaithersburg, which in turn generate tax revenue that the county desperately needs. Defunding things that serve these communities just undermines their ability to help the county pay for its $5.5 billion annual budget.
Additionally, as poverty rapidly moves into the suburbs, cutting transit and affordable housing impacts some of our most disadvantaged residents. It directly contradicts Elrich's claim, both during his campaign and in office, that he wants to make racial and economic disparities a priority.
These cuts also harm the county's ability to address climate change. As a county councilmember, Elrich voted to commit Montgomery County to the Paris climate agreement, which includes reducing the county's greenhouse gas emissions by 10% every five years.
“Montgomery County needs more transit, not less. It makes no sense to cut bus routes with high ridership, which run frequently,” says Ronit Aviva Dancis, vice president of the Action Committee for Transit. “This weekend we learned atmospheric CO2 is the highest it's ever been in human history. The Council should be expanding Ride On services, not reducing them.”
What happens now?
The County Council gets to decide whether to keep the County Executive's cuts or restore the money, and it'll vote on it this Thursday. If you'd like to tell them not to cut bus service, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Council President Nancy Navarro at 240/777-7968.