Photo by Mieko Yamaguchi on Flickr.

DDOT would double the Circulator cash fare to $2 and match the SmarTrip fare to Metrobus’s $1.50, under a proposed Circulator plan to be discussed Thursday. The Mall route would also be canceled and the Convention Center-Waterfront route suspended for a number of years.

With some of the savings, the Union Station-Navy Yard route would get expanded hours and a bus stop in front of Union Station, where it’s easier to find than the current one in the parking garage. Buses would also get accessibility upgrades.

DDOT has also prioritized a set of route extensions and new routes, including across the Anacostia River, to U Street, and on the Mall. The funding level for Circulator set in the Mayor’s budget, due at the end of this week, will determine whether some start service right away.

Other cuts include shortening late-night hours on the McPherson Square-Woodley Park route and consolidating bus stops on the Georgetown-Union Station route to create a more limited-stop service like most of the other routes.

Cuts and adjustments

The fare increases and immediate cuts, minus the increase in hours for Union Station represent a savings of about $3.7 million per year. Those changes include:

Raise the fare to $2.00 cash/$1.50 SmarTrip. This will raise revenue and also fix the problem where the Circulator serves wealthier areas while costing less than buses going to less afflient neighborhoods. Business groups worry that this will substantially cut ridership. I’ve endorsed raising the fare.

Eliminate the Mall loop. This seasonal route never got much ridership compared to other routes. The Park Service wouldn’t let it use internal Mall roads or put it on signs, meaning many tourists didn’t know about it as a transportation option. DC would save money by cutting it until the Park Service wants to really work together to provide transportation in the area.

Suspend the Downtown-Convention Center route. This has the highest subsidy per rider and lowest farebox recovery (12%) of any of the routes besides the Mall loop. The Green and Yellow Line service parallels it for most of the length, as do some Metrobuses.

However, this route also reaches some areas with substantial imminent development, like the O Street Market on the northern end and the Southwest Waterfront development on the south. DDOT is proposing to suspend it until the Waterfront development really gets going and the new Mall routes are created (see below), at which point they anticipate it performing better.

Cut late-night hours on Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square. This route currently ends at 3:30 am on weekends, while the Georgetown-Union Station and Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont routes end at 2 am. DDOT says the ridership is very low during this time. The hours of this route would now match those: 7 am-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 7 am-2 am Friday and Saturday.

Consolidate stops on the Georgetown-Union Station route. Current stops are very close together, and the Circulator has more recently moved toward being more of a limited-stop service. One question is whether this will actually increase speed or not on the congested K and M Street segments.

Extend hours on Union Station-Navy Yard. This route now ends at 7 pm except Nationals game days and doesn’t run at all on weekends, cutting down its utility and making it hard for people to depend on it all the time as they can other routes. This route would now end at 9 pm, later on game days, and 15 hours of service (not specified in the report) on weekends. It would still have shorter hours than other routes, but far better hours than today.

Add accessibility features to existing vehicles for ADA compliance. All Circulator buses would get verbal announcements of stops for those with vision impairments, and digital signs in the buses would provide a visual indication of the next stop for those with hearing disabilities.


Proposed future Circulator routes. Phase 1 routes are in orange.


New routes

DDOT has also created short- and long-term plans for Circulator expansion to all parts of DC. The immediate “phase 1” improvements include some that DDOT could implement right away using the vehicles and money freed up from the cuts, if the Mayor’s budget doesn’t cut the overall level of Circulator funding.

East of the River: Extend the Union Station-Navy Yard route across the South Capitol Street bridge to Anacostia, Skyland, and the Giant in Ward 8. This is DDOT’s highest priority route, partly because of the strong political interest in expanding the Circulator east of the river, but also because these growing areas could benefit from new limited-stop bus service.

In addition, DDOT would reroute this line to use 2nd Street NE/SE between Union Station and Pennsylvania Avenue instead of the current circuitous path along Louisiana Ave NW, Constitution, and 1st Street to get around Capitol security barriers.

Dupont to Howard: Extend the Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont route up 18th Street and across U to the U Street corridor and Howard University. This would connect several activity centers which are close to each other but lack an easy transit connection.

Replace the Mall loop with two new replacement routes. One would go from Georgetown to Union Station via the north side of the Mall (Jefferson Dr.) and one from Arlington Cemetery to Union Station via the south side (Madison Dr.) They have been working with the Park Service to design these routes. DDOT wants to run this in a way that’s revenue-neutral for DC residents, whether through payments from the Park Service, higher fares, or other revenue sources.

Resume the north-south route as development picks up on the Waterfront and the O Street Market area. Also, when new Mall routes are created, this route will be valuable to get people between the Mall and Metro stations, downtown restaurants, and other destinations.

Connect to NoMA by extending the Union Station-Navy Yard-(East of the River) or Georgetown-Union Station routes up to NoMA and the New York Avenue Metro.  This would link in another major growing activity center using the Circulator network.

Add a northwest-southeast route from Dupont, across the Mall, to the Waterfront and Navy Yard. This would add another, farther west link to the Mall routes so Mall visitors could connect to nearby major destinations. Right now, the western side of the Mall, such as the World War II Memorial and Jefferson Memorial are a long hike from Metro stations and hotels in the Golden Triangle or Southwest.

Future extensions include connections between Wards 7 and 8, a route on H Street and one on Florida Avenue where the current 90s buses run, a crosstown route from Brookland to Woodley Park and then to Tenleytown, and another crosstown route from Tenleytown and Friendship Heights along Military Road to Georgia Avenue and Silver Spring.

All of the recommendations come from a streetcar study DDOT conducted, which included several community meetings to hear ideas for routes, an analysis of potential corridors and upcoming economic development, and studies of operating costs and potential revenue.

Update: The original version of this post inadvertently omitted the 2nd Street reroute for the Union Station-Navy Yard line. It’s been added.

We've just launched our brand new website and are working out some kinks. Find something that looks like a bug? Please help out by sending us an email with the details!

Tagged: circulator, dc, ddot

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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.