Photo by philliefan99 on Flickr.

WMATA is proposing to eliminate the E6 route to help close a $66 million budget shortfall. But residents of Chevy Chase oppose cutting the route, which serves a retirement home in Northwest.

Residents from the Knollwood senior community and other Chevy Chase residents came out in strong support of keeping the E6 bus line at WMATA’s public hearing in Tenleytown Tuesday night. Councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) also spoke in support of the E6, which serves parts of both wards. Residents had a chance to ask questions about other issues, including customer service and SmarTrip problems.

Metro would eliminate the E6 route and other routes to help balance the FY12 budget. The proposal would also cut service on the N8 and K1, extend headways for weekend rail service, and eliminate the Anacostia special fare.

The E6 carries an average of 373 riders per day, according to WMATA, and eliminating the route would save an estimated $385,000. To replace the Knollwood portion of the E6, Metro would extend the M4 along Western Avenue to Oregon Avenue. Most residents testified in support of the E6, and a small number spoke about changing or eliminating the N8. No one spoke in support of the N8 as is, and no one spoke on the proposed K1 or V8 changes.

Cheh, Bowser, and others testified that the E6 serves upper Connecticut Avenue and Friendship Heights, both important commercial and medical destinations for seniors. They argued that cutting the E6 would hurt local businesses and burden seniors trying to reach doctors’ offices.

Knollwood employees also use the E6. One resident said the M4 begins too late in the morning for staff members to arrive on time. The M4 terminates at Tenleytown and residents connecting to Friendship Heights would have to transfer to the 30s, take the Red Line one stop, or walk down Wisconsin Avenue. Although they are close, the extra commute time and walk to Friendship Heights would unfairly burden seniors and disabled riders. Several residents said shifting ridership to the M4 would create significant overcrowding and slower service.

One Barnaby Woods resident said the neighborhood is wealthy and many residents have cars. If Metro were to eliminate the E6, he would simply drive instead. The E6 is the only transit connection for many Chevy Chase residents, and some said eliminating the service would effectively isolate this section of Upper Northwest.

Metro’s budget gap is $66 million. Cutting the E6 would only save $385,000, a tiny portion of this gap. Certainly, if this argument were made for every cut, it could cumulatively fail to close the gap. But because this route provides direct transit access for seniors, it is not a wise choice. Cheh indicated at the end of her testimony that the Committee on Transportation and Public Works may have found additional funds to save the E6.

The committee report does identify sources of revenue to help fund the District’s WMATA subsidy, and perhaps some of this money could continue to fund the E6. Metro is considering asking the three jurisdictions for more funding.

Some residents also spoke about the N8. The N8 runs eastbound on Yuma Street from 49th Sreet to Tenley Circle. Metro estimates an average daily ridership of only 300. Eliminating service on this route would save an estimated $516,000.

Yuma Street residents are concerned that the street is too steep and with low ridership, N8 drivers often speed down Yuma, making it dangerous for children and other pedestrians. One Yuma Street resident joked that more people had spoken to save the E6 route than ride the N8.

An American University student did speak in support of the N8, saying it helps students living in Glover Park travel to AU. She supported moving the N8 off Yuma to create a more direct connection to AU, but said the route should stay.

No one spoke on the K1 or V8 routes.

In addition to public testimony on the proposed service changes, Metro officials gave a short presentation on the FY12 budget and took questions from the audience. Residents asked about customer service and problems with the weekly bus pass.

Several residents said they have had negative encounters with bus drivers and station managers, including problems using the 7-day bus pass. WMATA CFO Carol Kissal said the agency had fixed the bus pass issue and apologized for poor bus driver service. Kissal said customers will be able to load their SmarTrip cards online this summer.

Few at the meeting spoke about extending weekend rail headways, though one man commented that stopping weekend rail service at midnight would be a mistake. A representative from Amalgamated Transit Union 689, which represents Metro employees, said the union opposes service cuts because it will hurt bus and rail operators.

The WMATA panel included General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles, WMATA board members Tom Downs and Mort Downey, and Barbara Richardson, Assistant General Manager of Customer Service, Communications and Marketing at Metro. The agency held two hearings each in the District, Maryland, and Virginia. The entire docket, including all proposed bus and rail service changes, is available here.