- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Metro’s budget committee yesterday approved recommendations for a circulator bus service for downtown Washington to help ease traffic-congestion woes and encourage tourism.

“We’ve set a high bar of achievement for this,” Dan Tangherlini, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation (DOT), said at the board’s weekly meeting. Mr. Tangherlini said the aim of the service is to reduce dependence on cars and make downtown more tourist-friendly by offering visitors an inexpensive alternative to tour buses.

Passengers would pay a 50-cent one-way fare. Daylong passes would be available at a cost as yet undetermined.

It would cost $12 million to $15 million a year to operate the service, which officials predict will attract approximately 4.6 million riders each year.

Mr. Tangherlini said 29 buses would be purchased for the downtown service, and all but four would be immediately placed in operation. At least 20 would be VanHool buses, the specially designed, low-floor, 55-passenger bus that maximizes operations and passenger convenience.

The 25 buses running from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., would be scheduled in five-minute intervals during peak hours and 10-minute intervals during off-peak hours.

Two routes are scheduled to begin running late this winter or early 2005, Mr. Tangherlini said. One would run from Union Station to the new Convention Center via K Street to Georgetown. The other would go from the new Convention Center to the National Mall to the Southwest waterfront via Seventh Street.

The second phase of the project — two additional routes — would be implemented about a year later, depending on the success of the initial two routes, Mr. Tangherlini said. One would pass the monuments, and the other would pass the White House, State Department, the Capitol and Union Station.

“If it’s successful, we’ll move forward. If it’s not, we’ll be smart enough to cut our losses and say ‘at least we gave it a try,’” he said.

Metro, the National Capital Planning Commission, DOT, and the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (BID) were involved in conceiving the service. Its cost would be covered by fares, advertising and funds from the D.C. government and the BID.

The budget committee also gave preliminary approval yesterday to a 30-month pilot project with Citi cards for a jointly issued smart card based on SmarTrip and Citi’s MasterCard credit card.

Up to 10,000 cards would be issued during the trial period, said Greg Garback, executive officer of Metro’s finance department.

The bank card company would handle all development costs while Metro would provide customer service. The card could be used as a credit card or as a SmarTrip card to pay for transit trips and parking fees at Metro lots, Mr. Garback said.

“[Metro] has been number one in smart card technology for a while,” Board Vice Chairman Gladys W. Mack said. “It’s great to see we’re still [on top].”

The full board is expected to vote on the project at Thursday’s board meeting.

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