- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

Metro moved closer yesterday to cutting underused bus routes, increasing service on overcrowded ones and stepping up subway service.

The Metro Board’s Budget Committee agreed to hold public hearings on proposals that could bring longer trains during midday hours and regular service on four federal holidays.

Transit officials asked the board to consider the service changes — which could add nearly $15 million to Metro’s budget — to ease crowding. Metro would run longer trains on weekends, where ridership has increased 24 percent, and during off-peak hours, where ridership is up 19 percent.

But one Metro Board member expressed a desire for trains to run more often as well.

“It’s not just that you’re cramming people into a four-car train versus a six-car train,” said Christopher Zimmerman of Arlington County. “It’s how long you have to wait.” Most lines run every 12 minutes middays and Saturdays and every 15 minutes on Sundays.

Most of the money to ease crowding would be devoted to bus routes where riders are forced to stand nearly all the time, said Dan Tangherlini, Metro’s interim general manager. To help pay for additional bus service, Metro officials proposed cutting 11 daily and weekend bus routes, as well as 28 late-night routes that only carry an average of one to five riders.

“It’s a start,” Mr. Tangherlini said of the board’s effort to tackle bus service. “I think what you hear is a willingness to go and do some of the unpopular things, eliminate routes.”

Some of the routes that could be cut include a link from the District to Tysons Corner carrying fewer than 200 people on weekdays, a D.C. Defense Facilities Shuttle that carries fewer than 100 people, and off-peak and weekend hours for the line from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to the Pentagon.

Mr. Tangherlini said he recently rode a bus to his Capitol Hill home that “even on a Saturday morning is crowded — standing room only.”

With the savings from the cuts, Metro would invest more in 18 of the most overcrowded routes. One line that could see improvement is the route from the District to Washington Dulles International Airport, with passengers often having to stand during the more than 20-mile highway ride.

“It’s long overdue in terms of some of the improvements we need to make,” said Metro Board Chairman Gladys W. Mack.

“These bus routes have been in place since the beginning of time.”

Metro proposed spending nearly $11 million over two years to ease bus crowding on additional routes and busy corridors.

“Let’s have a determination to really make this the year of the bus,” said board member and D.C. Council member Jim Graham. “This is a relatively low amount of money for the system. Surely it can be found.”

The proposal also calls for regular weekday rail and bus service and potentially weekday fares on Veterans, Columbus, Presidents and Martin Luther King Jr. days because many private-sector employees work.

Public hearings on the proposals will be held in the District, Maryland and Virginia over the next several months.

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