- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Since the long-awaited D.C. Streetcar was launched Feb. 27, many of its passengers already have made it a part of their commute, riding along H Street NE from Benning Road to Union Station every day.

“I get to work for a dollar since the streetcar is free,” said Thomas Bowen, a 12-year resident of the H Street neighborhood.

In his daily commute, Mr. Bowen rides the streetcar nearly the entire length of its 2.4-mile track to Union Station, where he picks up the D.C. Circulator bus to take him to work near Farragut Square.

But in six months, when District Department of Transportation is to begin charging for rides on the electric trolley system, Mr. Bowen said he would go back to using Metrobus’ X2 line if the streetcar fares are too high.

“It really depends on the price,” he said of the streetcar. “If it’s lower than Metro, then I’ll continue to use it.”

Meanwhile, Donovan Barrett said he has ridden the streetcar only because it is free.

“I probably wouldn’t have gotten on if there was a fee,” the H Street resident said.

Passengers like Mr. Bowen and Mr. Barrettt could pose fare-pricing headaches for DDOT officials operating the $200 million streetcar project, which was plagued by delays and cost overruns.

DDOT did not returns emails seeking comment.

D.C. Council member Charles Allen lives a few blocks from H Street. He says he expects DDOT will set streetcar fares about the same as the Circulator, which charges passengers $1 for a ride.

The Ward 6 Democrat said he has seen students, workers and shoppers using the streetcar to go about their daily lives.

“That’s what we want to see — the streetcar being used as a connection,” Mr. Allen said.

On Tuesday afternoon, some riders were using the trolley for first time while others would describe themselves as veteran passengers.

L. Hawkins, who grew up in the neighborhood, said the free transit service is great for residents who need to get groceries.

“It’s convenient, especially if you can’t walk far,” Ms. Hawkins said, adding that it would be even better if it had a stop closer to Hechinger Mall on Benning Road.

The X2 Metrobus stops directly in front of the shopping center, while the streetcar stops at the intersection of Benning Road and Maryland Avenue, leaving a short walk to the mall.

DDOT plans to expand the streetcar service in coming years, from Takoma to Anacostia and from Georgetown to Benning Road.

Mr. Barrett said that the current service is less convenient than the buses that travel along H Street.

“It’s a short ride,” he said. “Once they start charging, it could be a little bit ridiculous.

No one said they wanted the streetcar to fail, but some thought the $200 million spent on the project could have gone to more pressing matters.

“We could have spent the money on something better like helping the homeless,” said Kevin Stewart, who has lived in the neighborhood for two years. “Or they could have fixed Metro instead of wasting money on a streetcar.”

Robin Offutt, an H Street resident for more than 40 years who rode the streetcar the day it opened, said it’s just a novelty right now because it doesn’t go downtown.

“From the beginning to the end, it’s just not worth it,” Ms. Offutt said. “It’s a waste of money because it doesn’t go that far.”

Mr. Allen said the streetcar isn’t meant to be an end-all to residents’ transportation needs, but a connection between other modes of public transportation.

“We have to make sure it integrates with the Circulator and Metro,” the lawmaker said.

Another challenge, he said, is to ensure the service is reliable. Streetcars currently run every 15 minutes, but Mr. Allen hopes DDOT can get that down to 10 minutes.

During rush hour, the X2 bus takes the same route as the streetcar, but generally arrives in five-minute intervals. The streetcar needs to be able to compete with the bus on price and on reliability, Mr. Allen said.

The service will be closed at 1 p.m. Saturday for the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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