Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

D.C. Bus Ridership is Down. Time for a Redesign?

Bus ridership is down in the nation's capital. Some see the issue as an opportunity to better design the service to make dollars go further.
January 9, 2018, 5am PST | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments
Metro Bus
Ritu Manoj Jethani

Some officials hope to borrow lessons from Houston's redesign of its bus service to try to turn around falling ridership numbers. "It’s a strategy that is being pushed by the Washington region’s leaders, eager to see Metro seize opportunities to save money and 'right-size' service — essentially, to eliminate buses that consistently fail to run at capacity. A bus network overhaul was among the ideas recommended by former U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, in his recently released report on how to fix Metro’s structural and financial problems," Martine Powers writes for the Washington Post.

Why buses in D.C. are losing riders is a subject of debate, some say that now-completed train projects make that service more attractive, others point to lifestyle changes taking more people away for 9-to-5 schedules that the system was built around, and the growth of bike-share and ride-share are likely part of the equation as well.

In Houston, "officials focused on providing more frequent service throughout the day rather than clustering their efforts around the morning and evening peak periods," Powers writes. The system also moved away from a hub-and-spoke system to a grid system. "The effects on ridership are heartening: in the first year after the redesign, Saturday ridership increased by 15 percent, and Sunday service was even more popular." But some paint a less rosy picture of Houston's update, arguing that the city sacrificed equity when it cut service to areas with less ridership, which were often poor and minority.

The Houston bus redesign didn't end up saving the city money, but backers argue that boosting ridership on buses is a lot cheaper than adding transit services by any other means. They contend that, while costs went up, those dollars go further when they're spent on bus transit.

Share Tweet LinkedIn Email