Problems Cited with Union Station/Navy Yard Circulator
Concerns Surface that Proposed Expansion Could Make Them Worse
by Larry Janezich
Recent riders of the Union Station/Navy Yard (USNY) Circulator have probably noted its unreliability and long wait-times. Scheduled to run every ten minutes, and with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) claiming the average wait-time is 11 minutes, riders of the USNY Circulator are accustomed to wait 20 minutes or more.
The unreliability of this particular line is one of the reasons for its low ridership, and this in turn results in one of the highest rider subsidies in the city, one that DDOT says amounts to $4.61 per rider. But there are other reasons for low ridership. The route is hampered by its weekday-only operation.* In addition, the ride can be long, owing to circumventing U.S. Capitol Police security restrictions, too few buses, and traffic congestion.
In addition to low ridership, the subsidy is greater for this route given the DDOT policy which allows its employees to ride the Circulator for free, and DDOT is located near the Navy Yard Metro stop. Although these employees are supposed to be counted in the ridership (credit for which would lower the subsidy) a recent Riverfront BID survey noted that the DDOT employees are often waved aboard without being registered by the system in order to save time. (Until recently MARC riders coming from Union Station to the Navy Yard could ride free; that policy has changed.)
As part of its 2014 DC Circulator Transit Development Plan, DDOT has announced a plan to extend USNY route to the Southwest Waterfront Metro Station and has reportedly purchased three additional buses for the line. Despite the extra buses, there are concerns that the extension will make the current problems worse.
Last night, at ANC6B’s Transportation Committee meeting, former ANC6B Commissioner Ken Jarboe – who currently sits on Capitol Hill BID’s Transportation Committee – explained the concerns as the Committee prepared to consider a measure to endorse the extension.
Jarboe recommended that any endorsement of the extension by the ANC take these concerns into consideration. He suggested that the ANC urge extending service to the weekends year round, as well as extending winter hours to 9:00pm instead of 7:00pm. In addition, he recommended that the ANC press for reduced waiting time and an accurate count of DDOT employees who are riding free so the route can be credited for those riders. He told CHC that not counting free riders shows up in the subsidy, making the route look worse than it is (given that DDOT employees should be counted, whether they pay or not, and this would show up as credit for the line), and placing the route at a disadvantage in the face of political pressure for the service to be self-sufficient.
The impetus for extending the route comes from a desire to provide service for all the new construction occurring near the Southwest Waterfront. Jarboe added that there is a desire to provide a link to re-establish the Southwest Waterfront/Convention Center Circulator which was terminated some years ago owing to low ridership. The preeminence of developer concerns can be explained in part by the Circulator’s unusual funding structure, which includes contributions from the local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
*Currently, the USNY Circulator runs weekdays (unless there’s a Nats game) from 6:00am until 7:00pm from October 1 to March 31. From April 1 – September 30, it runs 6:00am until 9:00pm on weekdays plus 7:00am until 9:00pm Saturdays. Each Circulator route has its own hours – for example, the Dupont/Georgetown Circulator runs until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2:00am Friday and Saturday.