Metro weighs the fate of the 5A

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LUZ LAZO luz.lazo@wash­

When Jake Janzen heard that Metro was once again plan­ning to elim­i­nate the 5A bus to Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port, he re­luc­tantly contemplated buy­ing a car.

None of the al­ter­na­tives to the bus ride from Ross­lyn to Dulles were promis­ing. The first Sil­ver Line train to the Wiehle-Re­ston East Metro sta­tion, fol­lowed by a bus con­nec­tion, wouldn’t get him there in time for his 6:30 a.m. shift at the air­port. Driv­ing would once again put him in a night­mar­ish com­mute, plus add ex­tra ex­penses he and his wife hoped to avoid when they moved to Ar­ling­ton two years ago.

“We are able to live with­out a car, and it’s great. But if they kill that route, we will be forced to buy one,” said Janzen, an air­con­di­tion­ing engi­neer at Dulles. “And who wants to drive on I-66? I ab­so­lutely don’t.”

The Wash­ing­ton Metropoli­tan Area Tran­sit Author­ity has, for the sec­ond time in two years, pro­posed killing the 5A and with it an im­por­tant trans­porta­tion link for trav­el­ers and work­ers such as Janzen who de­pend on the only bus link­ing the Dis­trict to Dulles. On week­ends, for ex­am­ple, when the Metro sys­tem doesn’t open un­til 7 a.m., the 5A is bound for the air­port by 5:30 a.m.

But the bus line, with a daily rid­er­ship of roughly 1,400 pas­sen­gers, has be­come en­tan­gled in Metro board pol­i­tics cen­tered on a dis­pute over who should pay for the ser­vice.

As the Metro board weighs the route’s fate this fall, it will re­view over­whelm­ing pub­lic op­po­si­tion to its elim­i­na­tion and the lin­ger­ing fund­ing ques­tion that put the bus line back on the chop­ping block this year.

“All we have heard from now are peo­ple who use it and don’t want it to go away. I don’t think that any­body has come in and said, ‘I re­ally think it should go away,’ ” Metro board Chair­man Mort Downey said. “It is more an is­sue of how best to pay for it.”

The 5A re­ceives a spe­cial sub­sidy from lo­cal gov­ern­ments based on the share of rid­ers who come from each ju­ris­dic­tion. This year’s bud­get calls for an an­nual al­lo­ca­tion of $990,000, ac­cord­ing to Metro, with the Dis­trict con­tribut­ing $405,900, Prince Ge­orge’s $188,100, Alexandria $9,900, Ar­ling­ton $79,200 and Fair­fax $306,900.

The fund­ing dis­pute started in May af­ter Michael Gold­man, a new mem­ber who rep­re­sents Mary­land on the board, ar­gued that his state should not have to pay for a bus route that starts in the Dis­trict and ends in Vir­ginia. Mary­land, he noted, pays for the B30 bus that runs from the Green­belt Metro sta­tion to Bal­ti­more-Wash­ing­ton In­ter­na­tional Mar­shall Air­port.

Gold­man’s po­si­tion led to a heated de­bate among other board mem­bers, in­clud­ing Cather­ine Hud­gins, a Fair­fax County su­per­vi­sor, who ques­tioned why Fair­fax should pay if Mary­land wouldn’t. Fair­fax res­i­dents, she ar­gued, are prob­a­bly tak­ing the county’s Con­nec­tor buses to Dulles, not the 5A.

The board was un­able to reach an agree­ment.

Some board mem­bers reached last week said it might be pos­si­ble to save the route, or at least part of it, given its pop­u­lar­ity.

Downey said if the de­mand for ser­vice is there, “hope­fully we can find a way to square the cir­cle.”

A res­o­lu­tion, Downey said, may re­quire the board to re­view how costs of ser­vices are shared for re­gional routes — which could en­tail mod­i­fy­ing fund­ing for­mu­las that date back two decades.

A re­cent sur­vey sug­gests that 15 per­cent of rid­ers come from Mary­land, Downey said. No such data is avail­able for the BWI route, he said.

Be­cause the BWI bus route is con­tained in Mary­land, it is con­sid­ered a non-re­gional route and picks up the full tab. The Dulles route, which crosses ju­ris­dic­tions, is con­sid­ered re­gional and thus the shared cost.

“We are just look­ing for some eq­uity in how the two air­port bus routes are treated,” Gold­man said last week. “If staff can come up with some con­cept that pro­vides that kind of eq­uity and also per­mits the 5A to con­tinue in some fash­ion, we can prob­a­bly go along with what they pro­pose.”

Other Metro board mem­bers de­clined to com­ment, and Hud­gins did not re­turn re­peated calls seek­ing com­ment.

Metro wouldn’t say last week whether it will re­verse its rec­om­men­da­tion — as it did in 2013 when it also pro­posed killing the route. Back then, pub­lic pres­sure led the tran­sit agency to back down.

A Metro spokesman said plan­ners are ex­pected to make a fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion to the board in Novem­ber on this and 80 other pro­posed Metrobus changes.

One idea be­ing floated is re­tain­ing the early-morn­ing run for work­ers and air trav­el­ers who need to get to the air­port early, but ter­mi­nat­ing or phas­ing out the runs through­out the day. This would re­duce the cost of the route. Elim­i­nat­ing the route al­to­gether would save Metro $2.3 mil­lion a year.

In mak­ing the rec­om­men­da­tion to elim­i­nate the route, Metro said 5A rid­er­ship has dropped since the Sil­ver Line opened a year ago; rid­er­ship in the last fis­cal year was 300,000 pas­sen­gers, about 100,000 fewer com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year.

But some tran­sit of­fi­cials say rid­er­ship is not the prob­lem, and, like rid­ers, they would pre­fer to keep the route alive at least un­til Metro is ex­tended to Dulles — which will oc­cur with Phase 2 of the Sil­ver Line.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the 5A is en­tan­gled in WMATA and re­gional pol­i­tics,” Todd Hors­ley, di­rec­tor of North­ern Vir­ginia tran­sit pro­grams at the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Rail and Pub­lic Trans­porta­tion, told a con­cerned 5A rider in an e-mail last month.

Hors­ley, who has re­ceived com­plaints from bus rid­ers and has dis­cussed the pro­posal with other of­fi­cials, said the state does not want the ser­vice cut.

“We would not like to see a re­duc­tion in tran­sit ser­vice,” he said in an in­ter­view. “No one I have talked to in Vir­ginia has said that they are in fa­vor of elim­i­nat­ing the 5A. . . . Over­all, the feel­ing is let’s not change the way it’s op­er­at­ing right now un­til the Sil­ver Line Phase 2 is op­er­at­ing and that will pro­vide a con­nec­tion to Dulles Air­port.”

The 5A was pro­posed 15 years ago by the Dis­trict in an ef­fort to pro­vide work­ers from the city a bus link to the Dulles cor­ri­dor. The city funded the first 18 months of ser­vice, but then it be­came a re­gional route.

Metro’s in­terim gen­eral man-Mary­land ager, Jack Re­qua, who man­aged the bus sys­tem be­fore step­ping into his cur­rent role, said last month that the agency would take pub­lic opin­ion into ac­count when mak­ing a fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion to the board. Many of the 6,000 com­ments the agency has re­ceived dur­ing the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod on the pro­posed bus changes have been in sup­port of sav­ing the 5A, he said.

At a pub­lic hear­ing last month, rid­ers urged the agency to keep the route, which runs 30 week­day round trips from L’En­fant Plaza to Dulles, with stops at Ross­lyn and the Hern­don-Mon­roe Park and Ride.

Kim Car­pen­ter, who takes the 5:25 a.m. bus from L’En­fant to Dulles, where she man­ages a re­tail store, told board mem­bers that tak­ing it away could cost work­ers their jobs.

“I catch the bus with peo­ple that put your lug­gage on your plane, peo­ple that check you in at the ticket counter, peo­ple that check you through se­cu­rity, ev­ery­one catches the bus,” Car­pen­ter said.

Other rid­ers say the Metro board should not pun­ish rid­ers for its dis­agree­ment over fund­ing.

“The drama is over who pays for it, whether Mary­land pays for it or if the Vir­ginia ju­ris­dic­tions should pick up the tab,” Janzen said. “I don’t know and I don’t care. I just de­pend on the bus.”

The only bus link­ing D.C. to Dulles is tan­gled in a fund­ing dis­pute


Roughly 1,400 pas­sen­gers a day de­pend on the bus, which is be­ing con­sid­ered for elim­i­na­tion for the sec­ond time in two years.

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