WASHINGTON – (WMAL) In a bold vision that would shake up the region’s transportation scene, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso is proposing the District take over operations of Metrobuses that run only within D.C., and to increase funding in order to eliminate fares.
“Instead of paying WMATA to operate these routes for our residents, let’s do it ourselves. We can task DDOT with running or contracting out the service, as we do with the Circulator. We could even brand them with the Circulator’s now-ubiquitous red and black,” Grosso writes on the urban planning website Greater Greater Washington. “Let’s take those millions of dollars we pay annually to WMATA, invest additional funds, and provide the type of transportation system that residents can rely on, one that is an attractive alternative to Metrorail.”
Grosso says it would give WMATA one less thing to worry about as they work to fix the rail side of operations, and would allow for additional investment that Maryland and Virginia may balk at otherwise. In making the buses free to ride, Grosso says it would also increase ridership, reduce the strain on Metrorail, speed up the boarding process, and reduce confrontations between drivers and passengers.
“To be clear, the city would not turn a profit under this scheme; we never have from our public transportation (or roads and highway projects for that matter),” Grosso writes. “But that’s not the point. What we’d get is something much greater.”
Some worry the proposal could further solidify philosophical differences between Maryland, the District, and Virginia.
“I’ve got mixed feelings,” Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz tells WMAL. “There could be negative consequences in further fragmenting our regional bus networks. I worry it could distract from the regional conversation and regional commitment we need to have for the funding Metro needs.”
D.C. has been a leading advocate in increasing funding for Metro. Mayor Muriel Bowser has publicly called for the establishment of a new tax region-wide to serve as a dedicated funding source for Metro. The Governors of Maryland and Virginia have advocated for a more cautious approach, waiting to see if Metro can improve its operations and finances first before committing to more money.
Schwartz says the region’s ability to compete on a global level hinges on cooperation across borders around D.C.
“The more we can keep ourselves tied together through our transit system, and even other utility systems, and the more we can work together through regional bodies, the better for our region’s economic competitiveness.”