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Metro To Roll Out 300 New Buses For Busiest Routes, But No Bus Lanes Yet

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Among the buses Metro unveiled this week is a new 60-foot-long bus that can fit more than 100 commuters.
WAMU/Martin Di Caro
Among the buses Metro unveiled this week is a new 60-foot-long bus that can fit more than 100 commuters.

The first of 300 new buses that will be deployed over the next year were unveiled by Metro officials on Monday along one of the busiest bus routes in the region, 16th Street NW, which carries about 21,000 riders daily between Maryland and downtown Washington.

The new fleet will replace buses at the end of their 12-year lifespan and will include 21 extended, 60-foot buses that can carry about 100 passengers each.

“The introduction of these buses demonstrates Metro's commitment to delivering the best commuting experiences possible for our riders,” said interim general manager Jack Requa at a news conference at 16th and Harvard Streets NW.

New buses now. Bus lane next?

More than 200,000 riders use Metro buses in Washington on a typical workday, but the District does not have an effective, extended bus-only lane.

For years the District Department of Transportation has been studying whether to build a bus lane for Metro’s S line on 16th Street. The latest study, launched in March, is looking at a 3-mile stretch from Arkansas Avenue to H Street Northwest.

A decision is coming in January, said DDOT’s deputy director Greer Gillis at the news conference.

“We are trying to look at not only infrastructure changes, which would include a bus lane, but also, what other things could we do,” Gillis said. Other changes under consideration also have been studied for years, including traffic signal priority technology that would allow buses to keep traffic lights green.

Requa said the transit authority would like to build off-board payment kiosks to speed up boarding, too.

“About 30 percent of our riders load their SmarTrip cards on the bus and we certainly would like to minimize that or eliminate that in the long run,” Requa said.

Wait continues

There is no timeline for when either traffic signal technology, which is funded by federal grants, or off-board payment systems will be ready for commuters. Next year, testing is supposed to begin on the technology to allow buses to communicate with traffic lights, holding green lights for a few extra seconds at certain intersections along 16th Street.

“DDOT's own preliminary study shows that nothing can save time more than a dedicated bus lane,” said Kishan Putta, a former ANC commissioner who has been calling for bus lane construction for years.

DDOT has proceeded more cautiously than riders who are tired of packed buses bypassing stops would have liked. A dedicated, rush-hour bus lane could eliminate parking spaces along 16th Street or slow down traffic at certain intersections, just two of several issues planners are examining.

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