On Sunday September 5, 2021 Alexandria, Virginia will wake up to a new bus system, with a completely redesigned bus network for the City’s transit agency (DASH), major complimentary modifications to the WMATA Metrobus network, and free fares on DASH buses.
The redesigned network in the city is the result of a design process that we guided, in cooperation with the local office of Kimley-Horn, for the City of Alexandria and DASH, and in cooperation with WMATA. The New Network launching on Sunday is constrained by what the City could afford, so it does not increase the total amount of service, but it is just Phase 1 of a ten-year plan to grow bus service in the city to improve service for a growing and densifying city.
Our work with the City, DASH, and WMATA began in 2018, and reached the Draft Plan stage in November 2019. The Draft Plan was designed around the policy direction from the DASH Board that, by 2030, 85% of resources should go toward high ridership service, while the rest should go to coverage service. A major focus of the plan is building up a frequent network by running fewer overlapping and competing lines. That means some trips that a person can make today on one bus might require two buses in the future, but the frequency of service means that total wait time is the same, or less, than today.
While overall response to the Draft Plan was very positive, there were some specific concerns about coverage loss on a few streets and the Final Plan was tweaked to add service back to a few areas at the cost of being less generous with service span improvements in the short term. Overall, the New Network still has major benefits with the simplification of the network leading to faster trips for most people going to most places. You can see how the New Network changes trip times with this comparative trip planner we developed for DASH.
When the Alexandria Transit Vision Plan was completed in February 2020, just before the pandemic, there was significant interest in new investment in improved service in the first few years of implementation. The top priority for new funding seemed to be increasing evening and weekend service. At that time, the plan recommended an 8% increase in service in the short-term that could improve evening and weekend service. Specifically, it could increase the percent of residents near frequent service on Saturdays from 36% to 65% and on Sundays from 15% to 59%.
During the planning process in 2018 and 2019, fares were not considered a major issue. When the pandemic hit, DASH and WMATA, like many agencies, went fare free and that raised the prominence of fares as an issue in Alexandria, as it has in many communities. Since then, the Mayor and many City Council members have decided that free fares are a higher priority than evening or weekend service improvements, and have endorsed increasing the transit budget to cover the $1.5 million annual cost of going zero fare this year.
Throughout the planning process we led the network design and guided the stakeholder conversations. We worked closely with our local partners at Kimley Horn who led the public outreach and key local government coordination. And the City and DASH provided strong leadership throughout and have continued to persevere to bring this first phase to life despite all the challenges of managing the Covid pandemic.
So, thanks and congratulations to everyone at WMATA, DASH, and the City who worked hard to get this done. We hope that everyone who lives in, works in, or visits Alexandria enjoys DASH’s New Network. We encourage Alexandrians to stay involved in advocating for more and better transit, so that the more frequent 2030 Network can be funded and implemented.