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County solicits feedback on 10-year plan to improve ART bus service

Passengers board an ART bus on Columbia Pike (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington is looking to operate buses more frequently and expand service with more off-peak and weekend service.

These are just some of the recommendations that could be implemented as part of an overhaul of the municipal bus service, called Arlington Transit, over the next decade. The changes are part of an update to Arlington’s Transit Strategic Plan, which it is required to have by state law and update every six years.

As part of the update, Arlington County will be redesigning service in North Arlington and enhancing service along Columbia Pike, in Pentagon City and Crystal City, and around the under-construction Shirlington Transit Center. The proposed changes also include closing down some underutilized routes, adding service to community destinations such as Long Bridge Park, and ensuring schedules use easy-to-remember time intervals.

This update comes as ridership continues to recover from being slashed in half by the pandemic.

From July 2022 to this March, the most recent ART Bus ridership report available, monthly ridership increased from 130,299 to 164,516. Today, the highest concentration of riders is taking the bus north-south between Columbia Pike or Shirlington and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor or east-west along Langston Blvd.

Still, there are gaps in service and barriers to bus use that this update is intended to address. In preparation for the strategic plan update, the county says it heard from users that their biggest asks are reliability, frequency and efficiency, as well as a better user experience.

“People want more direct routes with fewer transfers, taking less time to make their trips… [as well as] a better user experience (clean buses, safe and accessible waiting areas, and high levels of customer service and transparency) overall,” the county said.

Right now, reliability can depend on which route users take. ART bus data from March, for instance, shows that on-time performance is higher from Rosslyn to East Falls Church and from Crystal City to Courthouse but lower from Columbia Pike to Rosslyn and Courthouse. The Columbia Pike routes, however, see four to six times the number of riders.

The county tracked where bus service and demand are mismatched, plus researched popular places people congregate and want to go to — but currently cannot get to easily by bus. County staff specifically looked at places with higher concentrations of people without cars, seniors and people with disabilities or limited English proficiency, among other socioeconomic factors.

It found the following communities, circled in the graphic, could benefit from expanded service.

Areas where service could be improved (via Arlington County) 

New routes serving these identified neighborhoods include a new ART 43 providing a “one-seat ride” between Clarendon, Courthouse, Rosslyn and Crystal City — a potential time and cost-saver compared to Metrorail — and a new ART 85, linking Shirlington, Long Branch Creek, Aurora Highlands, Crystal City and Potomac Yard.

These have the support of transit advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County (SusMo), which evaluated each of the proposed route changes on its website.

“We’ve looked at the proposed route changes in detail and have a bunch of recommendations, both for routes that need improved frequencies, as well as for routes that are overly meandering, duplicative and should not be a priority in this constrained fiscal environment where both buses and bus drivers are at a premium,” SusMo said.

The organization was critical, meanwhile, of the proposal to add a “microtransit” route connecting destinations such as the East Falls Church and Ballston Metro stations and Virginia Hospital Center, possibly using an app and electric vehicles.

“The existing connection to East Falls Church should be retained rather than moving forward with a Microtransit pilot that is unlikely to see more success than other cities’ past experiments with Microtransit,” the group said, adding that it “should not be a priority in this constrained fiscal environment.”

SusMo said a proposal for a route to Long Bridge Park and the aquatics center “is a definite win,” but criticized the way the county is going about it “by tacking it onto one of ARTs most inscrutable and meandering routes.”

A graphic summarizing the changes to North Arlington, Columbia Pike, Shirlington and Pentagon City and Crystal City is below.

Proposed ART bus changes to four areas of Arlington (via Arlington County)

Some of the changes would also dovetail with WMATA’s redesign of its Metrobus network, intended to increase frequency and reliability and simplify routes. This is part of its own bid to make taking the bus more attractive than driving and comes after significant investments in new infrastructure, such as the bus rapid transit connecting Arlington and Alexandria.

Through this Sunday, people can share feedback on the proposed changes online and in a half-dozen languages.

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