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An ART bus and driver (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Metrorail riders could soon enjoy free transfers to Arlington Transit (ART) buses.

The Arlington County Board this Saturday is set to consider covering bus trips for SmarTrip card users who start their one-way trips on the Metro.

This move is part of a broader effort by the county, the region and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to recover ridership rates, which plummeted during the pandemic.

Ordinarily, transfer trips cost $1.50 rather than the full $2. Individual jurisdictions get to decide whether to offer a discount.

“The WMATA Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget includes an increase of the rail to bus transfer discount from $0.50 to $2.00,” notes a staff report to the County Board. “If adopted by Arlington County, the increase in the discount would result in rail-to-bus transfer fare on ART of $0.00 and would align with the WMATA transfer discount.”

Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers tells ARLnow that her department supports these free rides because they are a “win-win” for the county, where users need a blend of rail and buses to navigate its Metro corridors and suburbs.

“The more that people are on rail, the better it is for us,” she said. “We really endorse people to use public transit other than single occupancy vehicles. This is another way of doing that — by making another portion free.”

Ridership in Arlington plummeted from 49.5 million bus and rail trips in the 2019-20 fiscal year to 16.1 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ended in June, per the report. This year, Arlington launched two pilot programs to increase ridership while offering reduced rates to low-income riders and students.

The free rides would cost the county $242,000, but Rivers said the tradeoff is that the program could generate more paying Metro customers.

The free transfers, if approved, would go into effect on Oct. 1.

The transfer discount is not the only opportunity for free rides on ART buses this fall. Arlington’s transit service has started testing out zero-emission buses (ZEBs) from several manufacturers as part of a pilot program, and is offering free fares to those who happen to board.

The battery-powered buses will tackle some of ART’s most challenging, hilly routes. The pilot program started Monday and is expected to continue into early 2023.

“The pilot will allow ART to collect data and assess vehicle performance during actual operation in the County,” according to a press release from the county. “Operators will drive ZEBs to test battery performance, range and response to Arlington’s geographic features including steep hills.”

A battery-powered bus by GILLIG (via Arlington County)

In-service test buses will have signs indicating the route and the free fare. Passengers are able to provide online feedback on their ridership experience on these battery-powered buses.

The schedule for this month’s test rides is as follows:

A schedule of free bus rides via a pilot program during September (via Arlington County)

On Friday, the GILLIG battery electric bus will be parked on the 2100 block of 15th Street N. from 1-3 p.m. so people can see it, ask questions and learn more about the pilot program.

Arlington will repeat these pilot rides with two to three additional manufacturers this fall and winter.

Transitioning to zero-emission buses would help the county meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the press release says. Arlington is also working to use renewable electricity for all of its government operations by 2025.

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An ART bus and driver (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Middle and high school students at Arlington public schools will soon be able to ride Arlington Transit buses for free.

The new free ride program will begin next week, with the start of classes on Monday.

Students will need to obtain an iRide SmarTrip card to take advantage of the free rides, and a county press release notes that “due to supply chain issues, iRide cards are available on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Previously, students could ride ART for a discounted, $1 fare.

The full county press release is below.

Beginning this school year, middle and high school students from Arlington Public Schools (APS) will be able to ride free anytime on Arlington Transit (ART), the County’s bus transit system, with an iRide SmarTrip card.

Students with existing iRide cards will automatically receive the free transit access when classes begin on Mon., August 29, with no additional actions required.

APS students who don’t have an iRide card can obtain one for free by contacting their School Transportation Coordinator or by visiting one of Arlington’s Commuter Store locations with their student ID. Due to supply chain issues, iRide cards are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Students who cannot obtain a card in time for the start of the school year can anticipate new inventory in October.

The free rides on ART expand on Arlington Transit Bureau’s pilot program to provide transit service to APS students who have limited travel options to school. With this latest program, students can ride free anywhere, not just take trips to school and back home.

Previously, students could ride ART for $1 — half the regular fare — with a registered iRide card. The iRide card can also be used to pay fares on Metrobus, Metrorail and other regional transit systems, and provides valuable ridership data to the Transit Bureau for use in decision-making.

About ART Bus

Arlington Transit’s (ART) 16 routes operate within Arlington County to provide cross-County neighborhood routes as well as regional connections to Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express. Visit the ART website to find maps, schedules, and plan a trip.

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The plaza at Ballston Quarter where the food festival is set to be held (courtesy of Chris Chern)

Ballston Quarter is set to hold a free food festival featuring international cuisine this Saturday (July 30) at its food court.

Ballston Quarter Food Fest is set to be held at the plaza of the mall, adjacent to the Quarter Market food hall, between noon and 4 p.m., according to the event’s webpage.

The event is expected to feature different restaurants at the food court providing food from around world, including Mexican and Japanese among others. No registration is required, spokesperson for the event Ali Zeliff said.

Attendees will receive passports and stamp card as they arrive.

“Participating restaurants will offer sample-sized food to guests as they tour Quarter Market with their Ballston Quarter passports,” the event webpage notes.

More than 10 restaurants are expected to participate, according to the mall’s Facebook post, including the following.

  • Rice Crook, an East Asian fusion restaurant, is offering chicken fried rice
  • Ice Cream Jubilee, an Asian American-owned ice cream shop, is offering flavors such as Thai Iced Tea
  • Go Poke, a Hawaiian restaurant, is offering tuna and salmon poke bites
  • Punch Bowl Social, an American gastropub, is offering its Knockoff Slider and vegetarian mini quesadillas
  • Jinya Ramen, a Japanese restaurant, is offering gyoza
  • Hot Lolas, a Nashville hot chicken restaurant with a Chinese kick, is offering chicken tenders with Szechuan spice
  • Bartaco, a Latin street food chain, is offering tuna poke and salsa verde and chips

Meanwhile, the artisan sandwich and cocktail restaurant Superette, Turu’s by Timber Pizza and the brewery Ballston Service Station are also set to join the event, but their tasting menus are yet to be announced.

Aside from food, the D.C.-based DJ CYD is scheduled to play current hit songs at the event.

This is the first time Ballston Quarter (4238 Wilson Blvd) has organized an event of this nature, Zeliff said. The mall organized this event because of the new restaurants and vendors that opened in the past few months, such as Jinya Ramen, she said.

“We are excited to invite the Ballston Quarter community into Quarter Market and give them the opportunity to try restaurants they might not have experienced before,” Zeliff said.

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Morning Notes

A turtle, seen in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

New Rail Bridge Design Revealed — “The new rail bridge will be built with many of the features in the existing span, including its structure, material and form, with steel girders and similar pier spacing, according to preliminary site plans approved this month by the National Capital Planning Commission. The plans also call for the use of Ashlar stone cladding for the bridge piers, and abutments and walls near the George Washington Memorial Parkway.” [Washington Post]

County Board Approves ‘Heights’ Parking — From School Board member Barbara Kanninen: “‘APS did us a solid.’ Thx @kcristol for that comment regarding our hosting the County’s temp fire station for several years! Glad to see the use permit for Phase 2 [of The Heights building in Rosslyn] approved this morning, providing important universal access improvements for all students, esp @APS_Shriver.” [Twitter]

APS Hiring Hundreds of Teachers — “Officials in Arlington Public Schools will also spend the summer working to fill an atypically large number of empty positions. Arlington, which enrolls 27,045 students, according to state data, saw 284 teachers resign between August 2021 and mid-May 2022. The district usually employs about 3,000 teachers, per spokesman Frank Bellavia. That is 96 percent higher than the average number of resignations between 2018-2019 and 2020-2021: 145.” [Washington Post]

Free Chicken Today — “July 18th is Nelson Mandela’s birthday. His birthday is recognized and celebrated world wide as Mandela day; a day for us all to inspire change and make a difference in our communities. At Nando’s we are proud of our South African heritage. We will join in celebrating his birthday on July 18th by following his example and giving back to our communities.” [Nando’s Peri Peri]

Cyclist Struck on Busy Ramp — “Police, fire on scene of cyclist struck by driver on the WB Route 50 / Washington Blvd ramp. Cyclist was thrown from bike and is being treated by medics, per scanner.” [Twitter]

Treasurer Honored, Again — “Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava received the President’s Award for her service and leadership to the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia (TAV). The award was presented during the association’s annual conference in June. It is the second time de la Pava has be recognized with the President’s Award.” [Arlington County]

More Bad Driving on I-395 — From Dave Statter: “You’ll want to see this one. Driver goes bowling with the barrels & almost takes one along for the ride. @VaDOTNOVA time for clean-up again on aisle 8C.” [Twitter]

It’s Monday — Mostly cloudy, with rain and possible storms in the evening. High of 88 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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Morning Notes

A pedestrian tunnel under Route 50 near the National Guard Readiness Center (Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W.)

DCA Sign Changes Start Tomorrow — “We’re making it easier to find your gate! Beginning June 4, we will be updating our signage to include a letter in front of each gate number. Don’t worry, no airlines or gates are actually moving!” [Twitter, DCist]

Summer Reading Program Underway — “The Arlington County library system’s summer-reading program kicked off June 1 and will run through Sept. 1. ‘Readers of all ages are invited to immerse themselves in reading, participating in 500 free programs and explore the 2022 theme, ‘Oceans of Possibilities,” library officials said.” [Sun Gazette]

Weekend Road Closures — “There are planned road closures to accommodate the 2022 Armed Forces Cycling Classic bicycle races, which will take place during the weekend of Saturday, June 4 – Sunday, June 5, 2022.” [ACPD]

New Name for Park Near HQ2 — “Before the HALRB’s meeting of May 18, it looked like “Teardrop Park” would be a runaway choice for the new space, which will be bounded (in a teardrop shape) by South Eads Street and Army Navy Drive and bisected by 11th Street South… But at the HALRB meeting, Berne stopped that train in its tracks by countering with “Arlington Junction Park,” which would pay homage to an important trolley-line nexus of the last decade of the 19th century and the first four decades of the 20th.” [Sun Gazette]

Free Donuts Today — “It’s National Donut Day on Friday, and several eateries in Virginia and Washington, D.C., are offering a sweet deal or two to lure in donut lovers across the state.” [Patch]

Paper Calls for Return of SROs — “One wonders if Arlington’s School Board members will have a change of heart, now that there is a national drumbeat for more, not less, public-safety presence in schools. Sadly, one presumes not.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 78 and low of 65. Sunrise at 5:46 am and sunset at 8:31 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Reuben Tucker (@blurredriff) plays guitar in Long Bridge Park at sunset (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Decal Fee Officially Dead — “Arlington County Board members on May 14 followed through on a promise made last month and eliminated the ‘decal fee’ that has been imposed for decades as part of residents’ car-tax bills. And while the action will save residents a collective $6 million this year, it’s something of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation, as higher assessments on used vehicles in these inflationary times likely will eat up all the savings for some vehicle owners.” [Sun Gazette]

Wild Rosslyn Press Conference in the Works — “WHAT: Jack Burkman to give press conference from wheelchair, after losing more than 65 ibs, and all his hair. WHEN: Monday May 23, 2022 High Noon. WHERE… N Colonial Terrace, Arlington VA 22209.” [Twitter]

Free Fitness Class Tonight — “Join HUSTLE at Long Bridge Park in National Landing for a weekly sweaty and fun outdoor HIIT class. Arlington, VA has been named one of the fittest cities in the country, so get your heart pumping at an outdoor HIIT class with local fitness instructors.” [Twitter, National Landing BID]

Historical Marker for Eden Center — “The Virginia Historical Commission (VHC) has recognized Vietnamese Immigrants in Northern Virginia as a significant part of Virginia history by awarding it an Official Virginia Historical Marker… A dedication ceremony to commemorate the event will be held on May 24, 2022 at Eden Center at 3:30PM.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Wednesday — Sunny during the day, with rain possible at night. High of 74 and low of 54. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:18 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Cranes above construction between 18th and 20th St. S. in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Police Looking for Missing Teen — “MISSING: ACPD is seeking assistance locating 14-year-old Anahi… Described as a [Hispanic] female, 5’4″ tall with brown hair, brown eyes and a nose piercing. She was last seen at approximately 12:30 p.m. today in the 400 block of S. George Mason Drive.” [Twitter]

Amazon Banana Stand in Crystal City — “Amazon has operated a stand in front of 1770 Crystal Drive, one of the office buildings it occupies in Crystal City, since July. The banistas give away bananas, individually or by the bunch, every weekday between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., Anderson said. And anyone can take them, from Amazon employees to residents to passers-by. The stands have dog treats, too.” [Washington Business Journal]

Reports of Strange Sounds Last Night — “Locals: anyone know what that annoying chime / doorbell thing is that goes off every 10 minutes? I’ve seen reports of hearing it from Arlington to Alexandria.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Power Outage Last Night — “Just over 600 Dominion customers are without power tonight in the Columbia Forest and Claremont neighborhoods. Restoration expected within a few hours.” [Twitter]

Metro Wants to Develop Housing — “Metro has released a 10-year joint development plan that’s chock-full of big projects to extend the agency’s reach and increase ridership… The agency says it could produce 26,000 new housing units and 31 million square feet of new development through joint development projects at 40 stations. This could create a projected $50 million in yearly lease revenue.” [Axios]

It’s Tuesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. Breezy, with wind gusts of up to 31 mph. High of 50 and low of 40. Sunrise at 6:27 am and sunset at 7:50 pm. [Weather.gov]

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An ART bus and driver (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 6:15 p.m. on 02/16/22) For the next 18 months, bus fare will be free or reduced-price for thousands of income-eligible residents and students.

The fare reductions began this month as part of the Low-Income Fare Assistance and the APS Student Fare-Less pilot programs, which are intended to target residents most impacted by the pandemic.

The Arlington County Board signed off on these programs in November as part of a spending plan for $29.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars that apportioned funding for a host of new equity initiatives. These two programs will use about $2.8 million in ARPA funds.

The first provides free transit to work for residents currently enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, run by the Department of Human Services. The department will distribute pre-paid SmarTrip cards worth $150, or 75 rides, to about 7,200 pre-identified residents.

This program is expected to cost $1.2 million in this fiscal year, ending in June, and $250,000 next year.

Meanwhile, the student pilot program subsidizes the currently discounted, $1-a-trip student iRide card for certain students traveling to and from school.

Arlington Public Schools will distribute these cards to up to 2,400 middle and high school students who aren’t well-served by school bus services — such as kids who live at the edges of a large walk zone or attend programs far from home. These cards will be loaded with $10 a week over the course of 18 months.

The program will cost $479,000 in this fiscal year and $878,000 next year. It continues and expands on a pilot program that began in 2019 but was suspended during the pandemic.

Participants in both programs have 18 months to use their cards, which also work on Metrobus and Metrorail lines.

Department of Environmental Services staff will use data from these pilots to inform possible expansions or changes to these programs long term. This work could be funded by a Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation’s TRIP grant, intended to increase regional connectivity and reduce barriers to transit by supporting low-income and free fare programs.

“The County is interested in applying for a TRIP grant in the future, and would use the data collected from the 18-month pilot programs and results from the fare study to support such an application,” DES spokesman Nate Graham said.

Meanwhile, transportation staff are taking steps now to understand how existing free and reduced-fare policies at peer transportation departments impact ridership, operations and regional services such as Metrobus, he said.

Last week, the county requested funding from DPRT for a study that would analyze these questions, as well as equity concerns and stakeholder feedback, he said. The county should know if it received the grant in June.

Arlington promoted these new initiatives on Friday, Rosa Parks’ birthday and “Transit Equity Day.” It honors her legacy as a Civil Rights activist. Parks, who took a stand for desegregated bus seating, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional.

“These two pilot programs help to further the mission of Realizing Arlington’s Commitment to Equity (RACE), which includes advancing racial equity to reduce and prevent disparities in our service to the community,” said Chief Race and Equity Officer Samia Byrd in a statement. “Even though no longer unequal by law, systemic barriers still exist.”

“Our review of transit through an equity lens is to consider access based on need (meeting people where they are) and work to remove those barriers,” Byrd continued. “Through this we aim to honor the legacy of Rosa Parks — equal treatment and equitable access to public transportation for everyone.”

ART bus fare was suspended for all users from March 2020 until January 2021 due to the pandemic.

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This week, Arlington Public Library will once again be giving away at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Starting Thursday at noon, some 2,000 kits will be available across all seven library locations, the library system announced Monday evening.

“Test kits are dispensed on a first-come, first-served basis, and can be picked up from the service desk at each Library location,” the library announcement says. “Neither proof of County residency nor a library card is required, and the kits are free of charge.”

The distribution follows a similar effort two weeks ago in which people snapped up the 360 available rapid antigen test kits in a few hours. Another round of test kit giveaways last week lasted less than an hour.

Initially, Arlington Public Library estimated new tests wouldn’t come until the new year.

Visitors can pick up test kits, supplied by Virginia Department of Health, for themselves and household members, the announcement says. It advises folks to act quickly.

“Due to increased demand, test kits at library locations are expected to be out of stock very quickly,” the library said. “Please check back for updates.”

Masks are required in all library buildings. The library asks those with COVID-19 symptoms to send someone else to pick up their test for them.

Demand for COVID-19 tests in Arlington has picked up with the holiday season and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, resulting in long lines and even heavy vehicle traffic as people try to get swabbed.

https://twitter.com/VictoriaBroehm/status/1473411681346895874

For those who can’t get an at-home test kit from the library, Arlington County has three testing kiosks open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

They’re found in the Arlington Mill Community Center parking lot (909 S. Dinwiddie Street), the Courthouse Plaza parking lot (2088 15th Street N.) and the Virginia Highlands Park parking lot (1600 S. Hayes Street).

The kiosks will close at 2 p.m. on Friday and will be closed Saturday, New Year’s Day.

VDH also has a list of testing locations.

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Arlington Central Library (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Within hours of offering free at-home COVID-19 rapid test kits on Friday, Arlington County libraries ran out.

All seven open library locations were offering tests — 360 tests in total, across all branches — but all were claimed by 12:10 p.m.

Demand was higher than expected, Arlington Public Library Deputy Director Anne Gable tells ARLnow, and people lined up at library doors to get the tests. The number of tests sent by the Virginia Department of Health was based on previous responses at other libraries in the Commonwealth, she notes.

Each branch received a different number of tests.

“It was proportional to the user base of the locations,” writes Gable. “Meaning, the more heavily used locations got more tests and the less used locations got fewer tests.”

More test kits are expected to be available sometime this week and staff will make sure more will be offered this time around.

Some residents were upset with the lack of tests.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County Libraries received 20,000 COVID-19 rapid tests and all branches were still stocked as of Friday afternoon.

In recent days, there’s been an ongoing national conversation about why there are so few low-cost, at-home COVID-19 tests available in the U.S., particularly in comparison to Europe.

Arlington’s director of emergency management took to social media to remind residents that if they are in need of a COVID-19 test more immediately, there are three free county testing sites open daily.

Library hours remain limited until Jan. 3, when seven out of eight branches will fully reopen for the first time in nearly two years.

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Morning Notes

The U.S. Air Force Memorial (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

YHS Wins State Field Hockey Championship — “Yorktown field hockey sticks to its routine to accomplish something it never has before… Patriots beat Western Branch, 1-0, for their first state championship.” [Washington Post]

ACPD Ramping Up Seat Belt Enforcement — “The Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the national Click It or Ticket campaign. Law enforcement agencies across the country will increase enforcement efforts from November 16 – 28, 2021, to work towards reducing the number of fatalities that occur when motorists fail to buckle up.” [ACPD]

County Has Available Kid Vax Appointments — “Arlington County Public Health is continuing vaccinations for 5-11-year-olds this week, Monday-Friday from 2-7 p.m. Over 6,000 kids ages 5-11 have already received their first dose. Schedule your appointment today.” [Twitter]

Arlington Man Charged in Fatal Crash — “A tip led to the arrest Monday of a 54-year-old Arlington man wanted on charges of DUI-related involuntary manslaughter and operating without a driver’s license in connection with a Nov. 6 crash in Montclair that killed a Dumfries man. Investigators obtained warrants Thursday for John William Harris… but attempts to locate him had been unsuccessful, police said.” [InsideNova]

Free Coffee at Taco Bamba — “To promote the breakfast menu and the free coffee program, Taco Bamba is giving away branded coffee tumblers to the first 50 guests at each store who purchase a breakfast item.” [Press Release]

Secret Santas Wanted — From Arlington County: “You can make the holiday season a little happier for some of Arlington’s most vulnerable residents by taking part in the @ArlingtonDHS’ Secret Santa/Holiday Giving Program. This program benefits Arlington’s at-risk residents.” [Twitter]

It’s Tuesday — Today will feature mostly cloudy skies through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 53. Sunrise at 6:52 a.m. and sunset at 4:53 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 65. [Weather.gov]

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