A Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ confab on bus service before and after Metrorail service begins found a big hole in the county’s transit system: Ashburn.
After the Silver Line starts running in Loudoun in 2020, supervisors plan to combine the county’s local fixed route and Metro-Connection services into a new combined transit service. County policy is to encourage people to use Metrorail once it’s available, in part by providing bus transit to Metro stops.
But so far, a big part of the county is left out of those plans—Ashburn. A map of proposed bus routes shows few or no stops in an area of the county that includes major developments like Ashburn Village, Lansdowne, Ashburn Farm, Belmont Country Club, and others. Ashburn District Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R) called that the “donut hole,” and indicated he would not support any plan that doesn’t solve that problem.
Supervisors also had questions about the costs of bus service, which far outstrip revenues generated by the program.
“I think what you’re dealing with now is, public transportation is expensive, and we are not out of line with our peers,” said Scott Gross from the county’s Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure. He said local bus service will never become revenue neutral, as the supervisors plan for the county’s long-haul commuter bus service: “It’s not even fair to think that way. The median income on these folks is $24,000 a year.”
He also said local bus service does more than get cars off the road—it performs a “vital” part of economic development in the county, getting wage workers to jobs in Loudoun.
Currently, the worst-performing routes cost the county as much as $46.92 per rider, where fares are only one dollar. Those most expensive routes will stop with the new fiscal year on July 1, leaving the most costly local bus route as Route 83 from Dulles Town Center to Wiehle-Reston East and costing $28.74 per rider. That route sees an average of just over two riders per hour. It and two other routes have also been marked for possible elimination in future years.
By contrast, commuter bus service into Rosslyn, Crystal City, the Pentagon and Washington, DC, costs $9 with a SmarTrip card or $10 cash. Supervisors plan for that service to pay for itself through fares and advertising, which is estimated to break even at $10. Without state funding, Transportation and Capital Infrastructure Director Joe Kroboth said fares would have to increase about $1.50.