HD61 - A Study of Enhanced Public Bus Service Along the I-495 Corridor in Virginia

  • Published: 1993
  • Author: Department of Transportation
  • Enabling Authority: Appropriation Act - Item 570 (Regular Session, 1992)

Executive Summary:

The purpose of this Study, per Legislative mandate as expressed in House Bill 30, Item 570, was to analyze "enhanced public bus service along the I-495 corridor in Virginia." Specifically, it was noted that, "The study shall include an analysis of the following items: (1) service linking Virginia and Prince George's County, Maryland via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge; (2) a network of timed transfer service to include Metrorail Stations, Virginia Railway Express Stations and major residential and employment centers as outlined in the "Northern Virginia Subregional Plan;" and (3) a plan for phased implementation of this service, including a one-year pilot project."


As indicated in the Legislative language, this study was conducted with the active involvement of the affected jurisdictions and transit agencies in Northern Virginia. Staff from the Department of Transportation's Northern Virginia District Office was asked to coordinate the study efforts and, with the assistance of the staffs of participating jurisdictions and agencies, perform the technical analysis required.

To this end, a Study Team was organized to give direction to the project. The following jurisdictions and agencies were represented on the Study Team:

• Prince George's County, Maryland
• Maryland Department of Transportation
• Maryland state Highway Administration
• Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
• Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
• Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
• City of Alexandria
• Fairfax County, Virginia
• Northern Virginia Transportation Commission
• Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation
• Virginia Department of Transportation.

The Study Team was convened in July of 1992, with its first task being to further define the Study Scope and to develop appropriate phasing for the Study Project. Given the short time frame within which this Study was to be conducted, the Study Team agreed, at the outset, that the work should be done in phases; and that the first phase should focus on examining the potential for a specific bus route or routes which would provide service linking Virginia and Prince George's County, Maryland via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The potential for linking rail stations, VRE, and major employment and residential centers would, therefore, also be focused for the first phase within that service area.

It was the consensus of the Study Team that a broader analysis, examining the potential for phased implementation of transit around the entire Beltway and including an analysis of how a more extensive network of timed transfer centers might actually function, should be pursued as a second phase. A major reason for recommending a delay in this broader analysis included the desire to await the outcome of a study which was then underway at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Board addressing the potential for circumferential transit in the Beltway Corridor.


Having agreed to focus on the more narrow question of defining the potential for experimental bus service between Virginia and Maryland via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, staff proceeded with the analysis outlined below. (Details of this technical analysis are included in the attached Technical Report.)

• Travel data from three different sources were made available. They were:

* 1990 Metrorail Passenger Survey
* 1992 License Plate Survey by COG of Woodrow Wilson Bridge users. From this data, origins and destinations of users by trip purpose were obtained.'
* 1995 COG Travel Simulation of home-based work trips for the entire region.

• Data from the latter two surveys were grouped into a matrix of 20 "Districts" showing the travel patterns of trips between home and work.

This data provided a wealth of information from which to estimate the usage of numerous bus routes across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Described below and on the following page are those routes which held the most promise for a one-year pilot project and were subsequently investigated at a greater level of detail:

Route A

From the Oxon Hill Park-and-Ride Lot, located off of Maryland Route 210, to the King Street Metrorail Station in Alexandria.

Route B

From the Oxon Hill Park-and-Ride Lot to the King Street Metrorail Station and then via Duke Street, Van Dorn Street, and Edsall Road to the Shirley Industrial Park.

Route C

From the Huntington Metrorail Station to the government installations along the I-295 corridor and then on to the Anacostia Metrorail station.

Route D

From a free park-and-ride lot located in the vicinity of the Springfield Mall to the government installations along the I-295 corridor.


The table shown on page iii of the report summarizes projected ridership, costs, revenues, and cost recovery ratios for the proposed routes. Westbound (WB) routes were combined with eastbound (EB) routes to eliminate empty busses crossing the Potomac River.

An explanation of the data in Table 1 is as follows:

• Daily one-way ridership was obtained by taking the travel patterns of commuters from three data sources and estimating bus ridership on the westbound and eastbound bus routes using mode split estimates from COG's "Fact Book." Table 1 shows the estimated maximum number of bus riders to be 332 westbound and 400 eastbound for the morning rush period. Commuters are expected to ride the return bus in the evening. It should be noted that these ridership estimates were goals which were to be achieved after one year of operation.

• Annual revenue was based on $0.50 per trip times 250 operating days per year.

• Annual operating costs were derived using unit cost data obtained from WMATA and a local/private (L/P) operator (Fairfax County Connector). Costs accounted for mileage, operating hours, and depreciation.

It should be noted that these costs did not include any costs to acquire busses or other equipment should it be necessary to do so at start-up.

• Revenue to cost ratio, commonly called the cost recovery ratio, is a measure used in the transit industry to gauge the success of a particular service. A ratio of 35% is deemed acceptable for transit bus service. As indicated in the table, it was projected that Route A-D (if it was operated by a local jurisdiction or private contractor), could have a cost recovery ratio of 31%, which is almost acceptable.


An exploration was made into potential funding sources for such a pilot bus program. Federal, State, and local sources were reviewed for their general applicability. While several of the programs offered some promise, no immediately available funds were identified for this purpose. A more detailed investigation was not pursued in Phase I, given the consensus of the Study Team regarding the viability of a pilot project, as discussed below.

After completing the analysis and discussing the findings, it was the view of the Beltway Transit Study Team that Bus Route A-D exhibited the most potential of the routes studied in detail. However, the Team felt that they could not recommend to the Legislature implementation of this route as a pilot, stand-alone project at this time.

This conclusion was based on the Team's consensus that a primary objective of the Legislature's request for a pilot project was to relieve congestion on the Wilson Bridge. With 172,000 vehicles per day crossing the Wilson Bridge - approximately 8% (13,200) in the peak hour - a reduction in auto demand of 200 vehicles ± would have minimal impact on relieving congestion on the Bridge.

As a second phase to this Study, the Team recommends focusing on an intermodal systems approach to addressing congestion relief on the Capital Beltway and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in particular. Transit, van pools, car pools, subscription bus service, HOV lanes, timed transfer centers, and provision of park-and-ride lots around the Beltway corridor all need to be examined to identify the potential for a "package" or "packages" of measures that could contribute substantially to congestion relief. Appropriate phasing and funding for implementation should be identified as part of this second phase process. To accomplish this, VDOT and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation will work with the Transportation Planning Board staff, local jurisdictions and Maryland through the regional process to develop a transportation program in the Beltway Corridor.

In the interim, the Study Team recommends an intensive marketing campaign to promote existing transit, carpool, and vanpool programs that have the potential for diverting single occupant vehicles from the Wilson Bridge. This effort should involve the area's ridesharing programs, working in concert to target larger employers and some residential neighborhoods in the study area for transit and ridesharing promotions. Accompanying this effort there should be an overall examination of the adequacy of signage within the Beltway Corridor to direct commuters to existing transit facilities and services.