Preparing for the Future of Metrobus
Since the signing of the WMATA compact more than 40 years ago, there has been an ongoing debate about the role of Metrobus as the Washington region’s primary bus service provider.
Prior to the formation of Metrobus in 1973, bus services in the Washington region were operated by numerous private providers across the region operating on dedicated lanes, many of which were operating at a loss. In the 1970s, Metro consolidated bus service under the Metrobus brand and increased service and headways throughout the WMATA compact area. While Metro’s role as the regional rail provider has always been clear, its role as a bus provider has been more nuanced.
This is the first in a series of posts which aim to provide a brief overview of the efforts undertaken over the past 20 years by Metro, and its regional partners, to balance the responsibilities and funding of Metrobus with the wants and needs of our jurisdictional partners all while maintaining our regionally focused mission.
The recent history of Metrobus planning began in 1997, when a Blue Ribbon Mobility Panel was convened to address the bus transportation needs of the Washington region. The panel saw that a decreasing share of bus service was being provided by the regional provider (Metro). Metrobus’ share of the total bus services in the region declined from 99% to 74% between 1987 and 1997 as WMATA-compact member jurisdictions began to form their own bus companies. The panel members recognized the continued importance of Metro as a regional bus provider, and highlighted the importance of service integration across jurisdictional boundaries, integrated fares, and marketing and customer information systems – the same issues facing Metro and its partners today.
A report (PDF) of the panel’s findings points out that the Compact charges WMATA with operating “a unified or officially coordinated transit system for the region” and recognized the importance of a “well-coordinated and growing” bus system to sustain growth in the Washington region. The report expressed the desire of panel members to establish a new regional bus subsidy allocation formula that would be updated on a periodic basis. The panel recommended separating Metrobus services into regional and non-regional categories for the purpose of establishing more equitable cost- and service-sharing formulas for the member jurisdictions. Regional bus routes would be owned and operated by WMATA and funded by the region, while non-regional routes would be operated by WMATA and funded by the sponsoring jurisdiction based on the the following criteria:
These criteria resulted in 73% of WMATA routes and 53% of all service in the region (all carriers) being designated as regional. The panel also adopted a new cost sharing formula combining population density, ridership, and levels of service to allocate costs among each compact jurisdiction.
These new strategies for funding and defining regional bus services were approved by the WMATA board in 1997, and continue to guide the way jurisdictions share costs and plan bus services.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in the Metrobus story.