Major changes proposed for Route 5A to Dulles Airport

September 2nd, 2013

As part of the opening of Phase 1 of the Silver Line, the District Department of Transportation has requested that Metro investigate the possibility of discontinuing Route 5A which currently serves Dulles Airport via L’Enfant Plaza, Rosslyn, and Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride.   Under this proposal, the 5A would be discontinued in June, 2014 (several months after the Silver Line opens).  Passengers wishing to travel to Dulles Airport would be able to take the Silver Line to the Wiehle-Reston East station and then transfer to the Fairfax Connector 981 bus.

  • Travel times on the 5A currently range between 50 and 65 minutes from L’Enfant Plaza to Dulles and 45 to 70 minutes between Dulles and L’Enfant Plaza.
  • Travel time on the Silver Line between L’Enfant Plaza and Wiehle-Reston East is anticipated to be approximately 45 minutes.
  • The Fairfax Connector 981 will run every 20 minutes weekdays and Saturdays and every 40 minutes on Sundays.
  • The current fare on the 5A is $6.00.  For passengers taking the Silver Line from stations east of Foggy Bottom, the fare to Wiehle-Reston East will be $5.75 plus a $1.10 transfer fare on the Fairfax Connector.  (Fares are based on use of a SmarTrip card.)

In addition to the option above, Metro is also considering the following options:

Option 2 – Shorten the 5A to run between Dulles Airport and Wiehle-Reston East station

Option 3 – Only operate Route 5A before opening and after closing of Metrorail service on weekdays and/or weekends

The maps below illustrates the changes proposed. Please review and let us know what you think.  We will also be presenting these options at our upcoming public hearings.


Map illustrating proposed changes to Route 5A. Click image for larger version.


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  1. Mark
    September 2nd, 2013 at 23:52 | #1

    Terrible terrible idea. Why would the 5A service change when Metrorail won’t even reach Dulles? It would be completely understand that the 5A route would change when metro actually goes to Dulles but that won’t be for years. Scott, if I am reading this correctly one would have take the metro from L’Enfant to Wiehle-Reston (45 minutes) then connect the Fairfax Connector 981 (wait up to 40 minutes). This will yield up to an 85 minute trip (from L’Enfant) and at least two transfers (if not more). Furthermore lets just assume one has luggage and has a flight to catch…..yikes.

  2. Brett
    September 3rd, 2013 at 09:34 | #2

    If the 5A bus service must be changed, I would prefer option 2, or having both the traditional 5A route during non-Metro Rail hours and the connection from the Silver line at other times. My household makes use of the 5A at least once a year, and when we do, it always seems to be full of passengers.

  3. Leslie
    September 3rd, 2013 at 10:35 | #3

    I agree with Mark that this is a rotten idea. For years, the hassle and expense of getting to Dulles always put it last on my list of the region’s airport options. Once I discovered the 5A, I no longer avoid booking flights from there. The one-stop express bus service is so much better than the herky-jerky of 18 stops out to Virginia and then transferring to a shuttle bus. And all of this with luggage? Metro, please don’t do it!!!

  4. Zach
    September 3rd, 2013 at 13:00 | #4

    The 981 is not a viable alternative. The bus winds down the congested streets to Reston and Herndon before going to Dulles, taking far too long to go the mere 7 miles to the airport. While a good service for Fairfax residents, it makes public transportation a much more inconvenient options for the vast majority of 5A users that live in DC/Arlington. The best solution would be a combination of Options 2 and 3, which the bus running a very regular schedule (15 min intervals) to/from Wiehle, and infrequent service to/from Rosslyn for times when the Silver Line doesn’t run.

  5. Jared Christian
    September 3rd, 2013 at 15:29 | #5

    981 is a local bus. Now that the Silver Line is getting close to Dulles, we need a B30 like bus.

    How about a hybrid of option 2 and 3. Run a B30 style bus during metrorail hows from Reston to Dulles, and run the old style 5A during those edge cases where metro rail isn’t quite running yet, or isn’t running late on weekdays/weekends.

  6. Eric
    September 3rd, 2013 at 16:32 | #6

    I agree with Mark and Leslie that this is a terrible, terrible idea! I too put Dulles last on my list due to the hassle, time and expence of getting there. Once I discovered the 5A, I no longer avoid Dulles. The express bus service is much faster and more efficient than taking the metro and then having to transfer to an expensive shuttle bus. Evcen with the new Silver line, the express bus service from Rosslyn to Dulles will be much faster and more convenient. Particularly as the 5A actually drops you off at the terminal, which the Silver line will not. The 5A is litterally the only bus service I use. Without it, even with the Silver line, Dulles will go back to the end of my airport list. Metro, please do not discontinue or change the 5A service!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. September 4th, 2013 at 09:50 | #7

    I use 5a for my commute and I prefer it to the metro because entry and exit is so much more convenient. I can only imagine how difficult it will be to combine luggage for international travelers with multiple transfers. Raise the fare and keep this line. People will cover its expenses guaranteed.

  8. steve strauss
    September 4th, 2013 at 09:51 | #8

    Thanks Scott for the accurate portrayal of the many options DDOT is seeking consideration of for airport access once Phase I of the Silver line opens. The one factual point that the write-up omits is that the Washington Flyer will operate a non-stop service from Wiehle Ave. to the airport in addition to the FC Rt. 981. MWAA and Washington Flyer have not yet provided information on the service frequency or price of this service.

    Many of the commenters on the 5A proposal have failed to consider total travel time. The FC Rt. 981 will operate on a 20 minute headway six days a week, better than the current 5A headway and the Silver line frequencies will be every 6 minutes during rush hours and every 12 minutes off-peak and on Saturdays. Sunday headway will be approximately every 15 minutes.

    DDOT looks forward to a full discussion of travel options to the airport as part of the public hearing process.

  9. bob ardano
    September 7th, 2013 at 12:13 | #9

    agree with those who say that the route should be maintained and modified so that Metro rail can be used when open. This is the operative phrase! When Metro is running, and when the Silver Line opens. Having a modified 5A makes a lot of sense. However, since Metro rail has limited hours, having a longer version of 5A, one that resembles the current route is very important.

  10. Kathleen
    September 11th, 2013 at 12:29 | #10

    I use the 5A to commute from Reston to L’Enfant Plaza daily. Will the parking at Wiehle accommodate the current number of commuters parking at Herndon/Monroe? Will the parking be free at Wiehle like the Herndon/Monroe Park & Ride. If not, my daily commute would cost just under $24 roundtrip as opposed to $12 now (up from $6 a couple of years ago). In terms of airport riders, everyone making a decision on this issue should ride the 5A on a holiday weekend, early Monday morning or Thanksgiving week so get a feel for the level of ridership, travelers & commuters, and the luggage challenges endured by the ridership. The 981 is no better suited to stow luggage than the 5A. Any bus advertised as an airport bus should be “luggage friendly”. Recommend the accordian bus for airport travelers.

  11. Dale
    September 15th, 2013 at 13:24 | #11

    Add my voice to Mark, Leslie, Eric & Matt’s. ** KEEP the 5A!! ** I’d say this even after the yrs-away Silver line arrives. I ride both 5A & B30 to the airports regularly. Bad enough that there’s no good place for luggage on either, but the BEST thing about both is one-stop shopping & delivery to the terminals. Hardest part of ANY trip (especially an international one when luggage’s big & bulky instead of car-on) is transferring between modes of transport. Today I can walk to Yellow/Green line doing the bag-drag just once, then ride south to L’Enfant (or north to Greenbelt) — one transfer & I’m not just @ the airport, but @ the terminal! Mall/Casino traffic may allow B30 to stay $6, but like Matt says: raise the fare if you must, but keep these airport express routes!!

  12. Howard Marks
    September 30th, 2013 at 10:58 | #12

    I agree with Zach–a hybrid of Metrobus 5A is the best solution. It makes no sense during the day and early evenbing to compete with the Silver Line from downtown to Wiehle Avenue-Reston East with bus service. I live near CityCenterDC, so I must use the Blue/Orange Line to transfer to the 5A–so I will have to transfer at least once and it doesn’t matter to me where the transfer point is located. But, according to Fairfax Connector website, the 981 stops running at 11 pm (it doesn’t indicate if that is when the last bus leave Dulles or when the last bus arrives at the Reston East station). There are a significant number of planes arriving from Chicago and points west that land between 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm. When I arrived once from Chicago-Midway at 11:20 pm I was able to take the last 5A bus at 11:40 pm and walk home across the Key Bridge. What will happen passengers like me if the last bus to Reston-East is at 10:40 pm or 11 pm. We definitely need to keep the 5A running last into the night after the Metro stops operating.

  13. July 25th, 2014 at 07:18 | #13

    I prefer it to the metro because entry and exit is so much more convenient.

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