Two Business Challenges Facing Metrobus
In the past 17 years, Metrobus has faced dual challenges: increased competition and increased roadway congestion.
A past post discussed the role of the 1997 Blue Ribbon Mobility Panel in resetting the regional role and funding structure for Metrobus. In the decade-plus since then, several trends have emerged: Local operators are rolling out more and more bus service, and buses are getting slower.
While Metrobus has added service through its Better Bus initiative, over the long term service has not kept up with the rate of increase of local bus operators in the region, such as Ride On, and Fairfax Connector. This is due in part to the growth of partner bus services, but also the occasional transfer of routes (PDF) from Metrobus to local operators.
Perhaps of more concern, systemwide average bus speeds have tumbled over the past 15 years, with Metrobus losing about 1 mile per hour over the past 15 years, and local operators losing about three. Increased traffic congestion on transit-intensive streets is the most likely culprit, as demonstrated by buses which can barely top walking speed in the downtown core and elsewhere. Other factors eating away at Metrobus’ average speed include increased Metrobus boarding delays at high demand stops.
With slower operating speeds, buses must be added just to maintain the same level of service, reducing transit’s buying power. Over the course of a decade or more, this can add up to millions in excessive operating costs. A future post will talk about some possible solutions to stabilize Metro’s market share and break the cycle of the bus stuck on traffic.