February 24, 2001

TO: The County Board of Arlington, Virginia

FROM: Ron Carlee, Acting County Manager

SUBJECT: Implementation of New ART Bus Route to Serve Arlington Hospital

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Endorse the concept of replacing Metrobus Route 10 B,C,D, north of the Ballston-MU Metrorail Station with an Arlington Transit (ART) route in partnership with Arlington Hospital, with the number of trips to be determined later.
  2. Authorize the County Manager to request that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) consider changes in the service plan for Metrobus Route 10 B,C,D and that a joint public hearing be held to consider public comments regarding the proposed service plan.
  3. Approve the expansion of the ART fleet to include three new Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses.

ISSUE: Should Arlington County service be used to implement the improved Arlington Hospital bus service committed to with its site plan?

SUMMARY: This memorandum presents a proposal to replace Metrobus Route 10 B,C,D, the Alexandria-Arlington Line, bus service north of the Ballston-MU Metrorail Station with an enhanced replacement ART route. This proposal would increase the frequency and reliability of service between the hospital and Ballston, thereby attracting more hospital employees and visitors to utilize public transit, especially during construction of a new parking structure at the hospital. By combining resources, both the County and Arlington Hospital would benefit from reduced operating costs and improved services. The actions proposed now would allow the public hearing process to begin for implementing route changes with WMATA, and initiate acquisition of needed buses. In subsequent action as part of the FY 2002 budget, the County Board will be asked to: include the new buses in the County’s capital leasing program; accept and appropriate funding from Arlington Hospital; adopt the FY 2002 Transit Operations budget; give approval to a final recommendation concerning routing and frequency; and award a new operating contract for ART operations.

 

Staff: James Hamre, Department of Public Works

BACKGROUND: When the Arlington Hospital site plan was considered by the County Board on May 10, 2000, the Board approved the following site plan conditions:

35.c. The developer agrees to design and implement a transit subsidy program for all hospital and Medical Office Building (MOB) employees who choose to participate, providing a subsidy.

35.d. The developer agrees to provide transit access from the site to the Ballston-MU Metrorail Station, any off-site park-and-ride lots, and Metrobus Line #3 Lee Highway, for the use of all hospital, medical office building, and employees, patients and visitors. This access shall be provided seven days per week and at such times and frequency to achieve the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan strategies to maximize transit ridership. This access may be provided through privately operated shuttle or publicly operated transit services or a combination thereof.

Currently the hospital is contracting for the operation of a shuttle for employees from approximately 6 AM to 7 PM, Monday through Friday, with approximately a 20-minute frequency resulting in about 60 vehicle trips along 16th Street North. At the same time the County is paying for Metrobus to operate the Route #10 bus in the same corridor, providing 72 vehicle trips per day along 16th Street North. The two services are operating on the same streets and represent competition for the same customers.

The Metrobus service attracts approximately 175 passengers per day at the hospital and another 30 passengers per day along 16th Street North. An additional 150 passengers board and alight along the route north of Lee Highway. The hospital’s shuttle carries approximately 200 passengers per day to and from Ballston and park-and-ride lots at Mount Olivet Church (at North Glebe Road and 16th Street North) and on North Culpeper Street. The hospital has established a target of switching 300 employees to public transit (approximately 200 on the day shift and 100 on the evening shift) in addition to those who use the off-site park-and-ride lots.

A request was made of Metrobus to increase the frequency of service on this segment of the line to help meet the Hospital’s target ridership. Due to a severe shortage of equipment, Metrobus declined to increase service to meet the hospital’s programmed construction schedule of starting in June 2001. Additionally, previous deliberations on bus services as part of the Transit Service Evaluation Project identified that the bus services north of Ballston would be good candidates for operation by ART.

DISCUSSION: This proposal is for the Metrobus Route #10 to terminate at the Ballston-MU Metrorail Station and for an ART Route #50 to be substituted for the portion of the route between Ballston and East Falls Church at a higher frequency with smaller CNG-powered buses. The service would provide a comparable span of service with significantly increased frequencies (a draft schedule is attached) in the segment between the hospital and Ballston. The County would reinvest the Metrobus subsidy reduction and the hospital would contribute to pay for the service operating cost. Ridership relating to the hospital is anticipated to be approximately 600 passengers per day (triple the existing hospital-related ridership), comparable to the Crystal City ART service volume.

This ART service fares are proposed to be the same as for the existing Metrobus service: $1.10 cash; free bus-to-bus transfers; $0.25 for rail-to-bus transfers; and acceptance of all Metrobus Flash Passes. Hospital employees would ride for free with a valid ID Card.

As shown on the attached map, ART Route #50 would differ from Metrobus Route #10 in three areas. First, the use of Wilson Boulevard and George Mason Drive as routing options during rush periods would permit a reduced travel time for one of the two scheduled buses to get to and from the hospital. A new stop (north and southbound) would be created at the intersection of George Mason Drive and Washington Boulevard. The second change would remove the bus from Little Falls Road and keep it on Yorktown Boulevard in response to a request from the community. The third change would reroute the bus past Bishop O’Connell High School on North Trinidad Street, thus not duplicating Metrobus Route #24T service on Westmoreland Street.

A new permanent staff position, a Transit Service Planner, will be required to respond to the increased work load currently experienced by the Transit Team and created by ART service expansion. A similar previous position was a limited-term position that expired two years ago.

Community Input

A letter from the Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association is attached presenting its views on this service proposal. The neighborhood supports the smaller buses being proposed. It opposes any use of Edison Street, which is classified a neighborhood principal street, as is 16th Street North. Staff had advised that at some times during construction, the ART buses may need to use Edison as an alternate pathway to route around construction or provide a quicker turn-back for some buses than traveling to Lee Highway would provide. This option may still be needed to address short-term conditions in the future.

The neighborhood’s position regarding limiting the number of bus trips on 16th Street North to the existing number of Metrobus vehicle trips presents a significant constraint on service design and operation. To provide needed capacity for increased ridership, while using smaller buses, requires that additional vehicle trips be operated. It is expected that a significant benefit would accrue to the residents of 16th Street North from the implementation of smaller, lighter, cleaner, quieter buses and will alleviate many of the current complaints about Metrobuses. The proposed approximate 100 vehicle trips per day would represent a major reduction, compared to today’s combined number of 130 daily hospital shuttle and Metrobus trips. At the same time, transit riders here would benefit from greatly improved service reliability and frequency.

As shown in the attached letter from the Arlington Transportation Commission, it endorsed the concept of the changes and took no position on the specific number of trips.

Next Steps

Upon approval by the Arlington County Board, the new ART buses will be ordered and Metrobus will be asked to schedule a formal public hearing relating to discontinuance of the Metrobus Route #10 and implementation of ART Route #50. This hearing would take place in April or May as scheduled by WMATA. The new buses are expected to be received and service implemented in June 2001. Each year thereafter, the service would be evaluated and adjustments made to respond to changes in demand.

FISCAL IMPACT: A summary of the proposed service cost for FY 2002 and FY 2003 is presented below:

Program Budget FY 2002 FY 2003

Expenditures

Operating $ 375,736 $ 375,736

Start-Up 32,600 0

Administration (1.0 FTE) 71,664 74,264

Lease Purchase 70,000 70,000

Total Expenditures $ 550,000 $ 520,000

Revenues

Fare Box Revenues $ 79,000 $ 79,000

Hospital Contribution 150,000 120,000

General Fund/METRO Regional 321,000 321,000

Total Revenues $ 550,000 $ 520,000

Net County Additional Cost $ 0 $ 0

It is anticipated that the service plan will be adjusted in the years after completion of the Arlington Hospital construction project (FY2003 and beyond) to reflect the demands for service experienced at that time. The cost of this service plan, and the passenger revenues and private contributions sought to help pay for the service, will be managed to ensure that the County subsidy will be kept to an appropriate level, consistent with County Board approved transportation policies and practices.

The acquisition of the three buses required to operate the service is proposed to be accomplished by utilizing County purchase and master lease contracts. This will enable the purchase of the vehicles to occur at the lowest possible cost, and enable the Metrobus subsidy savings to be utilized to pay for the buses. The $70,000 annual lease cost is based on a three-bus purchase cost of $411,000 less an $80,000 grant to cover the cost of CNG conversion. The lease term is five years.

It is estimated that the County’s Metrobus subsidy will be reduced by $338,000 by this service change in FY 2002. A commitment has been negotiated from Arlington Hospital for a contribution of $150,000 for the first year and approximately $120,000 for the second year of operation. Additionally, staff has requested a commitment from Arlington Hospital for an additional three years to a total of five years of funding contributions. Arlington Hospital has issued a letter of intent to work with the County to reach an agreement to provide ART services and a letter of commitment is being drafted for acceptance by the County Board in a subsequent action. The Metrobus subsidy savings and an annual payment from the hospital are intended to make this service plan cost neutral to County taxpayers.