The Q Bus Lives

Today I checked the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority’s “better bus” webpage and clicked on the slate of upcoming service changes for 2016. To my surprise and delight, the Q bus I ride each day between Rockville and Silver Spring will survive and live another day, at least for the time being. Metrobus will put aside a plan to chop the line in half and force folks to transfer at Wheaton Station.

Last fall they collected feedback the plan that would have ended the eastern (Georgia Avenue and Silver Spring) portion of the Q line, which extends to Shady Grove at its Western end.  The plan would have stopped the line at Wheaton Station, and passengers traveling to Silver Spring would have gotten a free transfer onto the Metro line. Going the other way, passengers transferring on to the Q line from the Metro line would ride the bus free.

Why was this idea seriously considered and almost implemented? Beltway traffic on Georgia Avenue north of Silver Spring is predictably snarled, particularly during the evening northbound rush. With Y line buses already covering this part of the route, why not remove the cross-county Q buses from the congestion?

I disagreed fundamentally with the plan. The buses are a engulfed in a sea of passenger-less cars. They are a rafts of sanity and fiscal sense on these nasty currents of wasteful driving. Why punish those trying to make a positive difference by taking public transportation? I realize something has to give, but cars can’t just win because they are harder to control. Seemed like punishing those with the weakest voice (poorer riders) to accommodate people rich enough to drive solo.

Along with 473 other riders, I filled out survey on the proposed change (in my case by going to their website). The results of the survey reflected some of my own concerns and are nicely summarized in the service change document, and I quote them below:

Route Q1,2,4 Service and Tariff Proposals (referred to as Q Line)
Q Line customers weighed two proposals which at first blush are offsetting: the first is to receive a free transfer between Q Line and Red Line and the second is to cut the Q service back at Wheaton station forcing a transfer. As you might expect, Q Line customers rated the free transfer as positive and the service reduction as negative.
A closer look was taken to segment customers who were positive of both changes, one or the other, or were negative about both changes.
Just 11 percent of Q Line customers were positive about both the free transfer and service proposal. Another 46 percent preferred one or the other, mostly positive toward the free transfer and negative by the service reduction. Finally, 43 percent were negative toward both proposals.
Written sentiments seem to echo this negativity. An additional in-house survey was conducted by the CSCM team on-board the Q2 and Q4 bus lines between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 to collect additional data for the equity analysis. The survey results were consistent with the predominantly negative
sentiments reflected in the feedback gathered through the online survey, as described above.
Overall, service changes to the Q line would affect 76% of the riders surveyed on-board. The results showed a strong preference for bus over rail, with only 19% of respondents saying they would switch to the Red Line for access between
Wheaton and Silver Spring, if the Q Line service were to be cut. In terms of ridership, empirical evidence showed the north-bound Q line buses to be mostly full between 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m., while the south bound buses were generally full throughout the day.
At the end of the document, Metrobus staff give their recommendation: “do not implement.”
To put this in a larger context that’s easier to understand, I believe this represents a significant win for poorer riders–those who don’t have cars or can’t afford parking in particular–who need to commute across Montgomery county. Those going almost the entire route won’t be forced to transfer. Although this doesn’t solve the problem of snarled traffic, it at least doesn’t punish those who contribute to a more sensible commute for everyone. Now let’s start working on a better, cheaper, cleaner, transportation system.
Reading the document was also a refreshing taste of democracy in action. I learned how seriously Metrobus takes socioeconomic equity issues, and support the methodology overall. I might be signing a slightly different tune had the decision been opposite, but I still believe I’d respect the amount of work they put into their surveying (including sending out surveyors to capture the voices of riders unlikely to fill out online forms).

Overcoming the Addiction Pt. 2

‘Tis New Year’s Eve.

No, I haven’t broken my 2014 resolution of severing my ties to before the new year has even begun. Nonetheless, things have become interesting in the weeks since my last post. No sooner had I cancelled my Chase Amazon credit card with thoughts of quitting Amazon cold, when a great friend of mine gave me a wonderful birthday present: a Kindle Paperwhite — Amazon’s newest reader.

At first the dilemma gripped me. How can I be honestly grateful for this gift when I’d sworn off shopping at Amazon?

That’s when my wife, who has a knack for thinking far more practically than me, suggested the middle path: use it to read library books.

Luckily, I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, which believes in libraries so truly that it’s building new ones in Gaithersburg (opens this weekend) and Silver Spring. In addition to making investments in libraries for the next two generations, the county’s library system makes it easy to borrow digital books by downloading them temporarily onto Kindle.

Using a intermediary software platform called Overdrive, which publishes its own how-to on downloading public library books onto Kindle, you basically click on the books you want, then check-out for free at Amazon.

Long story short, it looks like I’ll be doing some business on Amazon in 2014–just not the kind in which my bank account diminishes. Granted it may be tough to avert my eyes from all that customized product placement, so I’m sure updates to this post will follow.

The first book I intend to read on Kindle: The Circle by Dave Eggers.

Meanwhile, I have every intention of continuing to read paper books from the library. Just tonight, I finished reading The Unwinding by George Packer, which is due on Saturday and should be in someone else’s hands by early next week.

Long live libraries! In this age of digital pocket-drain, we need these public institutions more than ever.