Transit supporters speak up to save bus service

Transit supporters speak up to save bus service

County Council members invite feedback on WMATA’s planned cuts

| Published:
WMATA meeting

Montgomery County Council members, in back of room, from left, Evan Glass, Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer listened on Monday to comments about proposed cuts by WMATA to its bus service.

Photo by Andrew Schotz

A proposal by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to cut bus service drew sharp opposition on Monday.

At a community meeting in Silver Spring, bus users and other supporters urged WMATA — which operates the transit system in the Washington, D.C., region — not to pull back on bus service, and, if anything to make it more accessible. They argued that cuts to bus service fall hardest upon people who can least afford to live without it.

Some spoke of the effects on safety, since more people using public transportation means fewer individual drivers on the road. Others suggested removing a cap that limits how much Maryland can contribute toward WMATA operations.

Elected officials representing Montgomery County have spoken out against the cuts, which WMATA has proposed for savings as part of its nearly $2 billion budget plan for fiscal year 2021.

In a recent letter to Paul Smedberg, chair of the WMATA board, county and state officials wrote that about 65,000 Montgomery County residents use Metrobus every day. “Service reductions will disproportionately affect students commuting to Montgomery College, seniors running daily errands and service workers accessing jobs,” their letter says.

Montgomery County Council Members Evan Glass, Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer led Monday’s community meeting.

The cuts include:

  • Eliminating service on the Q routes (Shady Grove to Silver Spring) between the Shady Grove and Rockville Metro stations
  • Eliminating the Z2 route (Silver Spring to Olney)
  • Eliminating the Z8 route (Fairland) by consolidating parts on existing lines
  • Eliminating the Z11 route (Greencastle to Briggs Chaney)
  • Reducing early-morning and late-night service on the J2 (Bethesda to Silver Spring) and L8 (Friendship Heights to Aspen Hill) routes

Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, one of many people who spoke Monday, said the working poor and people of color particularly depend on buses to get around. He asked WMATA to increase bus service and find savings elsewhere.

Dave Helms of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association said access to bus service is an equity issue for people in poverty.

Buses are more than a convenience, said Clarksburg High School student Zoe Tishaev, a member of Action Committee for Transit — they are a necessity.

Peggy Edwards of Takoma Park, who is part of a group called Parents of Special Needs Adults, said her 27-year-old son relies on the J2 bus to get to his job.

Ben Ross of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition said it’s essential to have service from morning to night on a line, with reasonable intervals, even if there is lower ridership on late runs. If pieces are removed from the route, people might stop taking it entirely, he said.

Niya Banks of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 said Montgomery County routes are packed every day. When there are fewer riders on later routes, they often are service workers on their way home. Banks asked: Aren’t they entitled to service, too?

WMATA’s board will vote in the spring on the fiscal year 2021 budget. Any service changes would take effect July 1, when the fiscal year begins.

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