Council Members Gain Empathy From Transit Challenge
Gaps in bus, train service commutes come into focus
This week, members of the Montgomery County Council experienced firsthand the challenges faced by commuters who rely exclusively on public transit.
Council members and other public officials participated in Transit Challenge Week, using buses and trains to get to their jobs and posting comments about their commutes on social media.
About 15% of commuters in Montgomery County use public transportation for their daily commute, according to 2016 census data. Policymakers hope to increase that number, with an advisory group of residents on County Executive Marc Elrich’s transition team proposing a ban on driving during certain days of the week.
Council member Hans Riemer, an at-large member who lives in Takoma Park, tweeted on Monday that what is normally a 25-minute drive to his job in Rockville can be 80 to 90 minutes using transit.
Riemer wrote that he is looking forward to the completion of the light rail Purple Line, which is set to connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties by early 2023.
“For my particular commute the Purple Line would make a big difference as would Veirs Mill BRT (bus rapid transit),” he tweeted.
At-large Council member Evan Glass on Tuesday tweeted a video crossing the busy thoroughfare of Route 29 as he walked from his home in Silver Spring to catch a southbound Ride On bus to the downtown transit center, where he was to transfer to a bus to Rockville.
“I appreciate the kind drivers who stopped for me; this crosswalk is usually a lot tougher to maneuver,” he wrote.
At-large Council member Will Jawando’s commute was more difficult, requiring him to take two buses from him home in White Oak to Rockville, with the trip taking 90 minutes some days.
“You have to walk a good distance to get to the bus stop. If you miss it, it could take 30 minutes,” he said in an interview.
Jawando’s commute by car normally takes 25 minutes each way.
According to a county report on racial equity released earlier this week by the Office of Legislative Oversight, nearly 20% of black residents rely on public transportation to commute to work compared to 13.6% of whites and 11.7% of Asians.
Additionally, the report noted that blacks were one and a half times as likely as whites to use public transportation, and more than twice as likely not to own a car. The data was compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Jawando, a former Obama administration aide who has also worked on Capitol Hill, said commuting into the District of Columbia via public transit was much easier, and he used Metro more than 60% of the time.
“I drove to the Metro and took it all the way down, but if you’re coming to Rockville East to West, it’s not the same,” he said.
Jawando said the week has been a stark reminder that people of color rely heavily on public transit, and that it is less accessible in the eastern part of the county.
“If you have the people that use transit the most who have the longest travel times and are paying a lot, because they have to pay for Uber and Lyft to get to the transit stops sometimes, that is a racial equity issue. So it’s incumbent upon us to make it easier,” he said.
Council member Craig Rice, whose district includes most of upcounty, said although he didn’t participate in this week’s challenge, he has taken Ride On buses occasionally. His district includes a few Ride On routes and the MARC commuter train, but has no Metro stations.
“Every now and then I’ll ride Ride On to hear from other folks who are doing the challenge, because it’s a great way to understand what’s happening with transit and understand what’s happening in their lives,” he said.
Rice said he used to use MARC to get to his job in the District before he was a council member. He said solving the county’s transit woes “starts with education.” Improving education for minorities, he said, would enable them to get the jobs to have enough credit to purchase cars.
“We want it [transit] to be an option for folks, and not have it be forced upon them,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org