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  • Friday, January 05, 2007

    Life in the bus lane tour*

    So I've been experimenting on the best way for me to get to work in the morning... what is the fastest, cheapest, most convenient, etc. mode of mass transit.

    My office is within a block of one metro stop (which is on a line that is not a very convenient to my house) and a few minutes to another (major) line. There are also a number of buses that run up and down the avenue...

    So I've been taking the bus lately, and for the most part, it's actually the best mode of transportation. Of course, when the weather stinks or traffic is particularly bad, it's a nightmare. But otherwise, buses are best because they are the most direct route between my apartment and my office. No transfers and no long walk on either end. Good stuff.

    But sometimes when I tell folks that I ride the bus, I get a reaction like "Really?" -- because DC buses aren't known for their timeliness, cleanliness or, frankly, friendliness. And in DC, busriders tend to be more working class. And frequently, people of color.

    Now I don't say this to sound like an ass. It's largely true that folks of more modest means frequent the bus, for several reasons.

    1. Because the buses are cheaper -- it's a flat fare, not based on distance like the metro fare is, and the bus base fare is cheaper than the metro fare;

    2. Also, the transfer system can be exploited -- pay for one ride, get a transfer and try to use it all day to ride numerous times; it's also a very common practice for folks to get a transfer whether they need it or not and then give it to someone else or leave it at a bus stop so someone else can get a free ride;

    3. Lastly, the buses service parts of the District that are not on the metro line. Housing along the metro lines costs a premium; the closer to the metro you, the higher the rent, generally. So buses are the only mass transit for those off the metro line.

    So, many metro riders are white professionals (many coming in from the 'burbs) and many metro city bus riders are working class people of color. I don't want to over-generalize, but that's my observation.

    Except the route that I take. The bus starts in Northwest DC and goes down Wisconsin Avenue. This means the bus goes through Glover Park (yuppydom) and Georgetown (big bucks to live there). There is no metro stop in that part of the city because the rich folks in Georgetown did not want a stop in their neighborhood and actually prevented it from being put in (seems they didn't want the riff raff that a metro stop would bring). So folks who live up the Wisconsin Avenue corridor who don't drive to work have to take the bus. My bus.

    So when I get on the bus, the riders are almost completely white professionals. Somewhere about half way through downtown, the ridership starts to change as the professionals get off for work and the bus continues through the city, picking up folks on their way to Southeast (a predominantly black part of the city). It's a very interesting dynamic, and you can pretty much see it play out.

    I'm also willing to bet that this is one of the only metro bus lines in the city where the ridership has this profile. Maybe it also happens in Adams Morgan, maybe but I doubt it.

    *Anyone get this reference? Maybe it's too obscure, but this was the name of a Squeeze tour back in 1987 or so. I saw them in Philly when they opened for David Bowie (his Glass Spider tour). Bowie and Squeeze on one ticket. Ahh, the best bargain ever in 80s rock concerts!


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