Maryland county looks to build on the success of a new, limited-stop bus route

From Mobility Lab

Buses traversing Montgomery County, Md.’s limited-stop Ride On ExtRa Route 101 have gotten fuller and fuller since they began operating in October 2017. The Bethesda-Gaithersburg route’s 12 percent ridership increase over the past year and a half was achieved despite competition from low gas prices and investor-subsidized ride hailing.

This contrasts strongly with national trends, as well as the county’s overall bus ridership numbers, which have fallen 11 percent during that time, according to internal Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) figures.

Route 101, though today just a weekday rush-hour-only service, could be the beginning of a bright future for mobility in Washington D.C.’s northern suburbs. Ride On is in the process of expanding fast, frequent transit service to reach more residents and businesses, with some new routes set to incorporate characteristics of bus rapid transit (BRT).

But at the same time, in response to county budget shortfalls, the county executive proposed reducing service on seven of the county’s busiest existing bus routes. While the Montgomery County Council quickly backed off some of the originally proposed cuts, three routes still face reductions.

MCDOT officials emphasized that none of the proposed cuts will directly affect Ride On’s ExtRa, Flash, or Flex services. However, any ridership losses resulting from the cuts could adversely affect transit’s overall role in Montgomery County mobility and create further challenges for Ride On in the future.

Even on wide suburban arterials, people ride transit that meets their needs

Al Roshdieh

Al Roshdieh, Director of MCDOT, told me that he “honestly didn’t expect this kind of a result” from Ride On ExtRa.

But those results weren’t just luck. Rather, they were a product of the county’s people-oriented planning.

“In the past, it was more about . . . how fast you can get the cars through the intersection,” Roshdieh said, referring to the auto-centric level of service metrics often used to predict a project’s impact on traffic congestion. “[But now,] that is not my priority; my priority is how many people I can get through an intersection.”

Ride On ExtRa coasts down Rockville Pike, even though the arterial is one of the most crowded roads in the county during peak periods. Limited stops (only 13, instead of the 80 that local routes along the corridor serve), 10-minute headways, and transit signal priority have helped reduce travel times by 25 percent, compared to the bus routes that preceded the new service.

Though the corridor doesn’t have any dedicated bus lanes, the less-frequent stopping means buses can use center and left lanes for much of the route, helping them flow more smoothly with traffic and contributing to the shorter travel times. In addition, Wi-Fi coverage and USB charging ports help make people more productive on the buses.

According to MCDOT, the ExtRa service averages 2,000 riders a day, and total daily ridership on the corridor (including the Ride On buses that preceded ExtRa and continue to operate) is up 700, demonstrating that the improvements have both benefited existing riders (as I can attest) and attracted new ones. For example, Roshdieh told me that the MCDOT Director of Consumer Protection gave up his car commute soon after initially trying Ride On ExtRa.

Ride On survey numbers show that many ExtRa riders have the option to drive, but are choosing the bus instead. Some of these riders still do use their vehicles to access bus stops, resulting in increased usage of the main parking lot serving the route.

Marketing campaigns – such as a free trial period when Ride On ExtRa started, public service announcements, multiple appearances at community events, and social media outreach – have helped attract riders. Montgomery County also has a robust Transportation Demand Management program, which means that businesses and other developments might, for instance, provide employees and residents with subsidized or free bus passes and help publicize transit services.

With a hodge-podge of expansions and cuts on the table, will Montgomery County choose a people-oriented future?

In a sprawling, suburban area like Montgomery County, it can be hard to spur change. Despite Ride On ExtRa’s strong ridership, solo car trips remain the most common form of mobility in the area.

However, Roshdieh told me that he sees sustainable transportation as more than just something that’s good for the environment, emphasizing transit’s social and economic benefits.

As a result, officials see Ride On ExtRa as just the first part of much larger plans for Montgomery County that will make it far easier for families to live with fewer cars (or even no car) while moving safely and swiftly between multiple destinations. Accordingly, Ride On is taking numerous steps to give people more options to get around.

A pilot microtransit service, Ride On Flex, will begin this June, allowing people to call shared, flexible-route vans using a smartphone app. Though the service will only be available in two specific parts of the county at first, one of these areas – Rockville – is served by Ride On ExtRa. Roshdieh told me that the county plans to market the new vans as an option for first- and last-mile travel to and from ExtRa stops.

The county also is in the process of adding new routes – branded as Flash – that will benefit from not just the advantages that have helped speed up Ride On ExtRa, but also additional Bus Rapid Transit amenities such as dedicated bus lanes on some segments, upgraded stations, and all-door boarding.

Ground has already broken for the first Flash route, which will serve the Route 29 corridor. About a third of the corridor will have dedicated lanes, though in the future the county hopes to separate more of the route from cars.

While the route is not yet full-on BRT, Roshdieh estimates Flash service will be 35 percent faster than current buses. Also, MCDOT plans to charge the same, flat $2 fare for Flash, ExtRa, Flex vans, and other existing Ride On bus routes, helping integrate the various transit services it provides.

While such fare integration will benefit riders, it also demonstrates the extent to which a transit system’s various components complement each other – and, accordingly, the risk the aforementioned proposed service cuts on existing routes could pose to the ongoing improvements.

To accomplish their bold plans, county officials must not only invest in service expansions and infrastructure improvements, but also commit to providing and maintaining a convenient, county-wide transit system for the long term. If they do so, Montgomery County has an opportunity to become a national leader in car-free mobility, facilitating a more sustainable future and serving as a model for other suburban areas to follow.

New Route 355 Ride On extRa Service is Launched

Yesterday, County Executive Ike Leggett participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new, limited stop Ride On extRa rush hour service. Leggett announced that Ride On extRa will be free during the month of October 2017. He was joined at the celebration by County Council Vice President Hans Riemer, Department of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh, and Montgomery College Parking and Transportation Manager Mark Pace.

“Today we launched Ride On extRa, a new service to provide faster commutes and more transit connections along Route 355 – Ride On’s highest ridership corridor,” said Leggett.  “This new Ride On extRa service is part of Montgomery County’s ongoing efforts to provide people even more transportation choices that are safe, convenient, and environmentally friendly.”

Ride On extRa makes just 12 stops and operates every 10 minutes Monday through Friday, 5:30 – 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 – 7:30 p.m. between Lakeforest Transit Center in Gaithersburg and the Medical Center Metro Station in Bethesda.  Route 355 connects to half of the County’s transit services, including Metrobus, Metrorail, MARC train, MTA Commuter buses and 44 Ride On routes.

“We hope that everyone will take advantage of the free rides in October to try out Ride On extRa,” said Roshdieh. “Use the free WiFi and USB charging ports to get work done or stay in touch and relax in the comfortable seats. We hope once you experience the convenience and speed of Ride On extRa, you’ll become a regular rider.”

Ride on extRa vehicles have transit signal priority to speed service and many passenger amenities that promote comfort, including low-floor boarding, free WiFi, USB charging ports and padded seats.

After the October introductory free service, Ride On extRa will be available at the regular Ride On fare by using a SmartTrip card, pass, token or cash.

Ride On extRa stops are located at Lakeforest Transit Center, Summit Ave., Westland Dr., Shady Grove Metro, Montgomery College, Rockville Metro, Edmonston Dr., Halpine Rd., Marinelli Rd., Security Ln., Tuckerman Ln., and Medical Center.

New bus shelters and bus stop flag signs have been erected to identify Ride On extRa bus stops. Ride On and MCDOT’s Division of Transportation Engineering partnered with Arts on the Block to create artwork for each extRa bus stop.

Leggett Announces Free Fares on New MD 355 Ride On extRa Service during October 2017

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett announced today at the Montgomery County Fair that the new, faster Ride On extRa rush hour service beginning October 2 on Route 355 will be free, on an introductory basis, during the month of October.

“Along Route 355, our busiest commuting route, people will have another option for getting to work and home, while using WiFi to stay connected,” said Leggett. “On an introductory basis, this service will be free during October, to encourage people to try it out and decide whether it might be preferable to their current commute by transit or car.”

Ride On extRa will run only during peak periods, Monday through Friday, 5:30 – 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 – 7:30 p.m. It will provide service from Lakeforest Transit Center in Gaithersburg to Medical Center Metro in Bethesda – running every ten minutes and making just twelve stops. The service will connect to half of the bus routes in the County, as well as Metrorail and MARC rail.

Ride on extRa vehicles will have many amenities that promote comfort and faster service. For example, the vehicles will have traffic signal priority and passengers will have low-floor boarding, free WiFi, USB charging ports and padding on seats.

Starting in November, this service will be available for a regular Ride On fare, via SmartTrip card, pass or cash. Fare cards may not be reloaded on these buses.

Ride On extRa stops will include Lakeforest Transit Center, Summit Ave., Westland Dr., Shady Grove Metro, Montgomery College, Rockville Metro, Edmonston Dr., Halpine Rd., Marinelli Rd., Security Ln., Tuckerman Ln., and Medical Center. There will be new bus shelters and bus stop flag signs to identify Ride On extRa bus stops.

 

Ride On to Hold Public Forum On Proposed New Service Along Route 355

The public will have a chance to comment on a new limited stop service along Maryland State Route 355 called Ride On extRa. This service will operate from Lakeforest Transit Center to Medical Center Station with 12 limited stops along the route. The other stops include: Summit Ave., Westland Dr., Shady Grove Metro, Montgomery College, Rockville Metro, Edmonston Dr., Halpine Rd., Marinelli Rd., Security Ln., and Tuckerman Ln. Ride On extRa is an overlay of the existing local service along MD 355 and provides a faster option for riders during rush hours.  Buses will operate every 10 minutes from 5:30 am to 9:30 am and 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm.

Come find out about the exciting features and amenities such as specially branded buses and shelters, USB charging ports, WiFi and real time information monitors. Fares are the same as the local service; however, there will be no onboard loading of cash to SmarTrip cards to eliminate any delays.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Montgomery County Executive Office Building (Auditorium) 101 Monroe Street  Rockville, MD

Residents along this portion of MD 355 and surrounding areas are invited to share your interests in this new service.  Please visit our website to obtain additional information regarding the public forum. You will have three (3) minutes to speak if you submit your request to speak in advance. Individuals and representatives of organizations who wish to speak at the public forum are requested to provide in writing their name, home address, telephone number, e-mail address and organization to the Division of Transit Services, Ride On Public Forum, 101 Monroe Street, 5th Floor, Rockville, MD 20850 or to mcdot.rideonpublicforums@montgomerycountymd.gov . Those wishing to speak must provide such information by three (3) days before the forum. Those who have signed up to speak must bring two printed copies of their testimony for the record.

Additionally, comments on the proposed new route may be submitted in writing, by email, or by fax by June 1, 2017 to:

Division of Transit Services

Ride On Public Forum

101 Monroe Street, 5th Floor

Rockville, MD 20850

240-777-5800

MCDOT Announces Ride On extRA on Route 355

Ride On announced that in October it will launch a new, limited stop, higher speed bus service on Maryland Route 355 called Ride On extRa,  It will provide a faster option for bus riders during rush hours, making only 12 stops between the Medical Center Metrorail Station in Bethesda and the Lakeforest Transit Center in Gaithersburg. Ride On extRa will provide faster service with “less stop, more go.”

Buses will run every 10 minutes from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. At Ride On extRa bus stops, passengers will be able to take advantage of connections to Metrorail, 15 Metrobus routes, MARC Brunswick Line, MTA Commuter buses, and 42 Ride On routes.

“Maryland Route 355 is one of the most heavily used corridors in Montgomery County, so while we continue to plan for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on this roadway, the new Ride On extRa service will move people more quickly in modern, sleek vehicles with enhanced amenities,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. “Giving travelers more options can reduce the number of cars on this highly congested thoroughfare and ease the commute for the remaining drivers.”

For Ride On extRa, MCDOT will use 17 new, specially branded buses with easy access boarding, WiFi, and USB charging ports. Ride On extRa’s bus shelters will feature real time information displays. The new service will accept standard SmarTrip cards and passes as well as cash. To eliminate delays that occur when passengers add cash to SmarTrip cards on board the bus, passengers will not be able to load cash on to SmarTrip cards on the bus.

The system has only 12 stops versus the current 80 stops along Route 355. Stops include: Lakeforest Transit Center, Summit Ave., Westland Dr., Shady Grove Metro, Montgomery College, Rockville Metro, Edmonston Dr., Halpine Rd., Marinelli Rd., Security Ln., Tuckerman Ln., and Medical Center Metro.